The gold standard for cartoon reboots comes to a glorious, glorious end.
Having spent a season fighting against the Fiendish Organization for World Larceny (F.O.W.L.), Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant) and family finally face off against the assembled forces of villainy. The stakes are not just the future of the McDuck family, but the future of adventure itself. IT. IS. MAGNIFICENT.
Anything else would be a spoiler.
Since it came out I have hailed this show as nothing short of brilliant and that did not change. I’m deeply disappointed with Disney’s decision to end this show after only three seasons, but I cannot help but be impressed with how much effort the team behind it put into this sendoff. Not only does it directly reference multiple shows from the Disney Afternoon lineup (DuckTales, Darkwing Duck, Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin, Goof Troop, The Wuzzles, Gummi Bears), it indirectly references essentially all of the other animated shows that Disney put on in the 1990s, including an insanely funny joke involving Keith David from Gargoyles.
The key to this finale is that it both pays tribute to the huge mythology that this show built and also to all of the history that inspired the show itself. It doesn’t just present an amazing adventure for our characters, it highlights why we love them so much and why we want to root for them. The theme of the show has always been about family, particularly about how family are the people that stand up for you not the people you share blood with, and this finale makes that take the center. It’s got a lot of solid emotional moments between all of the characters, but particularly ones involving Webby (Kate Micucci), a character who often seemed to feel like she was an outsider trying to join a family. I think that’s something that many shows often overlook when doing a finale, that it still needs to have the emotional core to keep us invested in our characters even though we’ve been on the journey with them this far. DuckTales nailed it.
I know that this is a kids show, but I will miss this series. It didn’t just try to hit nostalgia, it dove in and reminded us why nostalgia can be great, because it gives you a feeling of shared love between creator and viewer. It told us that whether it was the original comic books, the ‘87 series, the later comics, or even other shows that were just made by the same company, that we can all be bonded over our love of stories about good triumphing by being smarter than the smarties, tougher than the toughies, sharper than the sharpies, and earning it square.
Overall, I hope that they at least keep the Darkwing Duck show developing at Disney+ in this continuity, because even a few occasional cameos would help soften the blow. They probably won’t, but a man can dream.
The Gold Standard of Reboots continues upholding its standard.
SUMMARY (Spoilers for Seasons 1 and 2)
Welcome back to Duckburg, where birds are people, but also sometimes are birds. Seriously the opening shot of the series was a normal seagull being shooed off by an anthropomorphic bird. The most prominent citizens are Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant) and his family members: Huey, Dewey, and Louie Duck (Danny Pudi, Ben Schwartz, Bobby Moynihan), Donald Duck (Tony Anselmo), Webby Vanderquack (Kate Micucci), Bentina Beakley (Toks Olagundoye), and Launchpad McQuack (Beck Bennett).
In season one, the Duck/McDuck family worked together to defeat Scrooge’s most dangerous adversary Magica De Spell (Catherine Tate), only for the audience (but not the characters) to find out that Donald’s Sister Della (Paget Brewster), the mother of the triplets, was still alive and stranded on the moon.
In season two, Della finally makes it home, only for the Moonlanders, led by General Lunaris (Lance Reddick) to invade Earth. He is thwarted by the Ducks, Darkwing Duck (Chris Diamantopolous), and Scrooge’s rival Flintheart Glomgold (Keith Ferguson), but it turns out that this threat has forced an even greater evil power to escalate their plans: F.O.W.L. (the Fiendish Organization for World Larceny).
Now, the Ducks have set out to locate a collection of the lost treasures of Scrooge’s idol Isabella Finch while F.O.W.L. plots to get them first.
This has been a solid three-stage development for this show. The first season was mostly about acclimating the audience to the new world of DuckTales, which, while it still resembled its 1987 counterpart, had been updated in both tone and animation style to be more in line with Disney’s new animated series like Gravity Falls or Star vs. the Forces of Evil. It also abandoned the original series’ episodic nature and instead was a serial, which allowed the show to build up Magica’s threat gradually over the series, as well as the mystery of what happened to Della.
Season two didn’t expand the adventuring, but instead doubled down on expanding the series emotionally. It showed us the backgrounds of several of the characters from the last season and recontextualized their actions, which is a great storytelling device when done well (like the Ice King in Adventure Time) and expanded on the emotional loss felt by the Duck family over Della going missing. Then, when she returns, it’s not quite the happy reunion with her kids that she’d hoped for, because they’ve spent ten years without her. While they’re fighting giant golems or robots, the show still demonstrated that Della’s return was affecting everyone emotionally and that it was a gradual process to deal with it. It also gave us a little taste of nostalgia by bringing back the Three Caballeros and Darkwing Duck, which was basically a set-up for this season.
The theme for season three is “nostalgia.” It was advertised a while ago that the third season would contain almost every character from Disney’s ‘90s afternoon lineup and so far it has delivered on it and then some. I don’t want to say who has appeared so far, but I can say that making them canon to this show bodes well for future episodes. There’s even an episode which takes place in a ‘90s sitcom, just to make sure that everyone gets a full blast of that extreme pre-financial crisis optimism that is so hard to even remember now.
It’s the fact that the show was willing to be patient with their properties that makes it work. They didn’t bring Della back in season 1, nor was it just a “she’s back, everything’s normal now” situation. Season 2 gave us Darkwing Duck in an amazing reboot, but they only used him sparingly. Similarly, Season 3 is giving us several characters, but even when they appear it’s only ancillary to the storyline. It’s not overloading us on anything, instead just making us want it more. Really, I’m impressed with the restraint.
Overall, still love the show, recommend it highly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!