Saturday Matinee #134: "A Knight for a Day" (March 8, 1946)
Published July 27, 2013
by Albert Gutierrez
Goofy's "everyman" series didn't really begin until the 1950's, but we can see traces of it in his various non-speaking cartoons of the 1940's. After all, Pinto Colvig's (first) departure from Disney in 1938 left the character without a voice. Naturally, this led to a series of "How to..." shorts in which a narrator provided the cartoon's voice, while Goofy merely served as the mute prop for gags. Even when Colvig returned in 1943, the mute Goofy shorts continued. Truthfully, Goofy's series feels uneven, because he doesn't have as much of a consistent character arc as Mickey or Donald. The transition from rapscallion to good guy feels natural for Mickey. And Donald just stays short-tempered throughout his cinematic career. Goofy, on the other hand, would be appropriated for whatever the gags needed. Thus, we get the cartoons with a million Goofy-like characters, but no "true" Goofy among them. Such a short is 1946's "A Knight for a Day," which playfully looks back at the age when knighthood was in flower, and turns it into a farcical sporting event.
It's jousting season in the British Empire (before such an empire actually existed), with thousands of peasants flooding into the amphitheatre. A tournament begins, in which the winner shall receive the hand of Princess Esmeralda, who watches from above. One such contender for the hand is Sir Loinsteak, a pompous blonde who is far too small for his body arm, but nobody needs to know that. Every knight has oversized armor to compensate for their Goofy build, hehehe. Sir Loinsteak's squire, Cedric, does his best to prepare his master for the tournament. Unfortunately, Loinsteak ends up knocked out on his own accord, seconds after he's to joust against Sir Cumference. With no other option, Cedric takes Sir Loinsteak's place. He faces off against Sir Cumference, using his much-more-diminutive size to his advantage. Sir Cumference eventually tires out, leading to Cedric's victory.
Since all the characters here are Goofy, that means none of them are. The closest Goofy we get is in Cedric, who gets the lion's share of gags. But at the same time, he showcases a strange wisdom that Goofy himself doesn't always have. Again, this shows how inconsistent Goofy's been presented. At best, this short showcases the genius of the gag men. Goofy shorts in general seem best remembered for their gags rather than for Goofy himself. That essentially was his role: the brunt of any gag. Perhaps that's why I'm not always as keen on a Goofy cartoon as I am on a Mickey or a Donald, or even a gag-filled Oswald. Goofy shorts don't have any lasting effect on me because they're more concerned with gags than with developing Goofy through the gags.
Still, that's when change comes in. Goofy's everyman nature helped contribute to one of his greatest changes: becoming a father. "Goof Troop" and the Goofy movies really show how far they can take a Disney character without betraying their roots. He's still clumsy, he's still a bit dim, but at least he's given an added responsibility that helps ground him and make him more relatable. Goofy the father is the Goofy I prefer to see. He's got a purpose. He's got someone to care for. He's not cloned multiple times for comedic effect - well, aside from "Calling All Goofs" which showed his family. "A Knight for a Day," on the other hand, simply shows how weak the Goofy series could be at times. Don't get me wrong, I highly enjoy this cartoon. It features interesting situations, amusing gags, and fun designs. But ultimately, it's a testament to how adaptable, and thus, how bland Goofy was in Walt's time.
"A Knight for a Day" has seen various releases on home video, primarily as a supplement for 1963's The Sword in the Stone. You can find it on that film's 2001 & 2008 DVDs, as well as its upcoming Blu-Ray (coming out August 6). Naturally, it also found a home in the Walt Disney Treasures set devoted to Goofy, released in 2002. And it made its way into a "Walt Disney Animation Collection" DVD in 2009, which headlined with 1990's mini-classic The Prince and the Pauper.