At last, the day has come. The 2017 reboot of DuckTales has come to a rather abrupt and disconcerting close after only three seasons of solving mysteries and rewriting history. And honestly, this show has been a spectacular treat since day one. I was stoked when it was first announced, and my only disappointment was the first teaser image that featured the angular designs I wasn’t wild about, but if after three seasons, that’s my biggest complaint, then what do I have to gripe about?
DuckTales slowly rose to its status ever since Huey, Dewey, and Louie first appeared in 1937 and Scrooge McDuck ten years later. Artist Carl Barks took the characters and soon began making the classic comic books we love today. Everything, from Scrooge’s vast money bin and obscene wealth, to the globetrotting adventures, from the Beagle Boys to Flintheart Glomgold, was birthed from this series of books and continued to inspire millions, even Steven Spielberg, who remembered a booby-trapped ancient South American temple equipped with a giant rolling boulder in Seven Cities of Cibola, published in 1954. Sound familiar?
In 1987, the comics were adapted into a weekly television series that we millenials treasure, where Huey, Dewey, and Louie were finalized in their popular color-coded designs, and we got even more fan favorite characters such as Launchpad McQuack, Mrs. Beakley, Webby, Ma Beagle, and Fenton Crackshell/GizmoDuck. It was Disney’s most successful animated series, running at 100 episodes over four seasons, is the only Disney Afternoon series to have ever gotten a theatrical release, and the NES game is frequently rated as one of the best for the system.
It’s no surprise that in 2016, as millenials became adults, that their childhood favorites during the Disney Decade would soon reemerge, and we’d obsess over everything from the Disney Afternoon to A Goofy Movie, Hocus Pocus to Nightmare Before Christmas. And what better way to evoke the feels than to reboot the most popular show from that period and bring it to a whole new generation?
So in dedication to this incredible reboot, I turn the clock back to August of 2017, a simpler time before a global pandemic, and relive this awesome pilot episode. Designate a daring driver for these delightful ducks of derring-do!
The plot: Donald Duck (Tony Anselmo) is late for a job interview and can’t trust his nephews Huey (Danny Pudi), Dewey (Ben Schwartz), and Louie (Bobby Moynihan) to behave themselves alone. He begrudgingly takes the boys to McDuck Manor, home to the reclusive Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant), the once-great super-squillionaire who “used to be a big deal”…and the boys had no idea they were his grand-nephews. The boys are locked in a room, but escape with the help of a shut-in little girl and Scrooge’s maid’s granddaughter, Webbigail (Kate Micucci). When the kids fool around with some of his mystical artifacts in the garage, it takes the combined efforts of Scrooge, the kids, and chauffer/pilot Launchpad McQuack (Beck Bennett) to stop them.
Impressed with their fortitude and ingenuity, Scrooge invites all of them on an expedition to the lost city of Atlantis. However, Donald’s newest employer, Flintheart Glomgold (Keith Ferguson), is also seeking the jewel of the submerged city and will stop at nothing to defeat Scrooge through any means necessary.
How’s the writing?: In a word, brilliant. In more than one? Exciting. Funny. Engaging. Loaded. Emotional. Quick-witted. And so many more adjectives that would just be redundant.
In just under 45 minutes, we are given a far better introduction to the characters and their emotional arcs than we did in the original series’ five-part pilot, Treasure of the Golden Sun. What starts as just needing someone to watch the boys for a few hours turns into an excuse to bring the indefatigable nephews to Scrooge’s home without abandoning Donald off-screen in the Navy, relegating him to just cameos. Scrooge is shown as a morose has-been who just needed the right injection of thrills to get him into his adventures again. We even see the boys – for the only time besides 1996’s Quack Pack where they’re given three separate voice actors! – are given distinct personalities, all reflecting a different aspect of their grand-uncle (Huey respects his cleverness, Dewey his sense of derring-do, and Louie for his love for wealth and treasure).
Right away we see each one carries some emotional strain that brings to mind J. J. Abrams’ “Mystery Box” storytelling: to plant the idea of a big, underlying mystery to hook viewers and reward them later with the answers. Here, we see the seeds being laid for why Donald and Scrooge are estranged, why Glomgold hates Scrooge, why Scrooge has such bitter feeling toward family in general, and of course, that question at the very tail end of the pilot. Creators Matt Younberg and Fransisco Angones were damn masterful in their planning, not unlike the MCU. All the while fast-paced, witty, and hilarious. I’m sorry, fellow millenials, but it sweeps the OG series, easy in that regard.
Does it give the feels?: The show’s tone is mostly intense and witty, focused on great legwork, but again, there are some great foundations for emotional payoffs, even solely contained here.
Dewey overhears Scrooge scoff talking about them, telling Mrs. Beakley “Family is nothing but trouble!”, which upsets the young child. After escaping to the garage and watching his great uncle swiftly defeat three mystical entities in one fell swoop, Scrooge crossly reprimands the kids for getting into mischief. In a retort as savage as all get out, Dewey snaps, “I guess FAMILY is nothing but TROUBLE. Right, Uncle Scrooge?” And just seeing Scrooge’s barely-repressed rage warp his beak is chilling. You even get a rather sweet moment where Donald shows off pictures of his nephews to a couple of mercenaries, exemplifying Donald as an overprotective caretaker, which – you guessed it – gets explained in later episodes.
There’s even a sweeter moment where Webby announces her desire to explore beyond the manor, by declaring she’ll finally eat a hamburger. When Louie assures her they’d bring her one, just the tone in which Webby says, “You guys really are my friends” is just so sincere and touching.
I’m sorry, guys, but as great as the OG show was, it barely flirted with emotional depth like this. And it only got better as the series progressed.
Who makes it worth it?: I do admit that there was something appealing…cuddly, if you will…about the 1987 versions. Maybe it’s the rounded, less angular designs, but there was something much more approachable about the originals. And I admit, I miss the more happy-go-lucky, jovial Scrooge over the more cunning one in the reboot, but he’s no less likeable. Heck, I’ll always miss the thick Glasgow burr of Alan Young. But if I had to choose the characters that I’d point to to convince others to invest their time into this show, it’s Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby.
Three of these guys had essentially been clones for years, finishing each others’ sentences, with only the color of their clothes to really discern them from each other. Now, at last, we have three robust personalities that make the show that much more enjoyable. Huey, designated the eldest, is the smart, analytical, and the one most easily frustrated when things don’t go 100% according to plan and is the only Junior Woodchuck among them. It’s so cute seeing him geek out on their Atlantis trip by making everyone matching t-shirts and putting on sea shanties.
Dewey is the crazy one, most in dire need of attention and acclaim. Filled with reckless abandon, he’s also the most egotistical, loving to use his name as a catchphrase, singing “How does he Dewey it?”, unintentionally setting off a series of death traps.
Louie, the “evil twin”, is hilarious as the greedy, lazy one. He takes it upon himself to put sticky notes on artifacts to claim dibs when Scrooge passes away. Dark, yes, but still hilarious.
Then there’s Webby. The thing is, Webby was a transparently naked attempt by marketing to cater to little girls, much like Arcee in Transformers, Smurfette in The Smurfs, and the Chipettes in Alvin and the Chipmunks, among others. Dressed entirely in pink, her baby voice, always carrying around her “Quackypatch” doll…she was less a character than a “girl” stereotype. But in the reboot, Webby got a MASSIVE upgrade, and was made a much more complex and nuanced character. She was cute and naive, but was also trained in self-defense. She loved meeting people, but barely understood social situations. She knew everything about clan McDuck, but never ate a hamburger. Even better, there was no boy-girl dichotomy as there was in the series. It was clear there was no bad blood between the sexes, and the boys didn’t consider Webby a “tagalong”, like they did before.
Best quality provided: I truly appreciated the show’s sense to be snappier and wittier than its predecessor, even incorporating nods to other Disney Afternoon shows, referring to Cape Suzette, Spoonerville, and St. Canard (Not yet realizing this was just a sample of what we’d get in later seasons). I even loved the updated theme by Felicia Barton.
But aside from those things, by far the best thing this pilot gave us was a good story. Characters made decisions. Characters got emotional. They acted in character. Personalities bounced off each other. And it left us by establishing the status quo and ending by beginning a season-long arc that would answer one of the biggest questions in Disney duck history. Aside from three five-part episodes, the OG series couldn’t carry that kind of follow-through, and they rarely did so with much emotional investment.
What could have been improved: Like I said earlier, the only thing I wasn’t really a fan of was the art style. I loved the modern redesigns, particularly the characters’ clothes better updated for modern audiences. But that jagged, pointy aesthetic could be a bit alienating at times. It seemed like further highlighting the fact these characters weren’t real. Though this style does seem to lend itself to the show’s comedy.
I miss Alan Young’s voice. I miss Scrooge’s rounded, cuddly look. I miss his blue coat. I miss his jovial streak. Scrooge remains one of my favorite Disney characters, but you know what? This reboot has been just that good. I could throw a fit that “It’s not my DuckTales“, as if the 1987 show were something I owned to begin with. In exchange, I got a show full of intrigue, sharp wit, better developed characters, and a greater expansion of the duck universe. I’d call that a crazy awesome tradeoff.
Verdict: Reboots often miss the mark as to why certain things were popular to begin with. Beauty and the Beast thought we needed answers to plot holes. The Lion King thought we needed greater realism so the animals didn’t need to emote. Maleficent thought we needed the backstory of one of Disney’s greatest villains and give her a rape allegory. But once in a blue moon, the stars align and we get a reimagining that takes what we already love about the original – great characters and fun stories – and stir in things we really love: like deeper emotional moments, a fresh spin on the characters, multi-episode arcs, and genuine mystery. This pilot was a far and away everything I wanted in a rebooted DuckTales and more I didnt even know I wanted. It’s a shame the series has come to an end after only three seasons, but all things considered, the world was just that much brighter as I continue to get older, especially over the past few years. One might even say it was one big duck-blur. A solid ten jewels of Atlantis out of ten.
And now, a moment of silence for the characters who never got to see themselves brought back for an encore (Pops in cassette of Sarah Mclachlan’s “I Will Remember You”):
Yeah, I’m not letting that last one go. Having Keith David voice a demonic horse, as the Gargoyles overture plays and he bellows, “I live again!” is close…but not quite close enough for me.