It has been quite an up-and-down season for DuckTales, which in a lot of ways struggled between establishing its new approach to the show and engaging in the legacy of the entire Duckverse that has evolved over countless comics, TV episodes, and even video games (see my stray observations). “The Shadow War!” is a fitting and enjoyably entertaining end to it all, a narrative and visual summation of everything that we’ve witnessed before it. It parallels the “Woo-oo” pilot in a lot of ways, but it also gathers up a number of characters together for an epic showdown with the newly-escaped Magica DeSpell. It’s not exactly the tightest, most dramatically cohesive script, but it works well enough, primarily due to the commitment of the characters (and their voice artists), the incredibly tight direction, and for a couple of key moments that are legitimately shocking.
I would say that the one thing that sort of bogs “The Shadow War!” down is the overbearing dialogue and discussions about the importance and necessity of family. It’s inherently just an overused narrative theme that’s often utilized as a “safe” storytelling tactic that just assumes that, yeah, if you do what you do because love for family is above all, then you’re doing the optimally right thing. I don’t say this because I’m being cynical. I say this because the extent of the revelation(s) in “The Last Crash Of The Sunchaser” really hit upon some ugly, powerful, truths, and the reactions from the various characters were brutal. The finale kind of brushed over those personal emotions with a fake, manipulative dinner party and the broad, typical dialogue about needing family that we’ve all seen in a million other shows. Outside of a couple of specific moments, it never quite sunk its teeth into the pathos needed to put Scrooge, Webby, Donald, and the nephews on the track to forgive each other (like, for example, we never get a real sense how Donald feels about everything).
Still, those specific moments work quite well: the nephews throwing away the various trophies, the lingering shots on Louie (who still seems to internally express the most pain, and arguably hides it in his desire to keep that Khopesh), Webby’s continual championing to bring everyone together (despite herself being kicked out), Donald about-face to let go of his own pain and bring everyone together. Dewey himself is even won over by said speech, even though his pain was the most notable. Mrs. Beakley’s words are infinitely more effective than Webby’s panicked pleas or Launchpad’s emergency bounce castle, and while I don’t think they quite nailed the honesty needed for a truly effective reunion, the characters buy into it, which works for me. (It does help that Mrs. Beakley breaks down the full details of what Scrooge did after Della’s disappearance, including his desperation to find her and the near-dissipation of his entire wealth to do so.)
As all that occurs on the houseboat, Lena–now controlled by Magica–worms her way into Scrooge’s mansion to snatch up his dime and become whole again. I still have some issues with how the show utilizes Magica as such an egregious exposition machine, but I’ll give some leeway here as the episode establishes this as a character trait more than a narrative excuse (later in the episode, she has a whole written monologue planned, although it’s out of order). When Lena/Magica enters the mansion, we see a broken, disheveled Scrooge surrounded by trash and, oddly enough, a million pizza boxes. Amusingly, the sight makes Magica torn between her need to break free of the curse and the non-desire to face off with a now-pathetic Scrooge, and in a really messed up way, the two “bond” over their shared disdain for family. Scrooge’s disdain is projection, bile tossed around to block out what is real affection and love for his new family. Magica’s disdain is incredibly more disturbing, a function of the episode’s main twist: Lena isn’t real, just a shadow-spy created in a last-ditch attempt to escape being sucked into Scrooge’s dime. It’s a reveal that kind of makes the disturbing imagery of Shadow-Magica flowing from Lena’s eyeballs less disturbing, but that the existence of a “living” figure, presumably with real thoughts and feelings, is nothing but magic: that is a wholly messed up concept in itself. Lena was literally created to be manipulated and used.
Lena/Magica ironically pushes Scrooge out of his funk, in the most negative way possible, who ditches his iconic clothing into the fire to start new, right as the shadow-teen tackles and takes the dime from him. Magica is reborn, more powerful than ever, and frees the shadows of the world onto Duckburg. With Scrooge trapped in the dime, the remaining family comes together, along with Gyro, Li’l Bulb, Manny (who isn’t as liked as much as the writers seem to think think he is?), and Fenton, and they all begin an all-out assault on the sorceress. It’s an intense, epic adventure, with some specifically good fight scenes with Beakley, Donald, and Webby in particular–almost as good as the best fight sequences in, say, The Last Airbender or The Legend of Korra. Major, major props to all the animators and directors Matthew Humphreys and Tanner Johnson for staging such incredible, elaborate, visually-clear action.
Everyone manages to pull their weight in this final battle, a fest for the eyes indeed: Huey annoys, Louie manipulates, Webby fights, Dewey distracts, and Scrooge returns right at the end to go toe-to-toe with his mortal enemy. There are some... strained moments, including a kind of “power of friendship!” shield from Webby’s friendship bracelet that blocks an attack from Magica (I get this was established in a previous episode but still), and it’s really unclear how Magica’s attack on the dime opened the heavens and dispelled the curse to free Scrooge. But the whole moment is too epic and wild for such details to matter. It’s just good stuff. Add in a typical clumsy Donald moment that inadvertently breaks Magica’s staff and Launchpad’s insane belly flop on top of the de-powered sorceress, and you got yourself a perfectly satisfying finale that culls together everyone and everything that came before it. A reunited family, a reinvigorated Scrooge, an assortment of escaped, freed villains out there to reek havoc on this Duck family in season two. And somewhere, out there, is an important figure that needs to be saved on the moon.
- Huey, during his fight with Magica, asks all the nit-picky questions that one would ask about how the, uh, “logistics” of being trapped in a dime works. “It’s just magic!” is a response both to him and the audience. Don’t think too much about it!
- A lot was made over the past few weeks of Donald speaking with a normal voice (by Don Cheadle no less) but in action, it was pretty... regular. No one could understand him, then they could. Normal-voiced Donald apparently spouts a lot of action-movie cliches (“I am the storm”) but otherwise nothing really unique comes from it.
- I don’t think I’ll even quite be fine with the show putting a lot of emphasis on using the whole “You’re Scrooge McDuck!” as an incentive or motivator for character behavior. It’s just too vague an idea, especially since the show knows how to make personal motivators much more effective.
- Lena may be fake and gone, but she looks to be “attached” to Webby through here shadow via magic. She’s not gone, and I’m curious how they’ll work with this next season.
- Y’all heard the opening twinkles of the Moon theme during the final stinger with Della, right? That right there makes me extra excited for season two.
- Thank you for following along with my reviews for this season! It has been a pleasure, and while I don’t know where things will be in the future, I do hope to continue to review this show for the next go-round! (Which apparently, will be this fall!)