When we last saw DUCKTALES 2017, the pilot episode was well received, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing from there. According to show creator Frank Angones, Disney XD aired the episodes out of order.

Then, the show moved to Disney Channel in May after taking a rather lengthy mid-season break. Still, the series seems to be doing with audience and critics, which brings us to today’s topic. Does DUCKTALES 2017 live up to the hype, or is it just another 80’s nostalgia cash-in?

DUCKTALES vs. DUCKTALES 2017

Ducktales 2017
Images courtesy of Disney Entertainment

For those of you don’t know, the original DUCKTALES cartoon is about mega-millionaire Scrooge McDuck, his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and their various pals/employees going on episodic adventures. Sometimes this meant escaping death traps in exotic locations. Other times the villain of the week would show up near or at McDuck Manor. Either way, our heroes would have to outsmart whatever was going on to survive.

Unsurprisingly, DUCKTALES 2017 has the same premise as it did the first time around. But the main difference between the two is what they choose to focus on within the premise. The original DUCKTALES primarily focused on the adventure aspect of the series. Characters often found themselves fighting against something like a witch or an Egyptian mummy cult.

Despite this, the tone of the show was still lighthearted and cartoonish. But the characters themselves tended to take the situation at hand pretty seriously. Thus, the narrative centers on the characters figuring out how to escape/defeat the situation. In DUCKTALES 2017, the characters still get into situations involving things like forgotten cities and undead monsters. However, these situations and the characters’ attitudes towards them seem to be comparatively flippant.

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Ducks in Not-So-Dangerous Scenarios

For instance, take the episode “The Impossible Summit of Mt. Neverrest!” Louie, one of the triplets, decides that climbing the titular Mt. Neverrest would take too much effort. So, he spends the rest of the episode at a harmless nearby resort town, which turns into an entire subplot.

In “The Spear of Selene!” the Greek god Zeus traps the characters on an island. He then challenges them to a series of petty party games that the ducks manage to win without really trying. In “The Missing Links of Moorshire!” the characters stumble into a cursed realm while playing golf.

Unsurprisingly, they need to finish the game to escape. But the cursed realm doesn’t really go all out until near the end of the episode. For the most part, the characters generally seem pretty unphased by the situation. They mostly continue to play as if it’s a regular recreational game of golf.

Ducktales 2017
Image courtesy of Disney Animation

Now, to be fair, the characters eventually get into danger in all of those aforementioned episodes. However, these moments of danger aren’t the show’s main focus. You see, DUCKTALES 2017 has a rather unexpected sense of priorities. The danger of the situations is downplayed, so there’s more emphasis on the characters messing around and with each other. This means that character interaction and comedy takes priority over the setpieces. In other words, instead of being an adventure cartoon, DUCKTALES 2017 is more of a sitcom cartoon about adventurers.

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Don’t Take it Too Seriously

Admittedly, DUCKTALES 2017’s sitcom-based approach does seem to be at odds with the action-packed visuals accompanying its theme song. But once you realize that it’s primarily a character-based comedy, the show’s more idiosyncratic elements start to make sense.

Like the fact that the child-aged main characters are constantly easily escaping from life-threatening situations. Or the fact that adult actors are voicing said child-aged main characters. If you go through the cast list, you’ll notice that the cast is somewhat familiar. You might not recognize Danny Pudi or Bobby Moynihan by name. But you’ve probably seen them before in shows like COMMUNITY and SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. This supports the sitcom-esque tone the show is going for.

Ducktales 2017
Image courtesy of Disney Entertainment

And for the most part, I’d say that this tone works. Main cast members Huey, Dewey, Louie, Scrooge, and Webby all have well-defined and likable personalities that work well. Huey (red) is a by-the-book boy scout. Dewey (blue) is an emotionally needy attention seeker. Louie (green) is a slacker who’s not quite as cool as he thinks he is. I know none of these personality types are particularly original. But considering that they all had the same personality in the original 80’s version, they’ve come a long way.

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Pretty Cool Characters

Webby’s a highly trained survivalist who’s also fairly awkward and naive about the world around her, while gentleman adventurer Scrooge McDuck acts as an effective straight man in an off-kilter world where magical curses and evil ghosts are common occurrences. The supporting cast is no slouch either. Donald Duck is basically Popeye the sailor as a down-on-his-luck family man, and Scrooge’s arch nemesis Flint Glomgold is the master of petty corporate villainy.  

Ducktales 2017
Image courtesy of Disney Animation

Also, while the setpieces may not take center stage, they’re still pretty cool when they need to be. How many kids cartoon characters have you seen try to escape from an all-encompassing Chinese casino or the advances of murder ponies in a haunted Scottish moor? However, that isn’t to say the sitcom approach doesn’t have its drawbacks. For instance, there are a few recurring characters on the show that fit the archetype of the overly annoying “wacky neighbor” a little too well.

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Ducks Can’t be This Goofy

Scrooge’s personal driver Launchpad McQuack has never been the brightest bulb in the box. But in the 2017 series, he has the personality of a seven-year-old who’s hopped up on too much sugar. Considering that there are actual kid characters in the show, it seems unnecessary to make the fully-grown adult pilot that childish.

Ducktales 2017
Image courtesy of Disney Animation

On the villains’ side, you’ve got Mark Beaks, a self-centered up-and-coming billionaire who acts like a parody of “techbro” entrepreneurs. Now, I do realize that DUCKTALES 2017 probably doesn’t have a whole lot of room for SILICON VALLEY-esque satire.

But I do think Mark Beak’s personality is a little too shallow given what he’s supposed to be parodying. Mark’s whole shtick is that he’s a superficial conman who says things like “hashtag YOLO” out loud. This pales in comparison to the real-life fiascoes social media obsessed billionaires have gotten into lately.

Look, I know it’s a kids show. Bringing up things like the Cambridge Analytics scandal, or Elon Musk railing against the press would be weird. But if you are going to make fun of those sorts of people, don’t settle for surface-level smartphone jokes.

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Sitcoms V. Plot Progression

The other drawback to DUCKTALES 2017’s sitcom approach is that, to a certain extent, it does want to be a straightfaced adventure cartoon. There are two overarching plot threads in the show at the moment: The mystery of the triplets’ missing mother Della Duck, and the emerging presence of a shadowy villain known as Magica De Spell, both of which are treated pretty seriously.

And, as I said earlier, flippancy in the face of danger is one of the main aspects of DUCKTALES 2017. This might make things awkward once these supposedly serious plot threads come to a head.

Ducktales 2017
Images courtesy of Disney Animation

Now, most of the main cast aren’t one-dimensional cartoon caricatures, and they do seem to have enough emotional depth to make the transition from comedy to drama work. But when your heroes have joked their way through avalanches on Mt. Neverrest and death traps in Atlantis, it might be tricky to come up with an end-game challenge that’s more extreme than those scenarios.

That being said, shows like STEVEN UNIVERSE and REGULAR SHOW built up some pretty heavy story arcs after having plenty of episodes dedicated to lighthearted escapades. And though I still have no idea how they’ll pull it off, I haven’t seen anything yet to definitively prove that DUCKTALES 2017 won’t be able to do the same.

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Should You Watch DUCKTALES 2017?

I know to some viewers, it’s irritating to watch a show where characters don’t seem that concerned about the dangerous situations they’re regularly being placed in. But as long as you aren’t put off by its sitcom-based approach to adventuring, DUCKTALES 2017 is still worth your time.

The characters are well-defined, and without getting into spoilers, there are some genuinely fun twists and setpieces hidden in each episode, even if the show isn’t quite as action-orientated as the promotional materials suggest.

Ducktales 2017
Image courtesy of Disney Animation

Admittedly, I still have no idea how Della Duck and Magica De Spell are going to affect the tone of the show. But I’m definitely interested in seeing how it’ll play out, and if you are as well, make sure to catch up on the season before it returns on June 16th on Disney Channel. Also, if you are going to binge-watch the show, I highly recommend that you follow the production order instead of the order in which the episodes premiered.

Ducktales 2017
Production numbers on the left, actual premiere order on the right. Info courtesy of Wikipedia.

About half the episodes are more slice-of-life themed escapades in the town of Duckberg, while the other half are full-out adventures in exotic locations. Most of these episodes are self-contained, but if you’re watching them all at once, the original premiere order makes it so that instead of alternating between Duckberg and the exotic locales, you just get a bunch of Duckberg episodes in the first chunk of the season. This might seem odd given that the pilot was all about getting Scrooge back into traveling abroad for adventures, so keep that in mind.  

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