Disney spared no expense in bringing back DuckTales: a top-notch cast, a robust and thorough marketing campaign, even Time Square real estate. Why wouldn’t it? DuckTales Classic essentially put television animation on the map (The Adventures of Gummi Bears and The Wuzzles were the first, but DuckTales was arguably the most significant and most memorable.) To be clear, a reboot of DuckTales is indeed yet another “unnecessary” revival of a thing that questionably didn’t need to be revised in the first place. But this is where we are now; the question is no longer “why another reboot?” It’s “will this reboot be any good?” I’m happy to say: yes, yes it is.
What made the original DuckTales such a standout cartoon (beyond its catchy-as-hell theme song) was its status of being a well-animated show that fused comedy, drama, heart, and adventure - a kind of four quadrant show that could be audaciously silly in one episode and deeply poignant the next (I know that’s not what “four quadrant show” is but stick with me here). 2017’s DuckTales certainly feels like it’ll blend those elements just as seamlessly, while also adding the kind of updates to modernize the show without tossing in a bunch of ill-placed “millennial trappings,” like the misguided (if somewhat misunderstood) Quack Pack. The major thing would be the more extensive use of Donald Duck (Tony Anselmo), who functions here as a wacky, if overprotective, father figure. He’s also used as a figurative bridge between the show’s cartoony side and the dramatic one: viewers will delight in seeing one of the mallard’s signature temper tantrums in one moment, and empathize with him in the next, like when he sighs in desperation in doing something he doesn’t want to do at all - ask his rich, estranged uncle for help.
The most surprising tension, in fact, occurs between Donald and Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant). After some really amusing opening jokes involving Donald and his nephews, he’s forced to take them to Scrooge to see if he’ll take care of them during his job interview. When the two meet outside the mansion, the scene crackles with unspoken past resentments between the two. Something more specific is brought up in the later half of the episode - a “Spear of Selina(?)” - but that moment is a bit more forced, narrative-wise. It’ll be a treat to see how the show balances Donald’s notable anger and pratfall routines with his passion for his progeny and his reserved feelings towards Scrooge. It’ll be tricky but the pilot certainly suggests the creatives will be able handle it.
But what about those nephews? No review could be complete without a thorough exploration on how the infamous triplets - Huey, Dewey, and Louie - fare in this revival. Huey (Danny Pudi) is the most prepared. He’s quick to quote the infamous Junior Woodchuck Guidebook and seems more than geared up for a long underwater trip. Louie (Bobby Moynihan) is the rascally one, who accepts his evil triplet status and is quick on his feet in coming up with, well, let’s call them stretched truths. And then there’s Dewey (Ben Schwartz), who seems to be the most ambitious and the most susceptible to his emotional state. Dewey is in effect the “lost” middle child (despite all three being only minutes in age apart), and therefore the most eager to seek validation from everyone around him. “Woo-oo’s” second half centers around Dewey proving his worth to a revitalized Scrooge; it’s genuinely surprising to see the new show move so fast to separate out the triplets, particularly in a direct narrative fashion.
Rounding out the cast is Mrs. Beakley (Toks Olagundoye) a very blunt housekeeper who dispenses genuine advice as much as she dispenses perfect old lady sass; Webbigail (Kate Micucci), a far cry from her toddler origins and now more of an action-junkie who keeps sacrosanct the tales (read: comics) of the whole Duckverse; and Launchpad (Beck Bennett), who, at least in this episode, serves more as a comic outlier, a hanger-on who pops up with the occasional bit of physical/verbal comedy that makes him worth keeping him around. Between Donald, Launchpad, and Glomgold (Keith Ferguson, who is still Scottish and not South African like his comic counterpart), DuckTales 2017 has a more goofier, absurd, and weird tinge to it than its predecessor, but in this era of weird cartoons, it fits perfectly.
As for the full story, “Woo-oo’s” first half is stronger than its second. There’s a great balance between comic beats and dramatic ones, clear raw emotions undercutting the humor on display. In addition to the tense scene between Donald and Scrooge mentioned earlier, watching Scrooge attempt to “get back into the game” is both hilarious and poignant; contrast the bored, depressed Scrooge listening to his vulture bean counters talk with the energetic, sprite Scrooge facing off against some ancient spirits in his garage. A broken Dewey hears Scrooge shout that family is nothing but trouble, and the pang of pain you feel becomes visceral when he throws that back into Scrooge’s face, and the richest duck in the world becomes the angriest. It’s unfortunate that we never get the fallout of that specific moment. Instead, we get a bit of a action scene with the family facing off a gold-sniffing dragon. The animation is absolutely fantastic, showcasing an adventurous verve that rivals the original at its best, but you can’t help but feel that the show missed a real opportunity to make an early emotional mark.
The second part sort of feels like it should be the show’s fifth episode, in that it works overtime to split the cast up, focusing mainly on the growing development between Scrooge, Donald, and Dewey. There’s something bold in the show using just one triple as a guide through the long term mysterious arc of what happened between Donald and Scrooge (and… his mom?), but it does feel like the other characters get sidelined. Louie and Webby have a comic subplot contrasting his comfort with fibbing with her new exposure to making excuses. Huey gets lost in the overall story. Glomgold makes his mark as being a corporate-mandated, outlandish villain in a notable but strange way. The original Glomgold was fairly one-note, so any change to the character is welcome (and he’s hilarious here), but feels less as a real threat as his past counterpart (he’s even dispatched in throwaway manner). The actual exploration of the upside-down City of Atlantis is somewhat… pedestrian? You don’t see much of the city really, and the backgrounds, while solid and evocative, don’t add much flavor to the locale or the adventurous spirit on display. (Also, somehow Webby, Huey, Louie, and Launchpad make short work of the hired goods, which is part the joke, but again, feels like a lost opportunity for something more spirited.)
I know that this sounds nitpicky. I am super excited to see DuckTales return though, and I know that with enough time the show will get into a groove that really blends all those great elements that will make DuckTales shine. The show most likely needed to provide a rousing tale while simultaneously introduce its own approach to its characters while also table-setting it’s long term story arc. That’s fine! I critique because I love, and just to watch the new DuckTales steadily improve over time will be a treat in itself. It won’t have far to go. “Woo-oo” brims with potential for great things to come. No ponytails or cotton-tails here. It’s DuckTales!
- Hello and welcome to the first of (I hope many) DuckTales recaps! I’ll be your guide through this season. I apologize in advance for this review, as I was trying to blend some historical prospective, a regular show review, and a episodic recap into one. The next episode’s review should be a bit more specific. Unfortunately, that won’t be coming until September 23.
- I would give the first part an A- and the second part a solid B, which averages out to the grade. In case you wanted to know.
- Cape Suzette, Spoonerville, and St. Carnard were all mentioned, which means TaleSpin, Goof Troop, and Darkwing Duck are all canon, right? We already know Darkwing Duck will be a future episode, and fitting Goof Troop in this world will be easy. TaleSpin feels like it will be tougher to mesh.
- Alan Young (RIP) will always be my Scrooge McDuck but David Tennant is damn good. Tennant’s VO roles - as sporadic as they’ve been - have always been standouts (he even made those two Doctor Who animated specials work despite the horrendous animation). People had their doubts but I was confident he’d nail his own take on the character, and he did.
- Did people have difficulty understanding Donald? I love that he’s now part of the cast but his, uh, quack-heavy accent may be tough to decipher. This may be an issue if and when he’s needed for exposition.
- I find it odd that Webby knew so much about Scrooge and rest of the family but didn’t recognize that all those artifacts were in his garage. How long has she been living in the mansion?
- Speaking of Webby - I may be the only person who was perfectly okay with her cuter, precocious characterization in the original version. Yeah, it was cloying, but it also felt good to see a character not always resort to traps or physical blows to get around trouble. (Also she often showed up the rest of the cast too.) I’m a bit worried that Webby leans on being “just one of the guys” here too much. So far she’s distinctive enough in her own way. I hope she doesn’t just become a female quadruplet. (I have similar feelings for Mrs. Beasly, but she’s a bit more balanced.)
- Huey mentioned that Scrooge didn’t know their names (as in all the nephews’ names), but he clearly did earlier in the episode. He just forgot Dewey’s. This was fine running gag, and worked for the denouement, but Huey’s comment either was a commentary on his character (maybe he has trouble paying attention) or a narrative error. I can see the former, as he came up with a pretty terrible excuse about where Dewey was at the beginning of the episode.
- No Duckworth???