DuckTales (2017): The Duck Knight Returns – How to do a Great Reboot within your Great Reboot

Darkwing Duck, the terror that flaps in the night, is getting a dark and gritty reboot that no one asked for… especially not Darkwing Duck.

This is your spoiler warning. This episode is on Amazon right now. Spend the 2 dollars. It’s worth it.

BACKGROUND

Within the reboot of DuckTales, Darkwing Duck is a television show from the 90s which starred a stuntman named Jim Starling (Original Darkwing voice Jim Cummings), famous for doing all his own stunts. Most of the world appears not to remember the series, but Launchpad McQuack (Beck Bennett) is a huge fan of the character. His passion is so great that it tends to infect others with an affection for the show. It’s also mentioned repeatedly that the show ended on a cliffhanger.  

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WHO WOULDN’T LOVE THIS?

SUMMARY

Jim Starling, the former Darkwing Duck star, is signing autographs. Launchpad, along with another nameless die-hard Darkwing fan (Chris Diamantopoulos) tries to get an autograph, aided by Dewey Duck (Ben Schwartz), but keeps fainting from nerves. When Dewey tries to tag the pair in a photo, he discovers that Darkwing Duck is trending online, because they’re making a movie of the series. Believing that he’s naturally going to be asked to reprise the role, Starling heads to the studio making the movie, which happens to be McDuck Studios owned by Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant).

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I hope this doesn’t happen at actual celebrity signings, but I’m sure it does.

Scrooge and the director of the Darkwing Duck film, Alistair Boorswan (Edgar Freaking Wright!!!), are having creative issues. When Louie, Launchpad, and Starling bust into the meeting, they’re shown the trailer, which portrays it as a grim and gritty reboot which satirizes a number of terrible superhero movies. Everyone agrees that this movie is terrible, including Scrooge, who puts Dewey in charge of directing the finale of the film. Starling is willing to be in it anyway, only to be surprised when the fan from earlier is introduced as the actor now playing Darkwing Duck in the movie. Starling attacks him, resulting in his and Launchpad’s expulsion from the studio. Starling talks Launchpad into helping him get back in so they can get him in the movie, with Launchpad trying to lock the new actor in his trailer. They fight briefly, but it’s revealed that the actor was inspired his entire life by Darkwing Duck and, while he knows the movie’s bad, wants nothing more than to try and help give another generation of kids the same hero he had. He and Launchpad quickly become best friends. The actor tries to confront Starling and suggests they work together to make the movie great, but Starling refuses to let anyone else be Darkwing Duck. He locks the actor in a closet and goes on set to film the finale.

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It’s literally looking at your own reboot. Stylistic differences, but same core character.

When told that Darkwing surrenders in the last scene, Starling refuses to follow commands and instead starts wrecking the props, before grabbing the fully functional lightning gun that the film’s villain Megavolt (Keith Ferguson) was using and attacking the crew. The actor, now dressed in his Darkwing Duck costume, shows up to stop him. The two fight, with Starling growing increasingly more insane and villainous, until finally Launchpad tries to convince them to stop. A prop starts to collapse, and after the actor tries to save him, Starling jumps in and saves them both, sacrificing himself.

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Again, you can tell them apart, but you know they’re still the same.

While the final fight was filmed, it’s revealed that Dewey recorded over it with a video of himself dancing. Scrooge declares that there will never be a Darkwing Duck movie. The actor is saddened that he can’t bring Darkwing Duck to a new generation, but Launchpad tells him he should just do it for real. The actor, revealed to be none other than Drake Mallard, agrees to give it a shot. Unbeknownst to the rest of the cast, it’s revealed that Jim Starling survived the explosion, but now is insane, with the colors being washed out of his costume to reveal that he is now Darkwing’s arch-nemesis: NEGADUCK.

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To quote Mrs. Beakley: “That was a surprisingly suspenseful twist.”

END SUMMARY

When I first reviewed DuckTales, I mentioned that I consider it one of the more successful reboots I’ve ever seen. It takes everything that was good about the original, adds in some more source and expanded universe material, but also updates, enhances, expands, and, let’s be honest, sometimes corrects the source material (particularly some of the female characters). It strikes the perfect balance between nostalgia and originality, while also being clever and funny. This episode exemplifies that balance even better than the rest of the series.

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And this is a series that finally animated Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s mom, unseen since 1938.

The concept of Darkwing Duck as a show within the show was an interesting way to reintroduce the character, though it seemed like it mostly closed the door on the actual character ever appearing in the series. However, it seems like, in retrospect, much of this was a carefully planned build-up to this episode. When the original surprise announcement that Darkwing Duck would appear in the new series was made, one of the producers, Frank Angones (who is the best at Twitter), mentioned that it was difficult to introduce Darkwing Duck, because once you put Darkwing in an episode, he just naturally becomes the focus. Despite, or perhaps because of this, they put relatively little of Darkwing Duck in the first season, limiting it to a single scene in a cold open, a fun gag about the catchy closing theme song to the show, and a bobblehead that said “let’s get dangerous.” It was extremely restrained, making this episode even more impactful.

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The Bobblehead actually crashes fewer planes that Launchpad while flying.

The brilliance of this episode is that it is a reboot of a character within a reboot of a series and the episode is a parody of bad reboots. The most obvious part is the “trailer” for the film, which contains explicit references to the gratuitous slo-mo pearls falling from Batman v. Superman as well as the strange flaming letters scene from Daredevil, both of which have been mocked by everyone who has seen the films. The movie that Alistair Boorswan is making is dark and desaturated, much like Batman v. Superman, and Boorswan’s primary concern is conveying his dark and edgy “study of man’s inhumanity towards man.” Boorswan doesn’t actually care about what made Darkwing Duck good, only about his “artistic vision.” He also dislikes even presenting a heroic character as heroic, thinking that making someone darker and more morally compromised makes them automatically better. I’m not saying that’s a shot at DC films, except that of course I’m saying that. Meanwhile, Scrooge himself is a parody of studio interference in film, being so out of touch that he admits he didn’t see a movie since 1938 and says that “color’s all the rage nowadays.” He then gives the movie to Dewey, who tries to insert a musical number just because he likes it.

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And yet, still better than BvS or Daredevil by virtue of brevity.

The core to this episode, though, is Drake Mallard. In the original series, Darkwing Duck was a hero because he wanted to be one. Sure, he wasn’t perfect, often egotistical, fame-hungry, histrionic, and sometimes just flat-out selfish, but he did have a strong moral center and a desire to be a hero. In this series, Drake Mallard is a hero because he wants to give children something to look up to, the way that he looked up to Darkwing Duck. This is the strongest rebuttal to the type of movie that this episode was satirizing: A movie where the heroes aren’t really heroic. This version of Darkwing wants to inspire the good in the world, rather than just combat the bad, like the well-written versions of Superman, Captain America, Spider-Man, or even Batman. These heroes are supposed to show us what we can do if we believe in fighting for justice and they’re not tied to a person but to an ideal because people fail, ideals don’t. This isn’t a new concept – hell, it’s one of the books of Plato’s Republic – but that’s why even if we have the “grittier, more realistic” heroes, it’s still important to have heroes out there who are focused on inspiring and presenting a better version of the world to fight for. Real heroes make us want to be better.

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And they come in many, many forms.

Just a few more notes: Much like in Into the Spiderverse, the focus in this episode is on the hero always getting back up when they get knocked down. It’s genuinely moving to watch Drake continue to take a hilarious beating and keep fighting to protect everyone, and that’s one of the few things that anyone can relate to: the desire to just fight one more time for what’s right. It’s also appropriate that this would happen in a show featuring David Tennant, a man famous for being such a superfan of a character that inspired him that he grew up to be one of, if not THE, best versions of that character. If you don’t know what character I mean, please read this.

Overall, I loved this episode, if that’s not obvious. I think it gave us a bunch of solid gags, the set-up to a whole bunch of potential storylines and maybe even a spin-off, and it reminded me of why I love some superheroes over others. Plus, it got me to re-read part of the Republic, so that’s fun.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

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DuckTales (2017): How to do a Reboot

They might solve a mystery or re-write history. DuckTales re-boot!

People constantly complain about reboots, but it’s not like they’re a guaranteed failure. I preferred the new Battlestar Galactica to the original, there have been who knows how many amazing film and television versions of Batman, and From Dusk ‘Til Dawn even did a solid job going from film to television. Hell, I think that Scooby Doo’s best incarnation was the 12th. Still, there’s no denying that, a lot of the time, it feels like reboots are just cash grabs aiming for our nostalgia wallets. Because of that, every time a show comes out that’s just a reboot of an old property, I’m inherently suspicious. So, when they first announced that a new DuckTales was coming out, I didn’t put a huge amount of faith in it.

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Best re-imagining since Carpenter’s The Thing

As time went by, though, I admitted that I started to get excited. First, they announced the cast for the show by having them sing an acapella version of the theme song. This both showcased the insane level of talent they managed to grab and also showed that they were paying their respects to the past series.

Then, they announced that Lin-Manuel Miranda would appear in the series as Gizmoduck, cementing the return of one of the more beloved creations of the original cartoon and having him voiced by a genius composer and playwright. They announced that Tony Anselmo would be voicing Donald Duck, giving the show ties to the regular Disney canon. They released a copy of the show’s intro sequence which was a combination of the original Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge comics with the original cartoon, but updated and redesigned, with the same theme song only a little jazzier. Oh, and they dropped the bombshell during Comic Con, just a month before the show was set to premiere, that Darkwing Duck would make an appearance, a character that people have been begging to get more of for 20 years.

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HE OWNS THE NIGHT, for goodness’ sake!

At this point, I was just worried that this was all going to fall apart. Then, they did the last thing I would have expected: They put the pilot on YouTube. Not behind a paywall, not for a limited time, they just put the pilot “Woo-oo!” online, and IT WAS FANTASTIC. Watch it right now!

“Woo-oo!” was a great first episode. It introduced us to the characters, emphasized all the differences between their current and previous incarnations, and put in a ton of wonderful nostalgia references while also being funny and original in its plot. Huey, Dewey, and Louie now had different voices, looks, and personalities, with Huey (Danny Pudi) being the closest to the original version but nerdier, Louie (Bobby Moynihan) having abandoned even the outfit from his previous incarnation and being the greedy one, and Dewey (Ben Schwartz) being a blend of old and new traits and a fame seeker. Scrooge McDuck (David “I’m the f*cking Doctor” Tennant) is now a jaded old man who wishes to rekindle the exciting, adventurous days of his youth. Launchpad (Beck Bennett) is a little dumber than his original version, but still an adorable doofus and an optimist. Donald Duck is pretty much the same, but plays a much bigger role in the series.

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And the promo images did a great job representing things.

Then, there’s Webby Vanderquack (Kate “from Garfunkle and Oates” Micucci) and Mrs. Beakley (Toks “I’m so f*cking amazing” Olagundoye). These two were basically redone from the ground up. Rather than being the young girl who carries around her doll all the time, this Webby is smart, skilled, and more athletic than any of the boys, but is socially awkward due to living in a mansion alone. Mrs. Beakley, rather than being just a live-in nanny with relatively few other character traits, is a retired version of Agent 99 from Get Smart. I’m not even joking, they have an episode that tells you that’s who she’s supposed to be.

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Hey, other shows: This is how you update female characters to reflect the times.

The first half of “Woo-oo!” showed us that, in this new universe, magic is real, Scrooge is an almost Batman-level combatant and adventurer, and that he and Donald had a falling out in the past. Flintheart Glomgold (Keith Ferguson) returns as one of Scrooge’s enemies and is shown being even more over-the-top Scottish, almost as a mockery of the fact that his nationality was changed in the original series from South African (because Apartheid). He’s also much more of a comic foil to Scrooge than a serious rival, but his brutality is raised a few levels in this version. In the second half, the group goes on an adventure to Atlantis and, upon returning, the boys and Donald move in with Scrooge.

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Oh, and we get recurring character, Manny, the headless man-horse. Now with a head.

Now, this would normally be where the Pilot just acts as a set-up for the rest of the series, but, at the last minute, Dewey moves a piece of a painting seen earlier, revealing the figure of a young female duck. Dewey, shocked, says “Mom?” as the episode ends. Yes, at the last second, the show drops the biggest two surprises on us it could. First, they’re actually going to address what happened to Della Duck. Second, holy hell, THIS SHOW IS A SERIAL. There are going to be actual story arcs throughout the series. Again, this is in the last 15 seconds of the episode and it is huge.

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Yes. Della freaking Duck, ultimate obscure trivia question, is now a focal point.

The rest of the season was a little mixed. Some episodes were amazing and had fantastic guest stars, but others didn’t really use the characters well, and I was getting a little worried that they were too hit-and-miss. However, the whole time, they were also building up plot-lines and characters, including setting up Magica De Spell (Catherine “I was the best Tennant companion” Tate) as the big bad of the season. Then, we got to the penultimate episode, “The Last Crash of the Sunchaser” which not only had one of the most intense sequences in animated history, but had an ending that led me to sit in stunned silence trying to grapple with what I had just witnessed.

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An episode of DuckTales left me emotionally devastated. WHAT THE HELL?

Then, we get to the finale and it took a bit to get going but, once it kicked into gear with Magica De Spell as the villain du jour, it was a hell of a ride. Probably the single best thing was that they had Donald Duck swallow a “Barksian voice modulator” which made him talk like Don Cheadle. He then proceeded to deliver some both hilarious and bad-ass lines (which were turned into hilarious ones by the fact that DONALD DUCK was saying them). The season ends, however, with several plot-lines still up in the air, giving them plenty to work with in the next year.

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Oh, and she basically flat-out kills one recurring character. WHAT THE HELL?

The main thing that really makes this reboot stand out is that showrunners Matt Youngberg and Francisco Angones basically went through all of the previous incarnations, from the comics to the show to even other Disney cartoons from the 80s and 90s, and kept what was timeless. They didn’t go out of their way to avoid doing things like the old show, they celebrated the things the show did well while correcting the things it didn’t. They tried new things, to be sure, some of which worked better than others, but they gave the show a feel that, while still DuckTales, was still unique. They gave us nostalgia, but they never really relied on it too much and they always made any reference still work even if you didn’t know it.

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And has Margo Martindale and Allison Janney. So many great guest stars!

They also knew that too much nostalgia could overpower the work they were doing, so they did it gently. They did re-introduce Darkwing Duck, but now he’s a character on a show within a show. However, they go out of the way to point out that the actor who played Darkwing did his own stunts, so they have left the door open to have the actor become the superhero in future episodes. This was the right way to do things, because, if you put Darkwing Duck directly into the series, there would be too much pressure to keep putting him in it and any episode he was in would be focused on him.

Overall, I think this is one of the best reboots I’ve ever seen. Check it out, guys!

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.