I grew up watching the original DuckTales in the late 1980s, and it truly set a new standard, in terms of quality and entertainment value, for animated American televsion Back then, outside of the brief run of Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures and the Sunbow cartoons (G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Jem and the Holograms, and Transformers), children’s cartoons were a bit of a wasteland.
Then came DuckTales in 1987, which successfully adapted the Disney style of animation and high adventure for the small screen. It set off a revolution in cartoon programming, and became an instant classic. We’ve come a long way since then—with probably more quality animated TV shows (for kids and adults) on the air than ever before. Has the new DuckTales—which has just debuted on Disney XD—kept up with the times, and can it compete in a market already saturated by high-profile cartoons?
The first episode opens on a harried Donald Duck (Tony Anselmo, who has been voicing Donald since 1985), who is trying to get ready for a job interview while his three precocious nephews Huey (Danny Pudi), Dewey (Ben Schwartz), and Louie (Bobby Moynihan) try to get him out of the house. Donald is wise to their shenanigans, and drives them to the mansion of their reclusive Uncle Scrooge (voiced by David Tennant) to keep them out of trouble.
Shoved into a locked room and forced to play marbles, the nephews break out, meet the equally precocious Webby (Kate Micucci), and accidentally start trouble in a garage full of Scrooge’s weird treasures and artifacts. Finally acknowledging his nephews, Scrooge sets off to make things right again—and realizes in the process that he has missed his adventures.
A striking comic book-inspired update on the old opening credits, complete with classic theme-song, breaks up the two halves of the episode. When we come back, the DuckTales team is now almost completely assembled (Launchpad McQuack, voiced by Saturday Night Live’s Beck Bennett, now on board). They head for the lost city of Atlantis, and are confronted by Scrooge’s arch-rival Glomgold (whom a clueless Donald is now in the employ of). Danger and excitement ensues, and the DuckTales gang ends up saving the day.
Watching the gruff, headstrong, smart, and extremely formidable Scrooge McDuck, there was one character from a different currently popular cartoon that came to mind—Rick Sanchez from Rick & Morty. Think about it—an older and mysterious family member suddenly comes into the lives of his young relatives, bringing them (perhaps somewhat irresponsibly) into Great Adventure. Like Rick, he keeps his fantastic artifacts and gizmos in his garage, and like Rick, he has the milquetoast annoying parental figure of the children warning him not to get them into mischief and danger—that’s right, Donald is the “Jerry” of the new DuckTales!
But there is also a very strong Gravity Falls influence here as well, not just in tone but in the slightly more arcane and “conspiratorial” nature of the various “mysteries” and their artifacts. Webby is, in some ways, reminiscent of Mabel from that series, but certainly has her own unique characterization as well. And of course…Gravity Falls itself was very reminiscent of the original DuckTales!
The style of the animation is very graphically distinct, paying homage to its comic book roots—all the way down to Ben-Day dots used as accents in the art. Colors are “flat” (in terms of texture and depth) but vibrant, and the entire display is quite in contrast to the attempts at “hyper-realism” made by many CGI cartoons today. An interesting touch are the images of old paintings on Scrooge’s walls, which are rendered in a far more traditionally illustrated style—recalling the work of Carl Barks in the original Uncle Scrooge comics.
DuckTales should be a treat for young and old alike—capturing the sense of humor and adventure of contemporary children’s animation, but not as trippy as say Gravity Falls or Adventure Time (well, except for the part with the “Man-Horse” in the first episode). In a way, it has sort of come full-circle since the original in the Eighties…having thirty years (good Lord! Has it been that long?) of animation to be inspired by along the way.