6 Thoughts on the First Season of DuckTales
The first season of the DuckTales cartoon revival ended a couple weeks ago, and I finally got around to watching the last string of episodes this past weekend, including the epic finale. Considering how much I’ve ranted about the show on this blog, I wanted to give my thoughts on the first season. For the most part, I liked it!
TV Show Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.
I was originally going to review the first season of Disenchantment, Matt Groening’s new Netflix cartoon, but I immediately lost all interest in that List of Six after I stopped working on it for a couple days. Mostly I just wanted to write about how much I disliked Elfo.
Whereas I like pretty much everybody on DuckTales and I think it’s a worthy reboot of this beloved cartoon from my childhood. It’s got some obvious flaws here and there, but on a whole, it was an enjoyable show. And I’m excited for future seasons.
Join me after the jump for my full review of DuckTales! There will also be FULL SPOILERS for the first season.
If you’re not familiar with the show, here’s a quick rundown of the basic setup and the first season’s overarching narrative:
Once upon a time, Donald Duck and his sister, Della, galavanted around the world on adventures with their rich Uncle Scrooge McDuck. But then something happened to Della several years ago and Donald never spoke to Scrooge again, instead choosing to raise Della’s triplets alone — Huey, Dewey and Louie.
The show starts off with Donald begrudgingly reuniting with Scrooge, and soon Scrooge is off on even more adventures with his three grand-nephews, his driver/pilot Launchpad McQuack, and his housekeeper’s granddaughter, Webby. The first season’s two meta-narratives involve Dewey and Webby’s attempts to discover what happened to Della Duck, as well as the villainous Magica DeSpell’s attempts to steal Scrooge’s lucky Number One Dime. Magica, who is trapped in shadow form, uses her own niece, Lena, to befriend Webby and get close to Scrooge to steal his Dime.
And that’s the show in a nutshell. On with the list!
6. It’s a quality revival, with some obvious flaws
I’d first like to point out that I know the new DuckTales is aimed at kids and designed for them. That’s great. But I like cartoons, I loved the original growing up, and I have opinions! Sometimes those opinions can be counter-acted by the phrase, “But it’s meant for kids”, and I understand that. I’m simply choosing to ignore that for the purpose of today’s ramblings.
DuckTales is a quality show overall. It follows the modern cartoon style of telling stand-alone episodic adventures, while letting the larger narrative/mysteries grow in the background. I like that a lot and was hoping the show would go that route. I’m definitely pleased with how they pulled it all off, along with leaving a lot to explore in future seasons. The episode-to-episode stuff wasn’t always great, but it was usually entertaining, at least. The various characters are all unique and interesting, and they work great together. The voice acting is superb. The humor is both classic and modern, and I enjoyed that a lot. The animation is as good as it gets in this day and age. A lot of care and effort definitely went into crafting this DuckTales reboot.
But the biggest problem is that, when the show is weak, it’s eye-rollingly weak.
DuckTales had a problem with filler. It knew that older fans would love the overarching meta-narrative stuff (and I did), and they knew they could pepper in all manner of Easter Eggs, and that the fans would drool over those too (and I did). But they also knew they couldn’t make entire episodes of just announcing Easter Eggs or spelling out the important and fascinating character backgrounds/mysteries. So they had to come up with episodic stuff, filler stories and B and C-stories to fill airtime. These weren’t always that great and sometimes left me rolling my eyes at how badly this show did at killing time.
Two of the latter episodes come to mind. “The Other Bin of Scrooge McDuck” had two storylines, both of which went nowhere and accomplished nothing, despite being only about three episodes from the season finale. In the first storyline, Webby and Lena sneak into Scrooge’s supernatural vault in order to steal his Dime, and we see Lena succeed, Magica DeSpell return to full power and the beginning of the end game…but it’s all a dream sequence and nothing is accomplished. In the second storyline, Huey, Dewey and Louie struggle with a random Bigfoot for some reason. It doesn’t connect to anything, and it relies entirely on the classic, worn out trope of Louie knowing for a fact that Bigfoot is scamming them, but his brothers refuse to believe him because that’s what the plot requires. That storyline also goes nowhere and nothing happens.
Then there’s the episode “The Last Crash of the Sunchaser”, the penultimate episode before the oversized finale, and the episode in which we finally find out what happened to Della and why Donald and Scrooge stopped talking. But that explanation only takes a couple of minutes and is obviously saved for the end of the episode. The entire rest of the episode is all about Dewey running around an airplane trying to grab a scrap of paper that will reveal everything. The episode spends nearly the entire running length coming up with reasons why Dewey can’t just look at the scrap of paper. It was very frustrating and clearly knows its wasting all of our time.
There are other examples from throughout the season, of episodes or plots that just came off as a weak attempt to kill time. As much care and attention as went into the bigger mysteries, I wish the writers had put some of that into the day-to-day stuff.
5. It doesn’t live up to my rose-colored nostalgia, and that’s probably on me
I haven’t seen an episode of the original DuckTales cartoon in more than a decade, and I’m fairly confident that it doesn’t hold up. I honestly don’t care to find out. But it was still one of my favorite cartoons as a kid and I have nothing but fond memories. That isn’t the new show’s problem, it’s my problem. But the new show simply doesn’t live up to my rosy nostalgia, at least in one specific way: the lack of multi-episode arcs.
The one great thing from the original cartoon that I remember — that I really miss in the new show — is the use of multi-episode story arcs that stretched out stories and made them feel more epic. Instead of adventures wrapping up in a single episode, the original cartoon sent Scrooge and the gang deep into jungles and other locations to track clues, build the story and eventually arrive at a really crazy climax. I think the show even kicked off with one that I fondly remember, a big quest for gold. And I have memories of a floating island filled with gold.
These multi-episode epic stories turned DuckTales into a true adventure show, and that is something the new show desperately lacks in comparison.
4. It uses its characters very well
I pretty much loved every character in DuckTales, from the big to the small. I loved the main characters, and how Huey, Dewey and Louie finally had distinct personalities and motivations. I loved the retooled and much cooler Webby, and to a lesser extent, Mrs. Beakley. I especially enjoyed everything the new show did with Donald Duck, not only in giving him an actual role in the show (unlike the original), but making him out to be a total badass. I love when a show’s backstory is so well-thought-out that it could work as its own show, like in Game of Thrones or The Venture Bros. The idea that Scrooge, Donald and Della had their own show’s worth of adventures is just so cool to me, and making Donald Duck a renowned adventurer because of that is just plain neat.
Scrooge McDuck is especially awesome in the new show, and David Tenant was inspired casting. Really, all of the voice-acting was great. The nephews were very distinct, with some big name actors. And I love Kate Micucci, so I was quite pleased with her as Webby. Catherine Tate was fantastic as Magica DeSpell, and there’s not a bad apple in the bunch.
I especially enjoyed the smart use of minor characters.
Not only were a lot of the minor characters funny and creative in their own right — like the retooled Gyro Gearloose — but the show had a lot of fun with minor classic characters making a comeback. The new Doofus Drake was insane in some really fun ways. And Paul F. Thompkins as Gladstone Gander was a great cameo. I loved the new show incorporating classic characters in either new roles or just in fun guest spots.
Though I wasn’t pleased with everyone…
3. I was disappointed with Gizmoduck
Gizmoduck was my favorite character from the original cartoon, for obvious reasons (he’s a superhero!). I also love his design. The big, bulky, white armor and the single unicycle wheel? It’s a very inventive look for a superhero! And while I’m glad they kept the look for the new series, I was hugely disappointed in the character. I liked the whole ‘lovable loser’ thing carrying over from the original, but the way they designed and used Fenton Crackshall-Cabrera rubbed me the wrong way.
In the original, he was an adult male with a legit job and skills outside of his Gizmoduck suit. In the new show, he’s an adult male working a random, unpaid internship that just doesn’t make much sense. His boss, Gyro Gearloose, was introduced in the show as a maverick inventor with a superiority complex tinkering away in his lab…why does he have an intern? Let alone an adult male intern? It just didn’t make much logical sense, and I feel Fenton could have been given a better place in the show, while still portraying him as a bit of a loser.
I applaud the decision to make Fenton hispanic this go-around, and Lin Manuel Miranda was a great casting decision. That all worked. But I also think they made some really weird changes. The biggest example is M’Ma Crackshell, Fenton’s mother. In the original, she was a grumpy, hair-in-curlers stereotype mother character, and Fenton was a weak mama’s boy. It’s a little repugnant in this day and age, but it was still an interesting home life for the heroic Gizmoduck. In the new one, M’Ma is now a hot, young, badass police detective.
It’s such an odd change, especially when you consider that Fenton is still the pathetic loser working an unpaid internship. He has a mom this cool and he turned out to be a loser? The show tries to play up the idea of his mom being opposed to the vigilante, but they don’t give it much attention. And I’m a little worried that they only made the change because they felt they couldn’t portray a Hispanic woman in a negative light, like the original M’Ma Crackshell. Why not?
A lot of the little things about Gizmoduck just didn’t work for me, which is disappointing. His costume is still damn cool, though, so at least there’s that.
2. Suitably epic finale
As I’ve mentioned, DuckTales spent all season building towards the grand finale, which a lot of serialized shows do these days. I’m perfectly happy with that whole concept. And I was pleasantly pleased with the DuckTales finale kicking all kinds of butt. Magica DeSpell was a suitably fun villain. She’s both epic and evil and grounded and funny. Plus, since she’s a classic show character, I thought it was just great how they turned her into this major, season-long baddie. And I’m dying to learn more about her history with Scrooge and the McDuck clan. Magica is probably the best example of the creative staff taking a classic character and applying her to modern cartoon trappings.
Scrooge had to sit out most of the finale, but the kids had a great time. And the show did something pretty amazing with Donald Duck: they gave him a proper voice. Obviously, Donald’s voice is legendary, and older than all of us, so they couldn’t just change it. But how do you line up Donald’s weird duck voice with the fact that everybody else speaks normally on the world of DuckTales? I don’t think they explained it, but they did give him a voice box that allowed him to talk with the sweet, dulcet tones of Don Cheadle. And then they had Donald act like the proper action hero he was, laying out a genius plan of attack and being a total badass.
“I am the storm,” is a really corny line, but the show sold the hell out of it in the moment. Especially since it came from Donald Duck. I’m a sucker for dry, cool action hero wit.
1. I am comfortable with the Expanded Disney Cartoon Universe
Most of the ranting I’ve done on this blog about DuckTales has been about the Expanded Disney Cartoon Universe, a name I coined, and which probably won’t catch on. I’ve been both excited and disappointed at the possibilities of the EDCU. On the one hand, instead of making Darkwing Duck a real person in DuckTales, they turned him into a TV show, a la the 1960s Batman. I hated that. On the other hand, sky pirate Don Carnage showed up as himself for an entire episode, and Cape Suzette, from the TV show TaleSpin, has been mentioned numerous times. So it’s highly likely that Baloo the bear and his pals are part of the universe and could (should!) show up in future seasons. DuckTales also threw me for a loop with an episode fearing Gummiberry Juice, with references to The Gummi Bears. That was a hoot!
Now that the first season is over, I can safely say that I am comfortable with the state of affairs of the EDCU. It stings that Darkwing Dark, his family, and his rogues aren’t properly part of the world, but the TaleSpin possibilities are great (the Don Karnage episode was to die for), and I’m glad the writers can still surprise me.
Overall, I’m pleased with where the show could be going and I’m definitely looking forward to future seasons!
Posted on August 29, 2018, in Cartoons, Lists of Six!, Television and tagged Darkwing Duck, Disney, Donald Duck, Ducktales, Expanded Disney Cartoon Universe, Gizmoduck, TaleSpin. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.