Sit Down Series: Bill Farmer

In part one of my series from Connecticon, I sat down with the man behind the voice of Goofy, Bill Farmer. Since 1987, Bill has taken the role and knocked it out of the park. His body of work is impeccable and he can be heard in classic films, shows and games such as Space Jam, Robot Chicken, Kingdom Hearts, and as of last year, The 7D. At the start of his eventful weekend in Hartford, we talked about A Goofy Movie, The Prince and the Pauper, music, video games, hand-drawn animation and more.

Alex Obert: Your first major role as the voice of Goofy was for The Prince and the Pauper. What was it like to get in the studio for that and realize that it’s showtime?

Bill Farmer: Yeah, that was the first theatrical thing that I did with a character. I started doing Goofy in 1987 and I think around 1990 is when we did that. I remember because my son was born in 89 and he was just a baby when we did that. But that was the first theatrical release that I did and the first time that I got to see my characters on the big screen, that’s a big thrill. I did five voices in The Prince and the Pauper. I was Goofy and Pluto and one of the weasel guards and a chicken and Horace Horsecollar. Horace never had a voice until that. And that was fun because we came up with Horace’s voice on the set. They said they didn’t have a voice and asked me to come up with one. I asked what he was like and they said that he’s kind of snooty. I was thinking Jim Backus, my goodness! Then they said he’s a little bit more droll and dry, so I said Ben Stein from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. So we put the two together and that’s how the voice of Horace Horsecollar came to be. That was fun because that was the first original voice I got to do for Disney. Seeing these characters in technicolor on a big screen with an audience, that’s really cool.

Alex Obert: As you continue throughout the next couple of years, what was it like to go from Goof Troop to A Goofy Movie? It all felt drastically different for Goofy and Max.

Bill Farmer: Well A Goofy Movie actually started out as A Goof Troop Movie. That was the original title because they had a Duck Tales movie and they were going to follow it up with a Goof Troop movie. It just didn’t gel as a full-length feature film. So they rewrote it and we recorded over a two and a half year period to get that movie right. But taking that extra time, it really gelled and became a lot of people’s favorite, including mine. It was released twenty years ago in April of this year. That was a big thrill. And I didn’t know that the movie was gonna be like because we recorded so much that didn’t make it into the movie. I didn’t know what would make the final cut until I got to see it. It was very thrilling for me.

Alex Obert: How’d you feel about the music in the film?

Bill Farmer: Oh, it was great. Tevin Campbell, we’re trying to get him for a Goofy Movie reunion at some of the cons later in the year and the events that we have coming up for the twentieth anniversary. He was the voice behind Powerline. It was great music. There was someone online actually redid the opening song as a live-action performance, that was amazing. I got to meet him actually, he came to a con once. That guy is gonna be hiring us all in Hollywood someday.

Alex Obert: Did you feel a sense of déjà vu with your son because of the plot of the film?

Bill Farmer: Yeah. My son was born in 89, said he was just about five when it came out. He didn’t know if he was Goofy’s son, if he was Max’s brother, he was totally confused by it. We were on the Disney lot one time when we saw a screening before it was done. He came out of the theater and he was crying. I said, “What’sa matter, buddy? Didn’t you like it?” He says, “Well when I saw Goofy going over the waterfall, I thought that was you.” So it was as much of a bonding picture between me and my real son as it was for Goofy and his son, Max.

Alex Obert: What something that you wish took off more that you worked on?

Bill Farmer: Everything! (laughs) I’ve been very fortunate that a lot of the things that I’ve worked on, even in incidental roles like in Toy Story, Toy Story 2 and most recently, the Minions. That’s coming out next week or something like that. You always want the projects to do well. Most of them do pretty well. Some go amazingly well and over the top. Others, eh. And a lot of things that you do are pilots and auditions, they never materialize. So you’ll do this great character and then nothing ever happens.

Alex Obert: You were able to reprise your role as Pluto for Runaway Brain, one of my absolute favorite features from Disney. However, there was controversy about the darker tone of it.

Bill Farmer: They didn’t want Mickey to appear as this monster. He’s always been the regular old nice guy next door. Only recently have we gotten to change his persona back to the 1930s when he had a lot more edge to him in the new Mickey Mouse shorts that we’re doing. We’ve been able to take these characters back and give them a lot more edge than they’ve ever had before. We got to do things in the shorts that we have never been able to do in any other place, stuff that they would never do in Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. And it’s a lot more fun too.

Alex Obert: And in addition, you have been involved with voice work on video games. How different was that experience when you first did it?

Bill Farmer: Video games are intense because you might have three or four thousand lines of dialogue. I did one a few years ago called Yakuza, I played a detective. And the book was the size of a New York phone book, thousands of little lines. And you can’t really tell the story in a video game because you jump around a lot, it’s not linear. So I’ll do one line in Kingdom Hearts and you don’t know where it’s gonna go. People ask me about the plot and I have no idea. (laughs) All I know are these individual lines that I did.

Alex Obert: Throughout the years, who would you say are some of your favorite voice actors that you’ve worked with?

Bill Farmer: I’m in a series now called The 7D. We just won an award from Behind The Voice Actors as the Best Ensemble Cast. And it’s a dream team from voiceover. Maurice LaMarche, Billy West, Jess Harnell, Dee Baker, Kevin Michael Richardson, Scotty Menville, Kelly Osbourne in her very first animated series, Steve Stanton, Paul Rugg, Leigh-Allyn Baker. Gosh, it’s got a fantastic cast! I’ve never had a cast like this before.

Alex Obert: How was it working with Charlie Adler?

Bill Farmer: Charlie is just over the top and enthusiastic. He’s got this great energy. He really goes for it. Cow & Chicken is one of my favorites that he did. I really like the wacky stuff that he does.

Alex Obert: And how about working with Jim Cummings?

Bill Farmer: Of course he’s Goofy’s next door neighbor in Goof Troop, Pete. I’ve worked with him since 1987. He was one of the first guys that I met when I came to Hollywood. He’s such a great guy and a fun guy to work with.

Alex Obert: You did also notably contributed your voice for Space Jam. Seeing as though this was several years after your start as Goofy, what was it like going over to the competition?

Bill Farmer: It was great. We’re all freelance agents, so we can work for Warner Bros. I met Mel Blanc back in the Roger Rabbit days, shortly before he passed away. He’s every voice actor’s idol. Getting to do Foghorn and Sylvester and Yosemite, as well as Bugs and Daffy later on in a couple episodes of Robot Chicken, I covered Mel more than I ever thought I would. That was a lot of fun.

Alex Obert: Do you watch voice impression videos on YouTube? How do you feel they do with Goofy?

Bill Farmer: I’ve seen some. Some are pretty good, but that’s a tough one to get. I heard from the international department at Disney that Goofy and Winnie the Pooh are the two toughest voices to match in other languages. Disney has a department that goes around the world and they have to find voices for all of the movies. With Inside Out coming out, they have to find all those characters in about forty something languages. It’s a big division! Another interesting thing about that is that Kingdom Hearts was originally done in Japan, so I’m hearing the Japanese Goofy in my headphone when I’m doing it into English. And he studied my voice to learn, it’s really weird to hear.

Alex Obert: How you feel about hand-drawn animation versus CGI?

Bill Farmer: I like hand-drawn. It’s just more organic and I grew up with it, there’s just a warmth to it. You can do so much more with the character if you’re not constrained by what the computer can do. Computers are great for hard objects, but most of the characters in CGI look dull-like. They don’t bend the way you can with a pencil and paper. And that’s why I’m happy that the new Mickey Mouse shorts we’re doing are hand-drawn, so is The 7D. It looks beautiful. That’s the way they oughta do this stuff.

Alex Obert: I recently saw Get a Horse! and I was really impressed with their approach to it.

Bill Farmer: That was an amazing piece of artwork where the 1930s stuff was melded with CGI, really high quality CGI. I guess it’s all on budgets too, you can make CGI look amazing. That’d be fun to do with Mickey and the gang, a full Mickey Mouse movie. I wish they’d do that.

Alex Obert: I recall reading that one was planned in the nineties, but fell through after the Duck Tales film didn’t perform well at the box office.

Bill Farmer: Of the Fab Five, which is what we call the main characters, Goofy was the first and still only one that has a full-length feature film. It did quite well and we had a sequel. I think they might be a little nervous about putting the characters in a full-length film and whether or not they can carry that. But Goofy proved that they can.

Alex Obert: How did you feel about An Extremely Goofy Movie?

Bill Farmer: The sequel was a lot of fun. I wish it had more songs, didn’t really have any singing. I love doing the songs. But it was a great story and Goofy got a girlfriend. That was Bebe Neuwirth, who I never actually met or even got to talk to during the production of that. She was in New York doing a show on Broadway and I was in LA. she did her lines up there, I did mine in LA and they put them together.

Alex Obert: What would you say is your favorite animation form of Goofy?

Bill Farmer: Probably the classic look, that’s what I grew up with and that’s what I enjoy the most. Although I’m getting used to the Mickey Mouse shorts where he’s more Dippy Dawg than he is Goofy. He doesn’t wear pants, he’s got a tail and he’s got his vest. That’s fun. The classic look from the 1930s is what I gravitate towards, it’s my favorite look for him.

Alex Obert: And what is your favorite classic Goofy cartoon?

Bill Farmer: Lonesome Ghosts, Boat Builders, Clock Cleaners, all of those from the mid-thirties. That was the quintessential period for Goofy, in my mind.

Alex Obert: I will never forget watching the instructional videos as a kid.

Bill Farmer: “The How To…” We got to do one of those that aired before a film on the big screen called How To Hook Up Your Home Theater. A lot of people thought that was an old cartoon that they were playing, but it was talking about getting his widescreen TV and CD/DVD and all of these other modern things. That’s when people realized it was a new cartoon.

Alex Obert: So I understand that your son, Austin, is into music.

Bill Farmer: Yeah, he’s a drummer. I’ve always supported him. They were doing an album project in Hollywood where they performed Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours in a club, so I went to see him do that recently. That was really fun, seeing him up on stage. I’ve put up with fifteen years of drum lessons! (laughs) I’m all for it. He’s been practicing drums since he was eleven years old. He was getting ready after high school to go to Berklee College of Music in Boston. When he was looking into it, they were wondering why he wanted to go out there when everybody that graduated from there went out to LA to study with working professionals. He started thinking about that and he has been taking lessons from Gregg Bissonette, that’s Ringo Starr’s drummer. Also Tony Pia, who was with Brian Setzer and now is with the Doobie Brothers. And Gil Cherone, he’s with a group called Stolen Babies and is now with Marilyn Manson. He’s working with the top professionals out there, one on one, and he’s getting the best education. He’s also performed with his band every place on the Sunset Strip like House of Blues and El Rey Theatre, all the these big venues in LA. It’s a great training ground for an up and coming drummer.

Alex Obert: Before we wrap up, what does the future currently hold for you?

Bill Farmer: I’m currently in the second season of The 7D, it’s going strong. Mickey Mouse shorts, I’ve got one next week. I got a 7D next week. I also have something for Christmas with Goofy. I generally never know more than a couple weeks out of what’s coming up. There’s a new series coming, Mickey and the Roadster Racers, which we’re starting next week. A lot of stuff is coming up.

Alex Obert: I’m glad that you are staying busy and keeping the voice of Goofy alive and well. I’d love to thank you so much for your time.

Bill Farmer: Gawrsh, it’s my pleasure!

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