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January 23

January 23, 1948 – Goofy Short Subject, They’re Off, Released to Theaters

Title Card for the Short, They're Off

Since Tintype I, horses of this line have been noted for their burning speed. And they’re also noted as camera muggers, or lens louses.

On January 23, 1948, the Goofy short, They’re Off, was released to theaters. Following in the tradition of the “How To” films that began with The Art of Skiing in 1941, the short is a tongue-in-cheek how-to on horse racing and betting on the winning horse. The short was directed by Jack Hannah, with story by Reiley Thomson and Campbell Grant, and music by Oliver Wallace.

Our narrator begins the film by taking us through the research one must do to identify the winning horse. “Today horse racing has become a science,” he declares, “a science to test the skill of the professional and unprofessional handicapper.” We see Goofy surrounded by mountains of books, periodicals, and newspapers, trying to identify what makes a winning horse. He tries to consider all the elements, including wind velocity, humidity, and rotation of the earth, with comical effect. As the narrator gives a brief history of the thoroughbred, the animators seem to have taken the terms quite literally, such as the horses being referred to as “bang tails,” much to the delight of the audience. Finally Goofy picks his horse, Snapshot III, and now must determine whether this horse has the “fine points of a horse’s conformation,” as the narrator states. Throughout his explanation, the narrator’s voice gradually speeds up, and Goofy ends up overwhelmed and delusional, with animations from How To Ride a Horse and the baby unicorns from Fantasia making a cameo.

Goofy becoming delusional from all of the confusion.

We next see Snapshot III’s pedigree. This is another clever example of wordplay: Snapshot III out of Developer by Hypodeveloper, out of Bromide by Flashbulb and Hypo, out of Tintype by Negative. This wordplay reflects Snapshot’s well-known trait of being a camera mugger or a “lens louse,” a term that causes the horse to glare at the audience.

The day of the big race arrives, and our confident Goofy enters the racetrack, trying desperately not to be swayed by the whisperings of the other bettors and the touts who convince him which horse will win. The narrator explains the many systems people use to pick a winner – again, with the animators taking it quite literally for comic effect. We then see the horses coming out to line up, with Snapshot III taking a jaunty trot down the track.

A confident Snapshot III, shown portraying the perfect conditioning

At this point, we see another Goofy, who has decided to go by luck to pick his horse. With “Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Moe,” he decides that Moe means something, and picks his horse: Old Moe, the 100-1 shot. The score at this point is a comically dour version of The Old Gray Mare, blaring from a brass instrument. Both Goofys place their bets, with the confident researcher stuffing in all of his money, and the play-by-luck Goofy betting only $2.

“The atmosphere is electric,” the narrator observes, although the members of the press, the cameramen, and the jockeys contradict the atmosphere he describes. The race starts, with Snapshot still standing at the gate, calmly eating oats. With a yawn, Snapshot’s jockey tells him to go ahead and start, and he takes off at a fiery speed. The scene grows more tense and chaotic as reporters are typing like crazy, flashbulbs are constantly flashing, and the audience is fighting among themselves. Old Moe and Snapshot are “grappling it out neck and neck,” and the race becomes a photo finish between the two.

The writers and animators must have had a fun time doing this short, with little gags here and there: Jack Hannah, for instance, is seen as the owner of Snapshot III and Insomnia, and writers Reiley Thomson and Campbell Grant are the trainer and owner, respectively, of Crankcase. Even the names of the books are wonderfully tongue-in-cheek, like Know Your Nag and Mother Hubbard’s Selections. Overall, this short is a clever one; while it may not stand out as one of the best, it is definitely one to watch for the subtle gags.


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