The original 1987-era DuckTales was a reboot before that word was even a thing. The program from Disney Television Animation revived vintage Disney personalities from classic animated short films and comic strips like Scrooge McDuck along with Donald Duck’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie and sent them on globe-trotting escapades against nefarious villains.
It was such a hit that it set into motion a string of similarly fashioned TV shows that became part of a programming block called The Disney Afternoon. These shows all put their own spin on familiar Disney faces, whether through exploring Goofy’s forays into fatherhood on Goof Troop, imagining what Chip and Dale would be like as crime-fighting chipmunks on Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, or recasting Baloo from The Jungle Book as a pilot in TaleSpin.
So now, roughly two decades into the 21st century and 30 years removed from the initial incarnation of DuckTales, it’s only fitting that the show that, in a sense, was the inventor of reboots now become the gold standard to which all revivals in this reboot-focused era of entertainment should take notes from. The new portrayal of DuckTales, which first debuted in August 2017 and recently had its series finale in March 2021, is a near-perfect love letter to its source material that builds upon what came before to deliver a fantastic experience for kids and adults alike.
A Balancing Act
Though there is a generation of fans whose childhoods revolved around the original DuckTales, new viewers needn’t be familiar with it to enjoy the new version. That’s thanks in large part to, firstly, the show’s decision to start the story from scratch and not acknowledge its predecessor, and secondly, the way most of its characters have maintained a legacy in other Disney media through the years, from Scrooge to the nephews to Donald, who’s featured in the main cast this time around after only having occasional cameos in the ’80s version.
The show is hyper-aware of the weight behind its legacy, and the many different layers it’s being allowed to work with here, all of which are utilized superbly with an effortless storytelling style akin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s a larger story being told across the series, smaller but still ambitious narratives across individual seasons, arcs for individual characters, and stories within stories.
At no point, though, does it feel overly contrived or like it’s trying too hard. In fact, each episode still does a pretty great job at telling self-contained plots. It’s only when you take a step back that you realize what’s been happening among the bigger picture all along, and that’s no easy feat.
In terms of characters, there are the Disney classics who comprise the main cast and have appeared onscreen for nearly a century, there’s the wonderful supporting cast of DuckTales characters returning from the original series, and there’s an entire ensemble of extended family from other Disney Afternoon shows that DuckTales chooses to weave into its larger narrative (like Darkwing Duck and the aforementioned Rescue Rangers). Perhaps more impressively, though, the reboot does a great job at building enough of its own mythology that by the time later seasons come around, it’s just as exciting to have a callback to a completely original character or plot thread as it is to have a throwback to a retro one.
An Incredible Cast
The show has an extremely large cast of personalities it’s working with, and it smartly balances episodes out among everyone so that they all get a chance to shine. Rather than trying to cram everyone into every episode and juggling their screentime, the show sometimes chooses to only have a handful of characters in any given episode and dive deeper into exploring those specific characters’ stories.
It’s not uncommon for Scrooge to not be present in an episode altogether, or for only one of the nephews to have featured screentime, or for a more obscure character like Gizmoduck to take center stage. It’s in this structure, which again feels quite akin to Marvel, that we as an audience get exposure to a lot of really fun characters and personality foils that would be impossible to navigate if the show tried to split time in every episode among the entirety of its cast.
And what a cast it is! This show boasts an extremely talented roster of performers. Its main cast includes David Tennant as Scrooge, Tony Anselmo as Donald, Danny Pudi as Huey, Ben Schwartz as Dewey, Bobby Moynihan as Louie, Kate Micucci as Webby, Paget Brewster as Della, Beck Bennett as Launchpad, and Toks Olagundoye as Mrs. Beakley.
As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the supporting cast is a jaw-dropping list of stars including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Marc Evan Jackson, Kimiko Glenn, Jaleel White, Margo Martindale, Don Cheadle, Catherine Tate, Allison Janney, Chris Diamantopoulos, Arturo Del Puerto, Bernardo de Paula, Stephanie Beatriz, Julie Bowen, Retta, Amy Sedaris, Jason Mantzoukas, Tom Kenny, Giancarlos Esposito, Jameela Jamil, April Winchell, Corey Burton, Jaime Camil, Jim Rash, and Keith David. Like. Think about that. All of those names are in this one show, together. Talk about star power!
While there are many superb qualities DuckTales possesses, its greatest strength is perhaps its effort and success at being more than a Saturday morning cartoon. It leans into poignant themes like family, parenthood, and trust in a way that makes the characters more dimensional. This isn’t just a throw-away story played for laughs. As the narrative extends across the show’s three seasons, we get to see some real depth, the highlight of which might be from one of Disney’s most versatile characters of all time, Donald Duck.
Sure, he still has his cantankerous, temper-flaring personality here, but we get to see a side to him that isn’t really present in any other media. We explore what it meant for him to be a surrogate father to his nephews and raise them as his own. We feel his heartbreak of losing his sister. We see him grapple with abandoning his pride to ask Scrooge for help when he’s at rock bottom. That’s deep stuff! And it’s a far cry from the slapstick sidekick his career started as. Laced between the adventure-driven storylines and action-filled set pieces that are so much part of the fabric of DuckTales, we get similarly layered sophistication in many characters, not just Donald, and that’s part of what gives DuckTales an edge and, at times, even a cinematic quality.
The show recently concluded its 69-episode run with a rousing finale that was every bit as grand as you’d expect for a show that puts a premium on intentionality. But the fun isn’t entirely over.
In December 2019, Disney announced that DuckTales World Showcase Adventure was coming to EPCOT at Walt Disney World as a mobile-based game in which guests can help the McDuck family save the different countries represented throughout the park from being taken over by bad guys, using their phones to interact with real-world sets and props and making things happen throughout the park’s architecture. The game is a reimagining of a similar experience based on Phineas and Ferb, which itself was a reimagined Kim Possible experience. Despite being delayed due to COVID-19, Orlando Attractions confirmed as recently as December 2020 that the project was still in development for a future roll-out, even though the animated series ended.
Additionally, Danny Pudi will return as Huey to host a new, in-universe DuckTales podcast entitled This Duckburg Life, which promises appearances by many of the show’s original voice cast. The podcast launches March 29, 2021 and will have seven episodes.
Bottom line, DuckTales was near-perfect and if you missed the bandwagon, no worries. The first two seasons are on Disney+, and the third is likely to be added within the coming weeks. Whether you grew up with the original or not, the reboot achieves the rare feat of being something something the whole family can enjoy with a surprising amount of heart hidden behind all that gold in Scrooge’s money bin.
Are you a DuckTales fan? What are your thoughts on this reboot?