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DuckTales (2017) – “The Last Adventure!”

Original air date March 15, 2021

The return of DuckTales came at a really good time in my life. When it was announced, I had just become a dad not that long ago and even had another kid on the way (a bit earlier than planned) and it seemed like the kind of show that would lineup well with my family when it premiered in 2017. I had grown up with The Disney Afternoon and the pre-Disney Afternoon shows, like DuckTales, and they were a formative experience for me. While DuckTales was never my favorite show, it was still appointment viewing and my sister and I watched it daily and stayed with it into the Disney Afternoon days through the release of the movie in 1990. Leading up to the premiere, I purchased the original series on DVD and would most often turn to it to amuse my kids on long car rides. We had a DVD player for the car, and for awhile it was the only show my son thought was available to him in the car. I can still remember his little voice saying “Go in the car, watch DuckTales!” The first thing he watched on YouTube, was the DuckTales intro and when the new intro was unveiled on YouTube it became a nightly ritual for him to sit at the table, eat his dessert (usually M&Ms), and sing along to the video.

Grab some tissues and get ready to say “good bye.”

When the show finally premiered in August of 2017 I had it in my head that this would be a show I could watch with my children and we would all enjoy it. Things didn’t quite work out the way I had planned. My son was only 2 and my daughter was still a month shy of her first birthday. They loved the song, but the episodes themselves were a bit hard to reach. The premiere, “Woo-oo!,” was a brief hit in my household with my son requesting to watch it quite often for a period of a few weeks. As he often did, he would latch onto a piece of media, consume it over and over for a period of time, and then move on. And move on he did. Eventually, they got older and to the point where they could sit and watch it with me and sort of enjoy it. My son seemed to like it more than my daughter, who remained way more into the opening song than the rest of the show, but at least it provided for a bit of quiet time on a Monday evening.

Webby gets to be the star in this one, which is only fair since they use her birthday party as a cover for their FOWL trap.

Even though they didn’t grab onto DuckTales like I had hoped, I’m still going to miss those Monday evening viewings for DuckTales just aired its grand finale last night. Appropriately titled “The Last Adventure!,” the finale truly was a grand undertaking as it spanned 90 minutes of broadcast space. It is my understanding that it will be broken up into three separate episodes with three distinct titles in the future, but as a finale it was pretty special. We knew DuckTales was not coming back for a fourth season as the news broke before the end of 2020. The creators of the show, Frank Angones and Matt Youngblood, were at least informed by the network that the show was ending after three seasons with enough advance notice that they could plan for a true ending. This is in stark contrast to the Disney Afternoon shows of old which were almost cynically constructed to air over and over in syndication with no apparent end. Viewers like finales though. We may hate to see a treasured program end, but if it’s got to, we want some closure. And DuckTales has always approached story telling in a big way. This is not the Disney Afternoon of old where the vast majority of episodes are just one-off, self-contained, stories that anyone can just drop in and out of. This show has arcs, it has continuity. It’s not to the point where it’s unapproachable for a newcomer, but it’s very rewarding for those who take it all in. Had it been denied a true finale, that would have been a television tragedy. Instead, viewers of DuckTales were treated to one of the best television finales in recent memory, and maybe even history!

Donald and the boys have one last adventure in them!

“The Last Adventure!” is centered around the nefarious organization, FOWL, and Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant) and his family have laid a trap for the organization to finally put a stop to it. It’s been somewhat simmering in the background for a few episodes, so it’s great to get back into this plot for the finale especially knowing that we’re going to spend 90 minutes on it. Naturally, the trap laid out by Scrooge and the gang isn’t much of a success, because we need this thing to carry on for awhile. The show introduces two new characters in the process, May (Riki Lindhome) and June (Noël Wells), who should be familiar to longtime duck fans or viewers of The Legend of the Three Caballeros. They’re really the only new characters as the rest of the show is going to be devoted to essentially bringing everyone back. Most just show up for a cameo or to hang out in the background of a shot, but it’s pretty cool to see everyone back. And chances are, if you think someone was missing they were probably there and you just missed them.

Della gets to play the audience surrogate this time as she declares she doesn’t want their adventures to end! There’s a lot of meta stuff in this one.

The theme of the episode is going to be that family is the greatest adventure of all. Della (Paget Brewster) is going to find out early in the episode that her brother Donald (Tony Anselmo) is planning on running off with his new love Daisy (Tress MacNeille) after their business is concluded and she is not happy about it. That’s our first little taste of family, while the rest is largely reserved for the character Webby Vanderquack (Kate Micucci) and how she fits into this eclectic clan.

Webby giving one of many lessons on family in this one.

Centering the finale partially on Webby is a brilliant choice. In the original series, Webby was basically everyone’s least favorite character. She was there because someone felt there needed to be a girl equivalent to Huey, Dewey, and Louie, which is fine. Unfortunately, she was made this annoying, baby-like, character and it was borderline offensive that someone thought this was the right choice for a character that young girls were supposed to relate to and enjoy. It felt like she was put upon the viewers, and viewers generally don’t like that. For the reboot, Webby was turned into the audience surrogate. She’s the outsider within the McDuck family and is constantly in awe of Scrooge and his exploits. When Della Duck has her emotional return, the camera pans to Webby to show her overcome with emotion and sobbing uncontrollably because the show knew that’s what we were doing! This Webby is fully embraced by the other characters in the show and she’s a ball of energy and insight and this show quickly became one that was largely about Scrooge and his nephews as well as his surrogate niece.

Despite being the finale, this one does make time for some new faces.

That is how I will remember DuckTales. It’s a show about Scrooge McDuck, but it’s mostly told through the children of the show. It was able to take time for other things as well, and the Della Duck plot was definitely one of the most rewarding the show touched upon. It was rewarding almost to a fault as once she was brought into the fold, Della kind of just slipped into the background. The show probably could have done more with her and Donald, as it felt like that was held back initially, but then never truly paid off. This finale rectifies that to a degree, but if the show had one missed opportunity it was in not doing more with the duck siblings.

The only thing missing is a, “DuckTales! Assemble!”

That may be a criticism of DuckTales on the whole, but it’s not applicable for the finale. FOWL’s plan will be revealed and it’s appropriately silly, but not to the point where the cast can’t take it seriously. There’s also quite a bit of fan service and pretty much every classic Disney Afternoon show gets a call-out of some kind. Favorite characters get their moment to shine, all the while the show practically beats us over the head with its theme of family being the greatest adventure. And when it’s starting to get too corny, the show basically calls itself out via one of the characters which is a good laugh-out-loud moment. A show centered around a family of adventuring ducks should get ample opportunity to get a little Full House at times. And it is truly impressive how such a massive cast of secondary characters were brought back into the fold so well. The episode doesn’t lag at all, even with it being triple the runtime of a normal episode. It makes me wonder what this team could do with an actual feature-length project set in this world.

So long and thanks for the memories, McDuck family!

Ultimately, DuckTales may not have been exactly the show I had hoped it would be for me and my family. My kids did sit and watch this one with me, but once 8 o’clock hit they checked out. In our house, 8 o’clock means tablet time and the kids get 30 minutes to do whatever they want on their tablets before we read a book and go to bed. And right when the clock struck 8, my son asked for his tablet (sigh). It wasn’t a total loss though for we got a late start to the show because it takes my kids forever to eat dinner, so at 8:30 their tablets went off and I gave them a choice of book then bed, or DuckTales then bed, and they chose DuckTales. We watched the last 20 minutes or so as a family and they were pretty into it, for what it’s worth. As for me, while the show didn’t become appointment viewing for my kids like I had hoped, it very much was everything I could have hoped a new version of DuckTales would be. The finale was fantastic, and I am not the sort who is prone to hyperbole in the moment, but this really was one of the best television finales I’ve had the pleasure of viewing. It was funny, exciting, full of action, and packed with plenty of emotional moments as well. The show set out to solve some mysteries and rewrite history, and boy did it ever deliver!


DuckTales Season One Review

ducktales newRebooting an old cartoon property has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, reviving an old brand means the core of what you’re trying to build is already in place. Characters, relationships, stories, even music can all be mined from the old and adapted for the new. There are often tweaks made to the look of the show, new voices to cast, and a whole new team to assemble, but it’s undoubtedly easier and less expensive than starting from scratch. And it also allows a new generation of creators to take something they enjoyed as youngsters and mold it into something else. It also comes with risks, and as we’ve seen all too often recently there is an aspect of fandom that is, well, toxic to say the least. Take She-Ra, for example. Originally conceived as a way to market action figures to girls, She-Ra was integrated into He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, itself a show designed simply to sell toys to boys, and the backlash was swift and quick. Even those behind the creation of He-Man looked down on She-Ra and blamed her for hastening the decline of the franchise as a whole, “Now my sister wants to play with me? Gross!” This is all captured quite well in the documentary series The Toys That Made Us, if you want to know more.

She-Ra, I’m sure, had fans of her own, but they definitely were small in numbers, relatively speaking. Rarely did I ever hear anyone in conversation bring her up in a positive light and I literally met no one pining for a reboot in the same mold as He-Man himself. And yet, when a new concept was recently unveiled for She-Ra online the He-Man fandom and nerd culture as a whole was swift to pounce on it. Blaming it for ruining the character or for unoriginally adhering to the “CalArts style,” these fans were loud and largely obnoxious. It was similar to the backlash towards a new ThunderCats show that has yet to air. Did you ever watch ThunderCats back when it was originally aired? That show, just like She-Ra and He-Man and countless other programs, was terrible. It’s fine to be nostalgic for them because you grew up with them. I certainly watched a lot of crappy cartoons, but I don’t want to subject my kids to the same. If there are to be new versions of these shows I want them to be good! Not some 23 minute toy commercial. Fans should be happy these things still exist for a new audience. And the beauty of it all is, if you don’t like what’s new, you still have what’s old. It doesn’t go away or vanish the moment a new version shows up.

scrooge winter

The cast is much larger, but many episodes still revolve around Scrooge and his nephews (plus Webby).

It’s interesting that one of the companies behind the pivot from making shows that sell toys to just making good animated programming was Disney with its Disney Afternoon programming block. The original Disney Afternoon toon was Adventures of the Gummi Bears, but the show most associate with the block is none other than DuckTales. Basically a loose adaptation of the Carl Barks comics for television, DuckTales centered not around Donald Duck but around his rich Uncle Scrooge McDuck. He was partnered with his grand nephews Huey, Duey, and Louie along with his personal pilot Launchpad. Together they went on grand adventures searching for treasure. They wouldn’t just travel to far away places, but backwards and even forward in time! It was memorable for its lavish animation that went far beyond the likes of Dic and Hanna-Barbera. Not to mention for its incredibly catchy theme song.

As such, it seems appropriate that when it came time for Disney to adapt DuckTales for a new audience it largely escaped the internet backlash that had befallen other properties. Oh, I’m sure there are detractors that do not like the new visual style or the Felicia Barton sung intro, but by and large the response I have seen online and in person has been overwhelmingly positive. DuckTales just concluded its first season. Commercially, I have no idea how well the show has done, though it’s done well enough to receive a second season. It’s hard to judge that sort of thing in this day and age when ratings mean almost nothing thanks to streaming options and DVR. There hasn’t even been a tie-in toy-line until very recently so sales of that aren’t going to offer much of a measure. Creatively though, it’s hard to think of a cartoon reboot that has been more successful than DuckTales. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles come close with their 2012 reboot, and really that ThunderCats reboot of a few years ago was miles ahead of the original, though it did not last very long. DuckTales is on another level though, and there are a lot of reasons why.

ducktales-donald-duck-header

After mostly chilling on the sidelines in the original series, Donald is a part of the main cast this time around. He doesn’t get to relax as much as this image suggests.

First and foremost, the work of Carl Barks has not been ignored. Scrooge is back to his red overcoat and he’s partnered with all of his nephews this time – including Donald Duck! Back when the original Disney Afternoon was conceived, Disney was hesitant about letting any of its big stars headline a show. Landing Donald for the few episodes he was in was a huge get, as characters like Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy were completely shut-out at the onset. That stigma has long since passed allowing Donald to finally star alongside his uncle as he should. Huey, Dewey, Louie are still around and now they have distinct looks and personalities all to themselves. The prior nephews in basically every iteration were interchangeable. It was part of their charm, but also pretty limiting from a character perspective. Now they’re free to be themselves and the writers are allowed to explore each individual duckling. Huey is the closest to the original mold, the burgeoning Junior Woodchuck. Louie is more slothful and laid back while Dewey embodies the adventurous spirit of his great-uncle with perhaps a touch too much enthusiasm. Webby is also back and she’s no longer the little girl who seems to get in the way, rather she’s an adventurer herself who looks upon the likes of Scrooge and Donald as something close to legendary figures. She’s good-natured, and her grannie Mrs. Beakly is still around to look after her. Oh, and Mrs. Beakly is no longer the meek maid to Scrooge but a former covert agent herself with a rather massive and intimidating physique.

beakley

One of the more radical redesigns is that of Mrs. Beakley, who went from doting old maid to a tank-like brawler who still has a soft touch.

The show’s approach is similar to the original DuckTales, take Scrooge and the gang on adventures to fantastic worlds with treasures to uncover and villains to foil. Since the cast is larger, episodes will often pairs things down to just a handful and save the full cast for the most important episodes. It also includes more structured story-telling and the first season revolves around a character we’ve only ever seen mentioned, and rarely at that – Della Duck. Della is the sister to Donald and the mother to the boys, and at the end of the second episode (aired as one long episode for the premiere) the boys uncover a painting that depicts her alongside her brother and uncle. Della previously was basically only mentioned in the cartoon short “Donald’s Nephews” with Donald shown reading a letter from her asking her to watch her kids. She’s basically never been mentioned again and never seen, as far as I can recall. The boys start off knowing something happened to her and it may or may not have led to a falling out between Scrooge and Donald. The first episode deals with Donald reluctantly going to his uncle for help in watching the boys so he can go on a job interview, and that arch ends with Donald and the boys moving in as Donald seems to understand its best for his nephews (plus his house boat was destroyed in the process). The boys spend parts of the first season secretly investigating what happened to Della, and the mystery is unraveled slowly and takes some twists and turns. It even threatens to split the brothers apart as Dewey discovers something and decides to keep it from his brothers. Things come to a head in the penultimate episode leaving the finale, which just aired this past Saturday, to deal with the fall-out.

lena and webby

Lena and Webby’s friendship is one of the main plot points weaved throughout the first season.

The other big teaser throughout the first season revolves around Scrooge’s old enemy – Magica De Spell (Catherine Tate)! She was a frequent foil in the original series so naturally she’s back. As basically the big baddie of the whole thing, it’s a lot of fun to see the show treat her as such. When the season begins she’s magically sealed away and only able to interact with the world through her niece Lena (Kimiko Glenn) who poses as a friendly sort in order to gain the trust of Scrooge and thus somehow free Magica from whatever keeps her sealed away. To do so she gets close to Webby and the two become best friends. Throughout much of the second half of the season we get to see Lena being pulled between the two forces in her life; her friendship with Webby and her loyalty to Magica. It’s nothing new, but it’s handled well and there are some genuinely emotional moments that come of this and there’s a lot of payoff in the end. Plus, the animators used this really creepy effect where Lena’s eyes turn black and “spill” shadows to form Magica. It’s genuinely unsettling.

The original DuckTales cartoon dealt with plots that continued from one episode into the other. There were even changes to the main cast as was the case with the introduction of Bubba and Gizmoduck. Those storyline pay-offs though were not on the equal with the new show. The main theme of family is at the core of this new show and it never strays too far from that. Very few of the episodes in the first season felt like filler as all seemed to serve some purpose. Either a character learns something about themself or their relationship to the others or something else happens to move the overall story along. It’s a great way to structure a show and I always love seeing what is primarily children’s programming take this sort of risk. There will always be television executives who look down on children and think the simpler the better, but trust me, kids notice this stuff and appreciate it when a show doesn’t treat them like brainless buffoons.

magica

Many of Scrooge’s old villains have returned.

Additional challenges arise when creating a new version of a 30-year-old show. Namely, the voice talent available isn’t the same anymore. Alan Young, who provided the voice of Scrooge for decades, is no longer with us. And since it was decided that the nephews would be approached differently this time around, the talents of Russi Taylor were declined and instead each was given a unique voice. These changes are often the hardest for the old fans since not only do these characters barely resemble what we fell in love with as children, but they also sound very different. Once you get past that change though, it’s hard to say bad things about this cast. David Tennant is a great Scrooge with a natural Scottish accent. He brings everything you need from a voice actor to the character. He can be gentle, intimidating, enthusiastic, and even sad. It was hard to say good-bye to Young, but Tennant has done a remarkable job in his first season at the helm. The nephews are voiced by Danny Pudi (Huey), Ben Schwartz (Dewey) and Bobby Moynihan (Louie) and they all impart their own personality on the characters. If there is one negative to this season, it’s that Dewey definitely feels more developed than the other two and thus Schwartz shines brighter than the others, but season 2 could easily rectify that. Kate Micucci is Webby and she was perfect in the role while Toks Olagundoye voices her grandmother Beakley. Beck Bennett plays a more aloof Launchpad, but otherwise kind of sounds like he’s trying to do Terry McGovern which is a little sad because I know McGovern really wanted the part. If you’re feeling uncomfortable with all of the newness in the cast then at least you have Tony Anselmo reprising his role as Donald Duck, as it should be.

The new visual style of the show is bright and expressive. It’s a bit flat, which seems to be a trend in 2D digital animation, but it has its own look which helps differentiate it from the original series. The look of the old series just can’t be duplicated in today’s environment, so the show was smart to not even try. I really like the new look for Scrooge and Donald and feel it suits them well. The nephews have taken some getting used to as they have really large heads and in some respects resemble chickens more than ducks. The backgrounds are all really well done and there’s plenty of variety to be found from suburban settings to creepy castles. There’s also more imaginative and fantastic settings to be found and the show does an admirable job of mixing things up. It does the same with the villains and guest spots and virtually everyone you know and love from the original series makes an appearance or two here. There are also a few new characters thrown around, some inconsequential and some rather imaginative (I’m looking at you statue-headed horse) and almost all have some pay-off.

gizmoduck

And many old allies are back as well.

Of the first season’s 23 episodes (25 if you count the premier and finale as two episodes) it’s hard to pick a favorite. The first episode, “Woo-oo” was wonderful for its patient and rewarding reintroduction of these timeless characters. Any episode that pits Scrooge against Glomgold was usually humorous and entertaining to watch and the episode “Beware the B.U.D.D.Y. System” was equally humorous for its focus on Launchpad, plus it had Gizmoduck! Some of the episodes have some rather delightful Easter Eggs in them. You have undoubtedly seen or heard about the numerous Darkwing Duck ones, and the finale included one Easter Egg from the old NES game. And it’s really hard for me to not just pick the last three episodes as my favorites. They’re the most weighty with the biggest emotional moments in the whole season. I even get a lump in my throat just thinking about them.

As I said earlier, it’s hard to imagine a reboot having as successful a reintroduction as DuckTales did in 2017 and into 2018. The new show proves the old comics and original series still have legs, their foundation was one that can anchor any show in any era. This is the rare reboot that should have little trouble appealing to the old fans while also being something new for a younger generation that may never have even heard of DuckTales before 2017. If nothing else, my own children have proven to me time and again that the old theme song will never go out of style as the two will happily sing it at the dinner table, from their car seats, or while they play. It’s really rewarding as a parent to see your children embrace something you loved as a kid yourself, even if it’s not the same and in a new form. I have no doubt that DuckTales is in good hands right now and I look forward to watching the second season with my kids, or even on my own after they go to bed (it can be hard to focus on these things with a pair of short-attention span toddlers).


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