Disney XD presents the new animated DuckTales in an hour-long premiere, offering a charming and adventurous update of a treasured cartoon series.
Initially, it was difficult to discern where Disney XD's reboot of the DuckTales animated series fell on the nostalgia spectrum. The original series has been off the air longer than the new series' intended audience has been alive. Nearly three decades between iterations certainly affords Disney some leeway with regard to thinking of this as a pure cash grab. It also means this version of DuckTales is likely an entirely new concept for many viewers, while still inspiring fond memories for whom the original was a healthy part of their balanced after-school cartoon-watching diet.
So, in that regard, the return of DuckTales is absolutely born of nostalgia. But the manner in which it has been brought back to television suggests a desire on behalf of those behind its unlikely resurrection to do so in a way that isn't merely an update for the sake of putting recognizable IP to use; there's also plenty of genuine fun to be had. That much is apparent in the cast Disney lined up to voice ducky nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie (Danny Pudi, Ben Schwartz, and Bobby Moynihan, respectively) and Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant). But it's also apparent in the newsprint-esque animation style used in the series, which – love it or hate it (I love it) – demonstrates the creators had more in mind than simply mining Disney's past efforts in the hopes of swimming through Scrooge's vault.
But the past nonetheless plays a significant role in the series' beginning and, as is hinted at in the closing moments, the story that lies ahead. The premiere, 'Woo-oo!', surprisingly spends a good amount of time setting up the circumstances that find Donald Duck's three nephews in the care of their great-uncle Scrooge. This getting-to-know you phase works in the series' favor with regard to potential new viewers for whom the extended Duck/McDuck family may not be so readily known. But the series doesn't dwell on the who's-who of it all for too long, as there are adventures to be had, and a former adventurer to be reminded of his past glories.
To a certain degree, 'Woo-oo!' plays on the idea of nostalgia for DuckTales without directly invoking its name. Instead, Scrooge is given an update wherein the once greedy one-percenter is refashioned as an aging thrill-seeker who, back in his heyday, could give Dos Equis' Most Interesting Man in the World (the original, not the lame new one) a run for his money. Like Donald, Scrooge's adventuring days are behind him, and now the ultra-rich Scottish Duck has grown cranky in his complacency.
It's a fun set-up for the series, as the introduction of Huey, Dewey, and Louie – as well as Launchpad McQuack(Beck Bennett) and Webby Vanderquack (Kate Micucci) – reinvigorates the old timer after some youthful curiosity unleashes a cursed artifact from Scrooge's personal museum that turns out to be his garage.
From there, DuckTales strides confidently into adventure mode, following up Scrooge's wrangling of a mystical dragon with a surreptitious adventure to the lost city of Atlantis, complete with cast of ne'er-do-wells led by fellow billionaire duck Flintheart Glomgold in hot pursuit. While each escapade takes center stage as far as the plot is concerned, generally putting Scrooge, his great-nephews, and Donald in imminent danger, the series is more intent on echoing the importance of family, and showing what Scrooge learns at the end of each undertaking. Granted, there are only two adventures in the series premiere, but 'Woo-oo!' establishes a solid-enough formula for the series to use moving forward that Scrooge's gradual appreciation for his nephew and great-nephews will give the series a charming through-line as it progresses.
It remains to be seen how successful the series will be balancing the episodic nature of the show with some larger story threads that are introduced later. Certainly there will be a new adventure with each episode, but the premiere's end introduced a plot thread concerning Huey, Dewey, and Louie's mother that suggests the show will offer something of a backstory for them and how they wound up in their uncle's care. Bringing in a larger backstory for the nephews is an interesting proposition, as it underlines the degree to which storytelling expectations have changed – even for a children's half-hour animated TV series about a family of anthropomorphic ducks – since the original last aired.
In all, with its stylish animation, appealing voice cast, and lively and amusing approach to storytelling, this new DuckTales is very much following in the footsteps of the original rather than blazing its own trail or trying to erase the tracks of its predecessor. The mix of adventure and humor should appeal to fans young and old, and maybe even have a few of them saying "woo-oo!"
DuckTales continues with 'Daytrip of Doom' on Saturday, September 23, 2017 on Disney XD.
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