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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Mary Poppins Returns – A Practically Perfect Presentation of the Paradox and Perils of Perpetuating Past Performances or, A Good Sequel Showing Why Great Sequels Are Hard (Spoiler-Free)

Mary Poppins returns (surprise!) to deal with another generation of the Banks family.

SUMMARY

It’s the 1930s in Britain and Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), the prank-loving boy from the original film, is all grown up with three children of his own: Annabel, John, and Georgie (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson). He’s recently lost his wife and, while his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) tries to help him, it’s revealed that he’s deeply in debt and in danger of losing his home to the very bank that he and his father worked at, Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, headed up by William “Weatherall” Wilkins (Colin Firth). Fortunately, his household receives a visit from Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) and Bert’s (Dick Van Dyke) apprentice Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) to help get the family through this trying time with magic, music, and the occasional strange relative.

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And looking damned good for someone who’s at least 50… centuries.

END SUMMARY

Mary Poppins is a hard movie not to love. The songs are so catchy that I bet you can hum two right now, the animation was unbelievable for its time, the performances by Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, and David Tomlinson are all so defined that they’ve basically become archetypes since the 60s, and the style and tone of the movie are the epitome of whimsy. It’s got a rare 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is an example of a movie where even the imperfect things (e.g. Dick Van Dyke’s Fake Accent) only served to make it more unique and enjoyable. This pretty much doomed any sequel from the beginning, because it’s so hard to follow something that had this many solid elements blended together perfectly.

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This was the Google result for “whimsical.” 

Mary Poppins Returns is destined to divide. Reading a sample of the reviews right now, it seems like that’s a lot of what it’s doing. Honestly, it’s to its credit that it can even do that. This film manages to try to avert most of what makes a sequel terrible, but also manages to commit two of the biggest sequel mistakes. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Emily Blunt takes over as Mary Poppins and she is wonderful. She’s clever, she’s mischievous, she can be very proper when she needs to be, but, mostly, she’s different enough from Julie Andrews’ portrayal that it doesn’t feel like she’s trying to copy what we’ve already seen while still being similar enough to believably be the same character. She’s a little more explicitly magical in this and smiles a lot more, but it still feels like it’s just the same character handling slightly different circumstances. The only time in the film where I thought “this is not Mary Poppins” is when she performs the song “A Cover is Not the Book.” It’s not that the song is bad, in fact I think it’s one of the more original songs within the film, but she performs it in the style of a Vaudeville Music Hall, something that, while appropriate for the time period of the movie, seems like something I could NEVER imagine Julie Andrews doing as Poppins. Other than that, though, she nails it.

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Admittedly, they don’t look alike. 

Similarly, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance as Jack is similar enough to Dick Van Dyke as Bert to complement Mary Poppins’ character, but it still is distinctly different. Bert and Mary seemed to have a history and a mostly unspoken level of attraction, whereas Jack is more akin to a fanboy finally meeting his idol, but in a good way. Jack’s style of performance is also different, favoring more song and dance over Bert’s physical comedy, and it works.

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Jack was later shot by Aaron Burr. 

Another big change is the children. In contrast to the disobedient Jane and Michael Banks of the original, the three children we are show in this film are well-behaved and, for the most part, are almost more adult than the adults. They’ve been forced to grow up based on the fact that they’ve lost their mother and their father is more of an artist than an earner. So, unlike the original where Mary has to straighten out the Banks children while loosening up their father, she’s doing the opposite in this and it does play well for Blunt to be a little less uptight than Andrews was in her version.

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Georgie’s the most mysterious in that he sometimes walks on the grass.

But, now, we get to the problems of the movie: First, the plot is much more serious. It’s a sequel, so there’s always a tendency to try and raise the stakes, but in this we have the quest to save the Banks home which doesn’t quite gel with most of the scenes. It’s not like there are multiple side-stories that feed into the overall narrative like in the original, this feels like they had 2 ideas for a movie and just jammed them in together. It doesn’t quite work. Also, not only is Michael’s wife dead, but so are Mr. and Mrs. Banks? It’s only been 25 years, people, and they were both in their 30s in the original! Hell, the actress who played Mrs. Banks, Glynis Johns, is still alive in real life. Just saying, it felt like they intentionally shrank the family so the plot felt more dire.

Second, the film has a lot of plot “twinning” with the original, by which I mean that there are a lot of scenes in this that clearly were put in less because they needed to be in the film, but more because they called back to a scene in the original. It’s another common sin of sequels: Trying to do the same thing over again. Sure, the characters feel a little different, but some of the scenes are very clearly just in there to match stuff from the original.

Third, some of the new characters don’t feel “whimsical” as much as “weird.” In the original, all of the magical characters, like the band that plays “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (btw, got it in 1 try) and Uncle Albert, the man on the ceiling, and even the chimney sweeps, all feel like they’re magical characters straight out of a fairy tale. In this… not quite as much. They all have a little too much darkness and reflection to them. A stand-out example of not quite working as well is, sadly, Meryl Streep’s character of Topsy, the upside-down fixer-upper. It’s not that Meryl Streep does anything wrong, it’s that the character needed to be performed by someone who has no intrinsic gravitas, which is the opposite of Meryl “I have 4 Oscars for drama” Streep. She’s great in comedies and portrays the character exactly as it was probably envisioned, but this just wasn’t the right fit. Also, her song is not great, which brings me to…

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WHY WOULDN’T YOU MAKE HER THE ELDER MRS. BANKS?

Fourth, the music is only okay. There are like 3 really good songs in this movie, but, of those three, only one doesn’t blatantly sample from the original Sherman Brothers music. I don’t mean to undercut Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, because they’ve both done great work (Hairspray), but they didn’t come close to matching the Sherman Brothers’ level of quality from the original. “The Perfect Nanny,” “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Jolly Holiday,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “I Love to Laugh,” “Feed the Birds,” Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “Step in Time,” and “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.” I can sing most of every line of these songs at almost any point in my life. I only saw Mary Poppins Returns last night and I can only remember 3 songs well. The sequel’s music just isn’t in the same league. It’s like Chumawumba trying to outsell the Beatles; it’s not that they’re bad, it’s that they were never really competing.

All four of these problems come not necessarily from the movie itself, but from the nature of making a sequel. If you try to completely ignore the previous movie, then you’re not paying the proper respect. If you don’t do enough on your own, then you feel like there was no point in making the sequel. That’s why it’s so hard to continue a story that’s complete. Sure, Godfather II, Aliens, and Terminator 2 all work great, but that’s because they’re either A) telling the rest of the story that was still going, B) switching genres, or C) doing a little bit of both in an inventive way. This film tries to tell the rest of the story and add some genre switch (romantic subplot and central villain), but it just never quite pulled away from the original enough. Again, it’s tough to do.

Overall, I do want to say that I enjoyed the movie even if it’s not the lightning in a bottle that the original represented. It’s definitely a movie that everyone should see, if only to make up their mind on whether it’s good or bad.

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.