Once upon a time, there was a television series called "DuckTales", part of "The Disney Afternoon" programming block. It was Disney's third-ever animated TV show (After the marketing-driven "The Wuzzles" and its much more successful counterpart, "The Adventures of the Gummi Bears"). Based on the comic books by Carl Barks and his successor, Don Rosa, the popularity of the show skyrocketed. With vivid character personalities and wild adventures, the show set a precedent for kid's cartoons, steering away from the focus on selling merchandise and more toward telling good stories with great characters.
The show focused on the escapades of über-squillionaire 1-percenter Scrooge McDuck: Scottish-born immigrant who has done everything from dig for gold in the Yukon to mined diamonds in South Africa. Scrooge is cantankerous and gruff in his advanced years, but hardy enough to go on all sorts of arduous adventures abroad. His nephew, one Donald Fauntleroy Duck, has joined the Navy and left Huey, Dewey, and Louie in his care. At first, situation is to no one's liking, but slowly they come to a deep appreciation for each other. Scrooge eventually hires a nanny, Mrs. Beakley, and her granddaughter, Webby, becomes a sprightly tag-along with the boys as they traverse the globe in search of riches and treasure. Aiding them in their journeys are crackerjack pilot Launchpad McQuack, kooky inventor Gyro Gearloose, spirited Junior Woodchuck Doofus, and Scrooge's stuffy butler Duckworth. Of course, Scrooge is not without his fair share of foes: the corrupt, second-richest duck in the world, Flintheart Glomgold, the wicked sorceress Magica DeSpell, and family crime syndicate the Beagle Boys, all want a share of Scrooge's wealth.
The show premiered on September 18th, 1987, and ran for four seasons, coming to a close November 28th, 1990, and that was before syndication, for a total of 100 episodes. The second season soon introduced Bubba the cave duck and uptight accountant Fenton Crackshell/crime fighter Gizmoduck. Out of four nominations, it won two daytime Emmy awards, and even got its own theatrically released movie in 1990, "DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp". Its NES game became one of the best-selling titles in the consoles' history, inspiring a remastered version in 2014, featuring nearly all the original voice cast.
Finally, in 2015, Disney announced a brand-new series would reboot the tales of Scrooge and company, and a year later, the first image was released. To say fans like me were excited is a bit of an understatement. The show had an integrity and sincerity to it rarely seen in most kid's shows back in the late eighties. By today's standards, the show is not much to speak of, but it's hard to explain just how good it was as someone who grew up with the ear worm of a theme song pounding in their heads. As a Gen X-er who grew up on the show, I felt it appropriate to discuss when we can expect and my thoughts on the new series.
The voice cast:
If you are constantly checking Alan Young's IMDB page for updates, I've got some bad news: it sounds as though the original voice cast isn't coming back.
It wasn't long after the revival's announcement when Terrence McGovern, who played Launchpad, posted online that he found out he was not getting the call to return as the happy-go-lucky pilot. He reported feeling "heartsick" that he wasn't coming back. We already know Joan Gerber (Mrs. Beakley), Hamilton Camp (Fenton/GizmoDuck), and Hal Smith (Glomgold/Gyro) aren't returning since they have since passed on, so could they bring back anyone else? Not likely. Even though Alan Young (Scrooge) returned as the grumpy duck in at least two of the new Mickey Mouse cartoons AND headlined in the remastered video game, the man is 96 years old now. June Foray, who voiced Magica and Ma Beagle, also returned as the former for the remastered game, is 98. Russi Taylor, who played Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby, is 71. As impressive as it is to watch these three still churn out the great work they put in the video game, it's obvious they'll have to pass the torch on sooner rather than later. I'm a sucker for the original voices, I must admit, but I understand sometimes changes have to be made (incidentally, the replacements they got for Gyro, Glomgold, Fenton, and Mrs. Beakley in the video game were amazingly spot-on!)
Scrooge's robust Glasgow accent is iconic, so I sincerely hope whomever takes over is more Billy Connolly and less Craig Ferguson. I can't say I have someone in mind per se, but this is one voice that has to be done just right.
The voices of the nephews have been done by either Clarence Nash or Tony Anselmo ("Quack Pack" notwithstanding.), but Russi's was a perfect concoction of youth and garbled duck quacking. Since Donald seems to play a stronger role in this series (as evidenced the the first released image), it will be necessary to shake things up and diversify the vocals. They still look young, so having clear voices like they did in "Quack Pack" may not work as well. For Webby, I recommend Tara Strong, the voice actress best known for Bubbles from "The Powerpuff Girls", but she could apply her Timmy Turner voice to one or more of the boys.
Launchpad's deep baritone conveys both confidence and playfulness, sort of like Bruce Campbell in his capacity for heroics, mixed a gentle naïveté of Goofy. Strangely enough, I am drawn to the idea of John DiMaggio ("Kim Possible", "Futurama", and "Adventure Time"), provided he keeps the gravelly tone down to a minimum, or even Dee Bradley Baker ("Phineas and Ferb", "Avatar", "American Dad"). But I think the best contender would be Patrick Warburton ("Family Guy", "The Emperor's New Groove", "Soarin'").
Finally, since Disney confirmed the return of Magica DeSpell, who might take on the mantle? There's plenty of amazing voice actresses out there who could whip up a fun Eastern European, some that come to mind as viable candidates are E. G. Daily (Tommy Pickles from "Rugrats"), Grey Griffin (Azula from "Avatar"), or maybe Ukraine-born Mila Kunis (Meg from "Family Guy"). I can only hope the new cast is just as impressive as the old headliners: they got big shoes to fill.
The style of the characters seems to be reminiscent of Paul Rudish's Mickey Mouse series, with lots of angular, simple shapes. The original had an organic, rounded look, as if they were to evoke the feel of the 40's Disney cartoons. What's also evident is Donald's shirt is black, a wardrobe choice rarely seen outside the comic books. But given the inherent energy from the one still image, it's clear we can expect a fast-paced, wildly over-the-top series of adventures, but grounded enough to give the stories gravitas and a sense of danger. After all, the comics did inspire Spielberg's "Indiana Jones" franchise.
No, seriously. Look up "Seven Cities Of Cibola", which not only features a booby trap-triggered giant rolling boulder, but pre-dates "Raiders of the Lost Ark" by nearly thirty years!
The cultural issues:
It's not 1990 anymore. That should be obvious with the lack of denim jackets lately, but this is significant in a cultural level. In one of the earliest episodes, a man in a conquistador outfit named Joaquin Slowly (Yeah, I think the pun's weak, too.) orders around a native South American tribe because he owns a gold coin. The natives themselves don't have defined personalities, names, or are even really part of the story, they are plot device who chant "Gold sun" or "No gold sun". Since the series came out at the dawn of the politically correct movement, it's hard to peg the comics or the show as "racist" as much as it is "imperialist". Sure, natives were often reduced to crude stereotypes from grass skirts to broken English, but to regard any of them as though they bore malicious intent is pessimistic at best.
Will the troupe travel to fictional countries like Ronguay or Tralala, like they used to? Spend much of the series hacking through jungles and bartering with backwards natives? Granted, fictional places grant a leniency, but their customs and architecture have to be based on something (In "Phineas and Ferb", Dr. Doofenshmirtz is from the fictional village of Drusselstien, Gimmelshtump, but his accent and the customs resemble that of the Bavarian region of Germany). It might be more fun to travel to real, lesser-known parts of the globe and incorporate more cultures.
One culture that has also definitely changed since the eighties is that of gender. Studios making children's shows back then had great difficulty how to write women and girls as functional characters. Webby was the poster child for cutesy-wutesyness, dolled up in pink, baby voice, her "Quackypatch" doll, her complaints often reduced to whiny pouting, you get the gist. In the first-released image, we see young Webbigail excitedly riding next to Unca Scrooge, only now, she no longer wears a bow atop her head, just a choppy pixie cut reminiscent of the style Daisy had in "Quack Pack". Hopefully Webby will be written to make her a stronger, less annoying character. She can be girly, that's fine, but let's make her more than just a pawn for the female demographic thought up by a focus group.
The theme song:
Nothing gets a Disney fan's heart going like the opening notes of a bouncy, mid-tempo guitar, a few taps of a drum, and Jeff Pescetto leading us to Duckburg through lyric. It's mellow enough to not exhaust the listener, yet energetic enough stimulate one's adrenaline. It remains one of the best theme songs for a TV show, animation or not.
So here's to hoping they don't change it.
Don't get me wrong: if they get in most any singer on the radio today who can put their own spin on it, that's fine. If it evolves into pseudo-rap like they did to Nickelodeon's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", I'm cool with that, too. But the song MUST be part of the show. There is no room for negotiation on this one, folks.
Potential with Darkwing Duck:
After the success of "DuckTales", a spinoff series was suggested to ride the wave a little longer. What began as a secret agent/spy series starring Launchpad called "Double-O Duck" (Based off the "DuckTales" episode of the same name) became another hit on the Disney Afternoon, "Darkwing Duck". Launchpad stuck around, reduced to the sidekick role, but remained the link back to the previous series. Though Scrooge and the nephews never guest starred, we did see GizmoDuck appear in a handful of episodes, creating a fascinating dynamic between the two: an over-zealous, Silver-age Iron Man knockoff who coasted on luck and bravado, up against a temperamental, vainglorious, often inept Batman knockoff. It made for some of DW's best episodes.
I bring this up because even though GizmoDuck has not been confirmed to return, it'd be a serious mistake if he didn't. Given the public's passion for superheroes over the past decade or so, giving GizmoDuck a chance to shine would be a smart move, and to include D.W. would cause fans to erupt in ecstasy. Plus, this could open the door for a great Disney version of The Avengers! GizmoDuck, Darkwing, maybe Jake Long, Kim Possible, Agent P, and the gargoyles, anyone? I can dream, can't I?
(And yes, we did see them team up and initiate the "Justice Ducks", but I'm gonna guess Disney will do whatever they can to dissuade the idea of a superhero team with the word "Justice" in it.)
How will it do?
Obviously, there's no conceivable way to tell how well this show will do. If they maintain the integrity of the characters, that's about 80% of the work. Scrooge was appealing because he was tenacious, brave, but empathetic. While the nephews had minimal identifiable personality traits, let alone between each other, they still had spirit and resourcefulness unparalleled. Launchpad was naive, playful, and eternally loyal. That's what made the show fun. It's why the episodes in Duckburg fighting villains were just as interesting as the ones where they travelled abroad.
I hope this show does well. Fans deserve to see their old friends taken care of and young fans deserve to see something they can identify with. Hopefully the fanboys won't drown out the cheers, and here's hoping that we embark on some tales of derring-do, bad and good luck...tales.
Don't judge me.