In the 1938 short Donald’s Nephews, Donald Duck received a postcard from sister Dumbella asking him to look after her three boys: Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Who knew that afternoon would turn into nearly a century? Along the way, sister Dumbella would undergo a name change and the boys would even change guardians, but after many long years, Donald’s sister has finally made her way back to her children.
Airing last week was the episode of DuckTales titled “Nothing Stops Della Duck!” detailing the character’s journey from the moon to Duckberg and into the lives of her children for the first time. Interestingly, prior to the revamped DuckTales, Della had done little of note. She never appeared in a Donald Duck cartoon, nor did she have a meaningful appearance in the comics by Carl Barks or Don Rosa. She was Della in the Sunday strip, but Barks would rename her as Thelma with Rosa reestablishing the name Della years later. She appeared as a child in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, albeit briefly. Aside from that, her most notable appearance is in the often circulated Donald Duck family tree in which she’s just a headshot.
Most of the canon surrounding Della has been recent and has trended towards her being a pilot or astronaut and she’s either missing or presumed dead. This was established in the 2014 Dutch comic 80 is prachtig which was part of a celebration of Donald Duck’s 80th birthday. The story is by Evert Geradts and is drawn by Maximino Tortajada and appeared in a Donald Duck magazine. It’s unknown these days what Disney considers canon, but her backstory there is similar to what has been introduced in DuckTales. The boys have, on occasion, identified themselves as orphans suggesting they believe she’s dead, but for the most part the subject of their parentage has been avoided. It’s likely the characters of Donald’s nephews, first introduced in a 1937 comic strip illustrated by Al Taliaferro from which the cartoon short was based on, were just created to give Donald some juveniles to bounce off of without saddling him with kids of his own. It was the 1930s, so Donald being a single father with three kids out of wedlock was probably too taboo, and having him marry would make him too domesticated. As nephews, the trio could simply come and go, which is largely what they did on film though it became clear in the printed world of Donald Duck these boys were here to stay.
Scrooge McDuck would eventually come along and he and his nephews would form a grand, adventuring, team which eventually found its way to television in the form of DuckTales. There Scrooge was in charge of the boys while Donald went off and joined the Navy and the subject of Della Duck was never broached. When the show re-launched in 2017, things were different. The ending of the premiere included the boys stumbling across a painting of Scrooge, Donald, and their mother Della in the midst of some heroics on a pirate ship. Throughout the first season, the boys would search for clues about what happened to their mother, the truth of which nearly driving them away from their Uncle Scrooge. The final shot of the first season revealed that Della was still alive, but trapped on the moon.
Season Two has partly followed Della and her trials on the moon. There she fended off monsters (and lost a leg) and befriended a peaceful race of moon people that aided her in rebuilding her rocket to get back home. Prior to this show’s creation, Della Duck was a character I paid no mind to. I’m sure many others did the same considering how little impact she’s had over the years. DuckTales though has made me interested in her, and “Nothing Can Stop Della Duck!” only amplified that.
The episode wastes little time in cutting to the chase. The previous episode ended (agonizingly on a Friday) with Della (Paget Brewster) blasting off so she’s outside of Scrooge’s estate when the episode begins. Donald Duck (Tony Anselmo) is waiting for a bus which is to take him away on vacation for a month and he sees the rocket crash and races over to find his sister, but she’s already gone. She quickly makes her way to Scrooge’s front door eager to see her uncle again and finally meet the children she left behind as eggs.
It’s in the moments outside of Scrooge’s door where the episode shines brightest. Della is eager, but also terrified of what her first impression will be like. She can’t bring herself to knock or ring the bell and instead starts trying out first impressions. It’s partly played for laughs to lessen the obvious tension. On the other side of the door, Scrooge (David Tennant) is armed with some priceless artifact in the shape of a quill that can magically lead him to any treasure if he uses it to sketch a map. He, the boys, and Webby (Kate Micucci) are ready to leave, but when Scrooge opens the door he’s stopped dead in his tracks as the quill falls to the floor shattering into a million pieces.
Della then basically cracks a joke of an introduction as we see the tears well up in Scrooge’s eyes. It’s beautifully illustrated and the two share a warm embrace. When the camera pans to the children, they’ve become withdrawn and are looking on cautiously. Webby is casually positioned in front of them just taking everything in and it’s she who first posits that the woman at the door is their mother. Della enters and drops to her knees with tear-filled eyes as Scrooge introduces her. The scene is paced so intelligently as the boys are both excited but also very guarded. Dewey (Ben Schwartz) is the most exuberant and the firs to embrace his mother, while Huey (Danny Pudi) needs to only hear her quote the Junior Woodchuck handbook to know he’s found his mom. Louie (Bobby Moynihan), the most casual and laid back of the three, is also the most hesitant. He justifiably wonders if this is some weird trick and Della is going to turn into a ghoul or monster. He eventually gives in, and the three share a heartwarming group hug.
The scene dealing with both the joy of an unexpected, but welcomed, reunion coupled with some degree of trepidation and fear of the unknown is handled about as well here as it is in any medium. I was so impressed with the moment, but not surprised, because the bread crumbs this show had laid down gave me the confidence in knowing it could handle this kind of material and do it well. I was so convinced of that going into it that I made it a point to view this one by myself without my children. I love them dearly, but my son especially is at that stage where he asks 20 questions a minute when watching a TV show or movie so it can be trying to actually absorb and enjoy something when he’s around.
The rest of the episode remained poignant and clever as Della tries to get readjusted to life within a family she hardly knows. She has to find her place and also figure out how to be a mother overnight. There’s confusion on all sides, and there’s a sense that Della is trying to force affection and a motherly persona onto her boys and all of them will adapt at different speeds. The show is establishing rather quickly that Della and Dewey will be kindred spirits and that bonding with him will come easier than it will with Huey and Louie. Della will have to spend time getting to know her boys and they will have to do the same. They love each other right now out of obligation and duty, but a more natural affection will take time. I think it will be an interesting experience to take in and you know the writers of the show will handle it deftly, mixing in plenty of humor and adventure.
Perhaps well aware that something they setup in the first episode was now being paid off, the writers saved one reunion for later. For when Donald stumbled into his sister’s spaceship he accidentally reactivated it sending himself to the moon. Della left behind a ruler who was scheming a way to motivate his people out of their docile, comfort, zone and into a more aggressive position by portraying Della as a villain to his people upon her departure. As a result, the environment Della found welcoming will not be so for poor Donald. Worse for him is that they all think he’s gone on vacation so they won’t even be looking for him. Eventually, they’ll have to go searching for him or Della will realize her ship is missing, but for now viewers will have to wait for the reunion of brother and sister. It was teased slightly in the episode with a cautiously optimistic and slightly excited Donald looking through the wreckage for Della. Meanwhile, Della has a moment by herself where she looks at a picture of Donald and the boys and thanks her brother for raising them so well (even if he didn’t give them the names she wanted). That moment to come may not be as satisfying as a reunion of mother and child, but I have a sneaking suspicion this show will handle it just fine.