Review: DuckTales (2017 Reboot) – Woo-oo!

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By: Chris Chan

A reboot of a classic television series is a tricky business. Do the showrunners attempt to mimic the original as closely as possible? This is a challenging enough business in the best of circumstance, and a near impossibility when core members of the cast have passed away. Or do they try to take the show in their own direction and risk alienating the loyal fan base? The original animated series DuckTales first aired three decades ago, and many fans of the original series now have children of their own. When the reboot of the show was first announced, fans (myself included) were both excited and apprehensive. The initially released artwork looked substantially different from the original show, which suggested that other aspects of the series might be similarly altered. With the late, great Alan Young passing away in 2016, the voice of Scrooge McDuck would have to be recast. Indeed, the announcement that all of the roles were being recast seemed to cast further doubts on the quality of the then-upcoming project.

Then, about seven months ago, details about the reboot were steadily and skillfully leaked. A series of well-chosen notables were cast in the main roles, new character designs and voices followed, the showrunners explained their visions for the series (including callbacks to not just the original series, but the comics of Carl Barks and Don Rosa as well), and by the time the revamped theme song was released, the initial trepidation had passed, and had, at least in this reviewer’s opinion, been replaced with optimism and even excitement.

A double-length pilot episode, titled “Woo-oo!” (taking its name from the theme song’s immortal refrain), was released on August 12th – the rest of the season will start airing on September 23rd – the 30th anniversary of the initial premiere. While the look of the series is the most jarring change, the pilot episode is marked by a remarkable quality: love of the source material. There’s something very affectionate and enthusiastic about every aspect of the reboot. It seems to be a product created by fans for fans. The cast and crew seem to be creating the impression that this is far from being merely a cheap attempt to make a buck off of nostalgia – there’s a sense that this is a passion project, possibly even a dream job for some of the people involved.

The creators of the reboot had to walk a fine tightrope: they needed to craft an entry to the series that newcomers could start watching without any background knowledge about the show or its mythology, and yet they had to keep connections to the original series and comics to appeal to longtime fans. They succeeded categorically. Not only are replicas of Carl Barks’ portraits of Scrooge hanging on the walls, but callbacks to the original show include subtle references to the Treasure of the Golden Suns, Armstrong the robot, and the genie’s lamp from the DuckTales movie. Furthermore, the cities where other classic Disney Afternoon series were set are name-checked, possibly setting the stage for crossovers or future reboots of other shows.

The plotting of “Woo-oo” is solid: the second half is standard DuckTales adventure fare, but the real gold comes from the characterizations. The writers have added new layers and distinctions to all of the characters, most notably the nephews, who are now distinct personalities rather than essentially clones in different-colored shirts. It seems almost foolhardy to adjust the personalities of iconic characters, but the series cleverly decided to make Donald Duck an overprotective guardian, and Scrooge McDuck now seems to be driven more by a thirst for adventure rather than merely amassing more wealth – though he’s still obsessed with being the richest duck in the world. I’d have to see more to be convinced, but the premise, where Donald and Scrooge are estranged, and it seems like their reconciliation will be stretched out throughout the season, appears to be a masterstroke that adds extra emotional weight. Drawing upon Don Rosa’s The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, and watching Scrooge come alive again after an extended period of inaction, was also a wise characterization path. Additionally, Webby is filled with the desire for excitement rather than being merely a cutesy little girl, and Glomgold seems to positively revel in his own venality, deceit, and lust for riches and triumphing over his rival. A lesser creative team would have shallowly based Launchpad’s character on clumsiness or dim-wittedness, but the show is far more inspired by making Launchpad’s distinctive character traits his good-heartedness and amiable friendliness.

There are a lot of truly hilarious lines in “Woo-oo!,” though unfortunately, some of them are hard to catch due to Glomgold’s thick accent or Donald’s trademark garbled voice. In a comic book, Donald can communicate just as smoothly as any other character, but in an animated show, some pertinent words may be unintelligible on the first hearing, which is perhaps one reason why Donald was marginalized on the original series. This is no way meant as a knock on the marvelous Tony Anselmo, who’s absolutely brilliant as Donald, bringing a real comedic flair to the role. I’ve got nothing but great things to say about the rest of the cast, especially David Tennant, whose casting in the role of Scrooge was a flash of inspired genius.

The creators seem to have intriguing narrative and character arcs set up, and at the end of the episode, not only did I want to see more, but I was psyched to see what they would do with other characters yet to be introduced, and how they were going to set up the plots for future episodes. If future episodes follow the standard of “Woo-oo!,” this reboot may very well become a classic in its own right.


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