Oh, hey; I can talk about something happy for a change!
At this point, you know that I have a bit of an axe to grind when it comes to Disney. However, don’t take that to mean that I hate EVERYTHING about them; I am a human capable of love after all and Disney was still a formative part of my child. And one of those parts I loved was DuckTales.
Looking back, it was a very simplistic show – very much your standard, 1990’s, baddie-of-the-week, action-adventure serial. It was light on plot and character development, but it was completely serviceable with high-energy action, decent humor, and still holds up surprisingly well after over two decades.
But, you want to know what they changed in the 2017 reboot and if they stayed true to the original source material, right? Well, let’s rap about that (NOTE: SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT).
The first thing I took note of was a heavier focus on an overarching plot for the series. The first two episodes (conveniently mashed up as an hour long premiere in the video above) starts with Donald Duck struggling to make a home for his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie as the life of a sailor isn’t conducive to being a family man. Donald is forced to drop the trio off at the mansion of their grand-uncle Scrooge McDuck while he heads off to a new job interview. As the plot continues, new elements are added such as Huey, Dewey, and Louie being disillusioned with Scrooge’s greatness, Scrooge struggling to patch up strained family relations, Donald having to choose between family and success after unintentionally being hired by Scrooge’s arch-rival Flintheart Glomgold, and – end-capping the second episode – the discovery that Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s long-lost mother might have joined Scrooge and Donald in their early adventuring days.
With heavier plot came a greater chance for character development. This was where things started getting risky as this meant a chance of people complaining that the characters weren’t true to the originals. However, I didn’t have those concerns while watching. For the most part, I felt they were the same lovable goofballs I grew up with.
Donald is still a neurotic ball of rage, panic, and feathers (playing up the foul-mouthed sailor cliche… heh, FOWL… ’cause he’s a duck), but now he has the humanizing element of being an adoptive father figure to his nephews. Now his anger and frustration are justified because he’s constantly agonizing over the well-being of those in his care.
Scrooge is still the money-grubbing miser that he always was, but now he’s learning to accept family back into his life now that he’s made his fortune, thus making him a warmer and lovable character. Now, he has a chance to share his glory days with the next generation and has new meaning in his life by teaching them how to be, in his own words, “tougher than the toughies and smarter than smarties.”
Of course, the two biggest changes in character and the ones everyone wants to discuss are Scrooge’s maidservant Mrs. Bentina Beakley and her granddaughter Webbigail “Webby” Vanderquack. It’s understandable why the internet would go nuts over these two as their previous incarnations were a bit troubled from a modern feminist perspective.
Where the original Mrs. Beakley had almost no character other than being a doting nanny and mother figure to the child cast, this new incarnation is much more strict and professional – characterized as being very hard-nosed about how things are run around the McDuck mansion. She’s also not afraid to call Scrooge out on his B.S. when she smells it which has the effect of making her the Alfred Pennyworth to Scrooge’s Bruce Wayne. Her visual design reflects this by replacing her round rimless spectacles and frilly blouse with square horn-rimmed glasses and a broadly shouldered blazer to harden her appearance while keeping her bun hair-do, frilled apron, and giving her a classy brooch to remind us that under her sternness, she’s still a loving soft-hearted gentlewoman.
And she needs to be loving because she’s looking after the new Webby.
The original Webby was an example of one of the WORST kinds of female characters in fiction, the one that insists on being involved in everything with the boys for no discernable reason despite having no useful skills and calling sexism when someone tries to explain how dangerous that is for them and the rest of the team. Here though, she keeps this ‘up-for-anything’ personality while mitigating the problems previously attached to it.
For starters, there’s a reason why she wants to be with others on an adventure; she’s been horribly sheltered. Mrs. Beakley, fearing for her granddaughter’s safety sharing a home with a famous thrill-seeker, taught her every survival technique she knows but insisted that she be in a position where she’ll never actually need to use them by keeping her in the house. She’s bouncing off the walls with her growing social awkwardness. So when she finally meets Huey, Dewey, and Louie, she clings to them as the first living creatures she’s interacted with outside of the mansion.
Oh, and those survival techniques. Yeah, that means she actively contributes to the team instead of standing off to the side until she inevitably becomes a liability. It also makes my previous Mrs. Beakley/Alfred comparison stronger by suggesting that she’s a total badass.
And, of course, I’d be foolish if I didn’t mention the reworking of the original theme which is just as legendarily catchy as the before but doesn’t wear out its welcome nearly as quickly.
So, basically, this is just a REALLY wordy way of saying that I’m looking forward to seeing what else Disney comes up with. It seems they’re still making good use of those pages from the Cartoon Network school of plot and character development in animation that they borrowed when making Gravity Falls. The only difference is that they had the guts to apply it to one of their longest running franchises.
Now then, which of us is gonna start petitioning for a Darkwing Duck reboot?