As I would have suspected, I am clearly not the first person who’s wondered about this.
I generally don’t think too much of Disney cartoons. (Interpret that sentence how you wish.) I appreciate the technical achievement of their older hand-drawn animated features, and I love the Pixar films, but, to paraphrase a political term, those are DINO — Disney in Name Only.
As a kid I had little interest in Disney. I preferred the sardonic, slightly (and sometimes not-so-slightly) twisted humor of Looney Tunes to the ingenuous, wholesome tone of Mickey and friends. But my kids these days are obsessed with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on the Disney Channel. (“Hot dog hot dog hot diggity dog!” It’s on right now.)
With this increased exposure to the Disney cartoon characters lately, I am reminded of a particular aspect of these cartoons that has always troubled me. There are two dogs in these cartoons. You’ve got Goofy. He wears clothes, he walks upright, he talks, and he’s generally considered an equal and peer to the likes of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, etc. Then you’ve got Pluto. No clothes, all fours, mute (does he even bark?), pet of Mickey Mouse. (Yes, a mouse with a dog as a pet. What a world!)
I suspect that the problem here is that we’re talking about characters who were never initially intended to appear together in the same cartoon. Looney Tunes has suffered the same fate in recent times, such as with the abominable Baby Looney Tunes (which my kids also like), wherein infantile, diapered (yet surprisingly verbal) incarnations of Bugs, Daffy, Taz, Sylvester, Tweety, and a few other latter-day characters who previously occupied overlapping but distinct cartoon universes now all live in the same house with Granny as their caretaker. It’s fine if one character bridges these gaps — Bugs might appear in cartoons with both Daffy and Taz, but not at the same time; Kermit the Frog might appear on both Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, but you’ll never see Fozzie in a twin bed with an F on the headboard, next to Bert and Ernie.
So really… maybe it’s not Walt’s fault. It’s probably just a case of latter day marketing “geniuses” who’ve twisted and combined these previously disparate, carefully constructed cartoon worlds into an illogical hodgepodge… and then thrown in just enough educational content to be able to stick the “E/I” badge in the corner of the screen to meet the FCC’s requirements. (Never mind the fact that cable channels like Disney aren’t subject to FCC regulation.)
OK, I guess I have no explanation. It just makes no sense. (After all, Pluto has been, since day one, the pet of a much smaller animal.)