On the Money
“DuckTales” on Disney XD
Like a lot of people in my generation, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of my adult life watching age-inappropriate cartoons. Blame it on the early ’90s, which were a boom time for animated shows—“Batman: The Animated Series,” “Tiny Toon Adventures,” “The Tick,” “Rocko’s Modern Life,” “The Simpsons,” “Beavis and Butt-head,” “Daria”—that straddled the line between juvenile and adult entertainment. Sure, “Animanics” and “Ren & Stimpy” with their hidden adult humor paved the way for today’s “mature” cartoons like “South Park” and “Archer.” But any guilt-free, post-adolescent with “My Little Pony” on their DVR queue can thank/blame idiots like me unironically watching “The Powerpuff Girls” back in college.
Now, with ‘80s nostalgia segueing into ’90s nostalgia, it’s no surprise to see some of our pop culture favorites being revived. Disney XD, for example, is offering an energized reboot of “DuckTales.” The show—aimed at kids, but entertaining enough for adults—has been thoroughly modernized. And yet, a stylish makeover and a lot of hip new jokes aren’t enough to disturb the zippy narrative framework that made “DuckTales” such an addictive bit of escapism back in the day.
The new “DuckTales” features a rougher, more dynamic art style. The original series (1987-1990) stuck close to the look and feel of the seminal, fine-line comics of Carl Barks. (Barks created the character of Scrooge McDuck as a spin-off of Donald Duck back in 1947.) Fans of the original may take an episode or two to get used to the new look, but it serves the show well.
As in the original series—itself heavily influenced by Barks’ tales—the new “DuckTales” features Donald Duck dumping his troublesome nephews—Huey, Dewey and Louie—off with his rich old Uncle Scrooge. This version of Scrooge downplays his miserly tendencies, instead highlighting the adventurous, globetrotting, Indiana Jones side of his personality. It’s perfectly in line with Scrooge’s storied history—as laid out by Barks and expanded upon by his comic book successor Don Rosa. But here’s hoping the show finds a clever way to address Scrooge’s obsessive wealth-gathering in today’s post-Trump era.
The best thing about the new show is the voice cast, which is overflowing with talent. It starts with former “Doctor Who” star David Tennant as the voice of the irascible billionaire. Danny Pudi (“Community”), Ben Schwartz (“Parks and Recreation”) and Bobby Moynihan (“Saturday Night Live”) provide distinct personalities for his hero-worshipping nephews. Kate Micucci (“Garfunkel and Oates”) gives us an older, conspiracy-loving version of perennial tag-along Webbigail Vanderquack. Mrs. Beakley and Launchpad McQuack are back as well.
Yes, some of the characters are a bit different—more proactive, let’s say—than previous versions. But the writers seem intent on working out logical interactions between them. It’s easy to sense the long-standing enmity between Donald and Uncle Scrooge, for example. Donald’s still the quick-tempered duck in a sailor suit—but you get the frustration he must feel being the poor relation to the world’s richest duck. Details like that speak well to the show’s storytelling potential. Though the extended pilot’s amped-up, post-milennial pace is sometimes wearying, “DuckTales” feels like a winner. Fans new and old should take to this one like a duck to water.