Review: Ducktales (2017 Reboot) – Daytrip of Doom!, The Great Dime Chase!, The Beagle Birthday Massacre!, Terror of the Terra-firmians!, The House of the Lucky Gander!, and The Infernal Internship of Mark Beaks!

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By: Chris Chan

The first episode of the new Ducktales reboot, the double-length pilot “Woo-oo!” was a delightful adventure that set the bar high for the revived and reimagined animated series, while simultaneously introducing viewers to the new interpretations of the classic characters. In the next six episodes, the series focuses on developing their rapidly expanding cast roster, and gradually building up the new mythology, fictional world, and season-long mysteries.

“Daytrip of Doom!” has Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby going to visit their favorite indoor amusement park, only to come across the Beagle Boys, who seek to kidnap and ransom them. In the meantime, the new residents of Uncle Scrooge’s mansion have to learn how to adjust to the house rules. In “The Great Dime Chase!” Louie inadvertently misplaces Scrooge’s Number One Dime and must recover it, while Dewey and Webby try to find out the hidden history of the triplets’ mother’s mysterious disappearance. In “The Beagle Birthday Massacre!” Webby makes a new friend in the streetwise duck Lena, and all of the kids are in danger from a Beagle Boy family reunion. “Terror of the Terra-firmians!” is an underground adventure where the gang discovers a supposedly mythical species beneath the streets of Duckburg. “The House of the Lucky Gander!” sees the ducks interact with their annoyingly lucky cousin Gladstone in a mysterious overseas casino. Finally, “The Infernal Internship of Mark Beaks!” features a young technology entrepreneur about to enter the city’s billionaire elite, with the current billionaires (Scrooge McDuck and Flintheart Glomgold) unhappy with the brash millennials’ style, while Huey and Dewey seek after-school positions at Beaks’ company.

The first comment I need to make is that this is a very different show than the original 1987-1990 series. Of the characters in the current series, the personalities closest to their earlier versions are Scrooge, Donald, and Launchpad, and even Scrooge’s less palatable character traits (like excessive greed) have yet to emerge, while Donald’s character is a far more concerned guardian than in the original series. Huey, Dewey, Louie, Webby, and Mrs. Beakley are all so differently developed as to be practically new characters. In Ducktales, the triplets were practically interchangeable personality-wise. I think that the current series divides the triplets’ characterizations (especially as developed in the comics of Carl Barks) between the three brothers: Huey gets the intelligence, responsibility, and Junior Woodchuck interests; Dewey embodies the desire for recognition, curiosity, and occasional bad judgment in pursuit of his goals; while Louie receives some of the more negative qualities displayed when the triplets took on the roles of troublemakers or shirkers rather than intrepid heroes, though the family loyalty characteristics are still present.

A lot of the character changes work, like Webby becoming less saccharine and more awesomely adventurous, while the tougher version of Mrs. Beakley seems to have an exciting past to reveal. Of all the changes, I think I like the more arrogant and less socially capable inventor Gyro Gearloose the least, though I enjoyed Jim Rash’s voice work a lot. Gyro was formerly a genial, absent-minded sort; in the current version, it seems like Gyro’s always just an inch or two away from snapping and going full-bore “Fools! I’ll destroy them all!” mad scientist. Flintheart Glomgold’s characterization has often been underserved in all versions of Duck lore, often being essentially Scrooge with a beard, no family, and no ethics. In the 2017 version, Glomgold is expanded – not just physically, but also emotionally, with his embrace of evilness and violence often going over-the-top to great comic effect. Keith Ferguson seems to be throwing himself all the way into the role, and it works – this Glomgold is petty, vicious, and ridiculous enough for me to almost feel fondness for his character. Comparably, the prim and sedate secretary Mrs. Quackfaster of the original series bears no resemblance to the clearly deranged archivist in the reboot, but I did enjoy her off-the-wall character.

The voice work is great, and the guest actors are impressive, with each voice genuinely enriching the production, with no empty stunt casting. So far, the best of the guest cast is Margo Martindale, who seems to be channeling her wonderful Emmy-winning role as the country crime queen Mags Bennett from Justified (if you haven’t seen that show, do so as soon as possible) in the role of Ma Beagle. Catherine Tate and B.D. Wong make surprise appearances as villains as well. Paul F. Tompkins brings a sly comic twist to Gladstone Gander’s luck-infused arrogance, and Josh Brener’s Mark Beaks is a fast-talking embodiment of the worst stereotypes of the cellphone-addicted millennial.

I feel like even seven episodes in (eight if the double-length episode is counted as two), we really haven’t gotten a chance to know everybody very well yet. We’re one-third of the way through the season, and with such a roster of characters and Duckburg bigger and barely explored, it seems to me like the first season is intended as an introduction to this rebooted world, with future seasons going further. There are at least two major characters yet to be introduced, and I have a feeling that the showrunners have big plans for the series, but at this rate, the first third of the season comes across as exposition. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s necessary for the storytelling, which I believe is supposed to be epic not just for the adventures, but for the character relationships as well.

One of the central formative issues of this series is that it’s not meant for quite the same audience as the original series. The original series was a cartoon meant for children. Sure, parents could watch and appreciate it, but the target audience was young viewers, even if the show was peppered with historical/geographic/popular culture/mythological references and in-jokes that only well-educated adults would know. This series is kid-friendly, but it’s also meant to appeal to the now-grown fans of the old series. The humor is far sharper and fast-paced than it was thirty years ago (not to denigrate from the original series, which had some truly funny moments, but the style of the humor is as different from the older version as the style of the artwork is), and the scale and scope of the animation is increasingly inventive and epic.

While the show is trying to break new ground, the episodes are peppered with tons of references to the original series, including Gyro’s list of robot inventions gone wrong, a crucial plot point from the original series’ episode “The Big Flub” being referenced in two current episodes, and sight gags galore.

My one concern about this series is that the pacing of the characterization and the development of the series’ fictional world seems to be uneven. However, having learned that the network shook up the original order of the episodes for reasons not made entirely clear, I now see that this slight disjointedness isn’t the fault of the showrunners, but rather the network running the episodes. Upon discovering the intended order of the episodes, I think that Disney XD was misguided in switching the order around, because it speeds up some storylines (like the mystery of the triplets’ mother and the reemergence of a classic antagonist) and then leaves them to be abandoned for longer stretches of time than they would have been before the rearranging.

Do I like this series as much as the original? Well, the problem there is that the original was such a beloved fixture of my childhood that the original has gained a golden patina of affection, nostalgia, and joyous memories that no new version can ever match up to it. After all, it’s one thing for a little kid to be disgusted by the mindless pap that made up most TV cartoons, and then to stumble upon an adventurous romp that continually delighted him, as compared to a grown adult who is probably devoting far more time than he really ought to be analyzing and evaluating a new cartoon show. The reboot could have tried to coast on the goodwill of the old series, but it chose to break new ground. I understand why some fans of the old show aren’t pleased with the changes and new approaches, but there’s so much about the reboot that’s just so darn exuberant that I keep getting impatient to see the newest episode. So far, the time devoted to globetrotting adventures has been far too sparse, but the next episode title indicates that may change soon.

And though the original voice cast was excellent, and nobody can ever quite replace Alan Young, I love David Tennant’s work as Scrooge. Tennant delivers some of the one-liners with the kind of spot-on precision usually used for cutting diamonds. Tony Anselmo keeps making me smile with his portrayal of Donald, although I think the showrunners should seriously consider adding subtitles to his dialogue.

As I said earlier, I feel like I’m only seeing a tiny portion of the showrunners’ artistic vision, and I won’t be able to judge it properly until the first season is complete, but right now, I can highly recommend the series.


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