Ah, the reboot of a classic, beloved children’s favorite. It’s become as ubiquitous these days as a kitty cat Snapchat filter. I always approach these kinds of things with trepidation. There’s always the chance that the makers might totally get the tone wrong, and hence anger millions of grownups who shouldn’t care anymore. Alternatively, you run the risk of staying too slavish to what people remember, and thus being unable to blaze a new trail with the story. But in a rare triumph for these kinds of reboots, Disney XD’s new DuckTales series, premiering with an hourlong special August 12 prior to its September proper premiere, finds the balance between new and old beautifully, bringing modern comedic sensibilities to exciting adventure stories.
The one word I think sums up this new take on Disney’s most popular Disney Afternoon series is “savvy.” This show is made by people who know the original and can give little winks and nods where applicable, but who also don’t forget the fact that the bulk of the eyes who’ll watch the show will be children–and that’s a good thing. We live in a cynical age, and the original series’ tone and temperament might seem too naive and earnest for today’s kids. As such there’s an edge to the new DuckTales, but it’s not so edgy that it loses the wonder of discovery and the thrill of finding buried treasure.
This special–titled appropriately “Woo-oo!”–is a thing of two halves: the first finds down-on-his-luck Donald Duck (Tony Anselmo, of course) trying to get ready for a job interview and needing to leave his rambunctious nephews Huey (Danny Pudi), Dewey (Ben Schwartz), and Louie (Bobby Moynihan) with someone. His last resort is his estranged uncle, Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant), a bored and aged billionaire who longs to be out adventuring again. Scrooge puts the boys in an empty room and gives them marbles to play with, but they of course immediately break out and go exploring the mansion, where they find Webby (Kate Micucci), the brilliant and resilient–though sadly lonely–granddaughter of Scrooge’s housekeeper Mrs. Beakley (Toks Olagundoye). Through their meddling, the kids awaken several ancient ghosts and spirits from artifacts in the house and Scrooge has to join them to save the day, awakening in him a sense of purpose.
The second half hour follows Scrooge, the four kids, and his dopey, well-meaning chauffeur-turned-pilot-turned-submariner, Launchpad McQuack (Beck Bennett) as they attempt to locate the Lost City of Atlantis (no big whoop). Unfortunately, Scrooge’s sworn enemy, the OTHER very wealthy Scottish duck named Flintheart Glomgold (Keith Ferguson), wants to get their first, and he’s willing to kill or capture Scrooge and his family to do it. And things get hairier when Donald Duck and his sailing skills get commandeered for the forces of badness.
The characters all seem like they have somewhere to go, from Scrooge’s crotchety nature giving way to a warmer, great-uncleish vibe, to Donald and Scrooge’s estrangement, to Webby learning what friendship is, to all three of the nephews having *gasp* individual wants and needs! It’s so refreshing for each Huey, Dewey, and Louie each to have their own personality and point of view, and for Webby to be the same age and incredibly book-learned but having no experience with other kids. Not to disparage Russi Taylor’s performances as all four characters in the original, but it goes a long way to make the characters more than just a different colored shirt and hat.
Tennant’s Unka Scrooge is a perfect blend of grouchy miser and skilled, Conan Doyle-ish thrill-seeker. Choosing the former Doctor Who lead was a genius idea; this version of McDuck might as well be an older, grumpier Tenth Doctor, less romantic but just as eager to see the world and find excitement. I also really applaud the show’s readiness to give Donald Duck jokes and funny dialogue. Anselmo has played the character for roughly one billion years at this point, and this version of the character is much more of an everyduck than an angry, fly-off-the-handle mallard.
I think fans who grew up with the original will see all the things that made DuckTales what it was, but might find it easier to watch as an adult due to its humor and inventiveness. And the animation and character designs are truly gorgeous, combining the old comic book sensibility with modern, simplistic cartoon styles in a fun way. It doesn’t look like ’90s DuckTales, but it’s definitely still DuckTales, and that’s all you could hope for.
4 out of 5 Need to Watch More of This Burritos
DuckTales “Woo-oo!” special premieres Saturday, August 12 on Disney XD, with more new episodes starting September 23.
For more animation goodness, check out our tribute to the late June Foray, a clip showing the history of Voltron, and take a gander (*snort laugh*) at new DuckTales Funko POP!s.
Images: Disney XD
Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He’s written the animation retrospectives Batman: Reanimated, X-Men: Reanimated, Cowboy Rebop, and Samurai reJacked. Follow him on Twitter!