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A sweeping, epic finale displays DuckTales at its best despite a rocky second half to the season

Screenshot: Disney (DisneyNOW)
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The last couple of episodes to DuckTales’ second season had me very worried for this finale, because they were too cluttered, too broad, and too awkwardly structured to get to their point–if they had one. Questionable motivations, disingenuous character beats, funky-executed drama, and narrative hiccups left me concerned how they would tie it all together. And really, “Moonvasion!” doesn’t really bother. As such, it’s really best as a delightfully exciting over-the-top one-off, an episode that pulls out all the stops to simulate the kind of epic season finale that only DuckTales could conceive. If you squint, you’ll notice those hiccups are still very much there. But at this point, the fact that DuckTales still managed to cull an enjoyable finale from the rocky second half of the season is, like the deus-ex Penumbra, a minor miracle.

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“Moonvasion!” unfolds along two narrative tracks. The first is with Scrooge, who has to figure out and execute a dramatic rebellion with a squad of allies against Lunaris and his invasion. The second is with Della, who rockets Webby and her kids off to, supposedly, look for even more allies, but who is actually looking for a place to hide. Both narratives are, in execution, amazing, although throughout it all, you can’t help but get the sense that something is missing, that things aren’t as tightly interwoven and connected as they ought to be. The episode has our protagonists reuniting with a various bunch of classic allies (and Glomgold) from previous episodes, and while it’s great to see them and watch them prop up our heroes in the face of these dangers, they also feel arbitrary, an assortment of familiar faces to check off a cameo list than the welcome surprise of seeing these figures rallying together. Seeing Darkwing Duck appear is a treat, although no one recognizing him is disappointing, if understandable (and it is utilized in a smart way). Cousins Fethry and Gladstone appear, make their mark, and... that’s it. Duckworth is all but useless. Most of these people, after their battle to reach the mansion, disappear (I get some were captured but some of them, like Lena, should have at least tried to escape).

But the direction and overall story is suitably vast and engaging, which works to smooth over the rougher edges. It’s best to really strap in and enjoy “Moonvasion!” on its own, outside of the season proper. Even if it is a cameo checklist, it’s a fun one, and watching Scrooge rally the team at the table, after a bevy of terrible ideas, is a wonderful moment. Also fun is the battle royal along the streets of Duckburg, as Scrooge and his compatriots do battle with the Moonlanders. It’s a bit off to see the Moonlanders as such a threat though, since previously they seemed so incompetent and silly. I think the implication is they’re overwhelming Duckburg by sheer numbers, but it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of them. Plus, there’s no depiction of an army or any other forces fighting back, and it’s strange that an entire planetary invasion takes place entirely in one city (there are vague visuals to other locations, but they seem so sparse). It’s part of of the episode’s, and the season’s, struggle to flavor its developments, to explore deeper than what the strict confines of the narrative will allow. On that point, I find Lunaris’ motivation suspect: taking over the Earth is one thing, cliche but expected, but wanting the Earth to then rotate around the moon? I think there’s something to say about the pettiness of the personalities of wannabe dictators, and it tries to tie it to some vague calling from his father, but it’s also nonsensical, even in cartoon terms, and no one really questions Lunaris endgoal here. Killing Scrooge’s family, however, is specifically dark and needs no explanation.

Screenshot: Disney (DisneyNOW)

Hence, Della takes Webby, Huey, Dewey and Louie off on what she claims is a way to find more reinforcements, but ends up being a place for she and the young ones to bunker down. There’s an inherent push-and-pull here that I think DuckTales struggles with the most: it wants to exalt this family’s absolute penchant to get into absurd, insane adventures, but it also wants to showcase the natural fears and dangers that come with all of that. For the first season, DuckTales tried to lampshade this in mostly comic, self-aware terms, which was decidedly hit or miss. In its second season, the show seemed to try and weave that into the narrative(s), but it rarely could get to any depth. Like, I don’t know how to square the Della who bounded into the Arctic with Dewey with the Della who is running scared here. I think the incident with Louie’s time-travel shenanigans was supposed to give Della a change of perspective, a new founded fear of the well-being of her children, but we never get an opportunity to really get into Della’s head, to really chart her inner conflict. We definitely see the aftermath of that conflict through–Della’s fear and desperation comes through with her every move, action, and decision. Props again to Paget Brewster for selling Della with every passionate line-reading, making her such a perfect addition to the cast.

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We also finally get the one reunion we’ve all been waiting for: Della and Donald reunite on the island she crash-landed upon. It’s just as sweet and heartwarming and conflicting as when she reunited with Scrooge, and even if Donald is borderline crazy with a very familiar-looking watermelon totem as a companion (which the show uses so Donald can “voice” some ideas, another crutch the show uses to make Donald comprehensible), it doesn’t take away from the sweetness of the moment. It’s also telling that Donald, upon learning about everything that has happened sense he crashed back on Earth, is ready and gung-ho to go back and fight, but Della is still struggling. I think there’s something worth exploring with Della’s state of mind here: she reverts back to a behavior and a mentality that resembles how she acted when trapped on the moon. At the simplest explanation, she needs therapy. At the cartoon level, it’s just a revelation that she comes to and has to work through, and it’s endearing that it occurs with Louie. It’s probably the most we’re going to get concerning the lingering issues between Della and the green nephew, and compared to the overall season, it’s lacking. But the two do find some common ground and support with each other, Louie reciting the very lullaby she would sing to them as babies to help her overcome the fears that plague her.

Screenshot: Disney (DisneyNOW)
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In a kind of loopy twist, after Scrooge’s initial onslaught on Lunaris fails (in the kind of “villains have thought of everything” trope that appears everywhere), it’s Glomgold who comes through with an absolutely nutty scheme that works. It’s completely insane, but more importantly, it’s unpredictable. It’s also clever though–not only does it absolutely keep Lunaris off his game, he actually manipulates things to get his fortune back (reverting that story element back to the status quo), and he places Scrooge in the costume of the richest duck’s hated enemy–Santa Claus. It’s a two-for-one bout of humiliation that also ends up saving the day, especially when Della, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Webby, Fethry, and Gladstone come riding in on Mitzy, the giant krill from Fethry’s debut episode. This then leads to an all-out space battle, with the Spear of Selene trading blasts with Lunaris’s ship (did the Spear of Selene have weapons before?). It’s an intense battle, amplified by an action-remix of the moon theme that just never gets old. When it looks like all is lost though, in comes Penumbra at the last moment to save them in what looked like a massive act of self-sacrifice. I’m not sure why/how Penumbra actually survived the act (S&P reasons aside), but it does allow for everyone to reunite back on Earth and congratulate each other on a job well done.

There is so much to like and enjoy about this modern iteration of DuckTales. The animation is gorgeous. The music and sound design is perfect. The casting is absolutely impeccable. Its flaws, however, feel very much part of the narrative nature of its approach, in wanting to explore its characters through its adventures while simultaneously commenting on them in some fashion. I don’t know if its a thread that this show, or any piece of entertainment really, can feasibly sew (is there any superhero movie or show that adequately comments on the moral/ethical implications of sueprheroism?): yesterday, Owlson ran off to do her own normal thing, and after all the events of today, we witness a secret cabal called F.O.W.L. express frustration at this Duck family and its penchant for near-disastrous adventures. (F.O.W.L. you may know is from the original Darkwing Duck and has been referenced before on this show, but the big reveal is that the shadowy head figures are Scrooge’s vulture stockbrokers!). It’s a solid reveal that hints at what’s to come for season three, and perhaps there’s something to say about figures desperate to maintain the status quo up against a group of people who thrive on new, exciting ventures into the unknown. (I have my doubts though, as it’s something the show has struggled with for two seasons now.) Still, if “Moonvasion!” can pull an absolutely stellar episode out its feathers despite the more messier elements that can bog this show down, then it’ll be worth it in the end–at the very least, we can see how it’ll bring all the Disney Afternoon’s messier elements together!

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Stray observation

  • Posted late today, sorry! I had a lot to say.
  • I’m not sure why Della was so sheepish when she went to tell Scrooge the bad news about the Moonlander invasion. There’s no reason she would be mad at her about that.
  • Darkwing Duck re-meeting Launchpad in the latter’s garage resembles the two’s first meeting way back in the original show.
  • A somewhat dark, funny, meaningful moment is when one of the Lil’ Bulbs twists his head off before the nephew’s voice coming through him announces their location.
  • Anyone else think Webby was a bit passive in this episode?
  • I have some... issues with the characterizations that this show imparted on us for the last two seasons, but the second screenshot in the above essay? It’s perfect, even if Dewey is disappointed in the Donald comparison.
  • It’s with a sad heart that I must announce that this will be the last DuckTales review for AVClub. It’s been an honor, and a small miracle, to be able to have journeyed along two whole seasons with you all, and I do hope you enjoyed the show and these reviews all along the way. There’s a (small) chance for periodic drop-ins, but that’s it for the episodic stuff. Thank you all again!
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About the author

Kevin Johnson

Contributor, The A.V. Club, with a clear preference for all things cartoons; check out his main blog at http://www.totalmediabridge.com.