Let’s get this out of the way immediately: if you’re worried about the new DuckTales having a negative impact on the beloved cartoon series you loved as a kid, you can put your mind at ease. The reboot–which was met with a fair but perhaps understandable amount of controversy when it was first announced–is in good hands. Paying respect to what came before without ever being slavish to it, DuckTales explodes out of the gate with confidence and style, and is probably one of the strongest TV pilots Disney has produced in years. It gets virtually everything that matters right, and even the aspects that may have initially concerned fans end up working better than you might expect.
Of course, the pressure was on full force for Disney to produce a good show. After all, the original is almost universally considered to be a classic, coming from something of a golden age for the studio’s television animation when they were also producing Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears, Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers and Gargoyles (my personal pick for what might the Mouse House’s greatest TV series ever). But what many may not know is that DuckTales also has a rich history in comic books, something that the reboot wisely chooses to draw from instead of merely following the 80’s cartoon’s treasure map step-by-step. The result is something that simultaneously feels both nostalgic and fresh, which should satisfy those who grew up with the franchise while also pleasing newcomers.
One thing that raised eyebrows among many at first about the reboot was the animation style. The original series looked unmistakably “Disney” (not to mention expensive), while the reboot is angular and slightly “simplistic” for want of a better term. The characters are more similar to their comic book counterparts than previous screen incarnations, and for some it might all be a bit jarring. But it’s amazing how quickly the audience adjusts to the new look, which allows for much bolder colors and snappier action sequences, and it helps greatly that the direction is excellent. Scoorge’s mansion, for instance, is introduced as a relic (which is something he fears he’s at risk of becoming), lifeless and full of dust until the nephews (quite literally) bring it back from the dead. Bursts of red, meanwhile, dominate the screen during one of the first adventure scenes, giving everything a broad, pulpy quality. This is not to say that the new look is “better” than the 80’s cartoon per se (or vice versa), but it is to say that it works, and that’s what really matters.
Another difference between the two shows is the voice cast. For some, the fact that Huey, Dewey and Louie all sound “older” now might bring back long-repressed Quack Pack memories, but it does help make them “individual” characters (even though I can tell them apart about as well as Scrooge can). A bigger advantage of this, though, is an extremely lively and proactive Webby, who is thankfully not the “cutesy wutesy” toddler she was in the original. But the series belongs to David Tennant, who takes over for the late Alan Young as Scrooge and absolutely nails the role. Tennant’s wispy vocals make this Scrooge slightly bitter over the past and a bit of an old scoundrel, his soul orally yearning for days perhaps out of his reach.
Which brings us to this being a slightly more “grown-up” take on DuckTales. There are some fairly mature themes present here (Donald and Scrooge, for instance, haven’t been on speaking terms for ten years), and a strong hint towards the end of the pilot that Scrooge has a tragic aspect of his past that he’s trying to live down. Fortunately, none of this keeps the series from providing what DuckTales promises: plenty of adventure and a ton of fun. In fact, there’s a good chance adults might end up loving this even more than kids. The series doesn’t throw bones to older viewers because it knows they’re watching. It does so because it knows those older viewers are enjoying it.
The show takes a slight risk in waiting until the second episode to use the classic theme, but it’s a move that’s rewarding in a big way, as by then the series has already won its skeptics over and the song provides a giddy, rousing jolt of energy that I must say left me with a huge smile on my face. This is a reboot that manages to give its viewers the best of both worlds, making them feel like children again while also respecting that they are now older. Whether or not the series can keep being this good remains to be seen, but for now we can celebrate that DuckTales is back. Woo-hoo!
Pilot currently airing on Disney XD and VOD
44 minutes (pilot consists of two episodes)
Developed for television by Matt Youngberg