It’s crazy to think that just a few years ago, a DuckTales reboot did not necessarily seem like a sure thing. Could one of the most beloved children’s cartoons of the 1980s be successfully updated for contemporary audiences, while simultaneously pleasing the legions of fans who grew up on the original show– not to mention the treasured Carl Barks-created Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comic books that inspired it?
And now, at the start of the reboot’s third season, I can say without hyperbole (okay, maybe a tiny bit of hyperbole) that I genuinely can’t imagine life without it. The show’s annual panel at San Diego Comic-Con has cemented itself as that event’s must-see star-studded laugh-fest, and each passing episode that airs on Disney Channel and/or Disney XD goes further to confirm that the new DuckTales has shockingly eclipsed the now-pretty-dated Disney Afternoon version. Indeed, this new take on already-beloved material has accomplished something of which very few similarly timed remakes have been capable: actually becoming the idealized adventure-comedy we imagined in our heads as kids.
Two terrific new episodes make up the DuckTales season-three premiere this Friday, and they both go a long way in setting up a new year-long arc for our adventuresome protagonists. The first fresh installment, entitled “Challenge of the Senior Junior Woodchucks!,” sees young nephew Huey (voiced by Danny Pudi of Community fame) go up against his rival Violet (Libe Barer of Sneaky Pete) in a surprisingly dangerous wilderness-exploring competition to achieve the titular title of Senior Woodchuck. Meanwhile, Uncle Scrooge (Doctor Who’s David Tennant) takes Donald (Disney mainstay Tony Anselmo), Della (Paget Brewster of Criminal Minds), Webby (Garfunkel and Oates musical comedian Kate Micucci) and the other nephews on a side quest through the same back-country area to seek out the hidden treasure of the Woodchucks’ founder.
Like the previous two DuckTales season premieres, “Challenge of the Senior Junior Woodchucks!” is packed with hilarious gags and plenty of Easter-Egg references to Disney’s Duck Family’s past which I won’t give away here (okay, I’ll give you one of the more conspicuous examples– watch out for the very-annoying-to-some Aracuan Bird from The Three Caballeros, who plays a pivotal role in steering Scrooge and his companions on their expedition). Accomplished character actor Stephen Root (Office Space, NewsRadio) guest stars as Huey’s unusual ally and there are also lessons to be learned about earning your accomplishments, letting fate guide you to new experiences rather than rehashing old ones, and just plain being a good sport. Naturally I’m not going to spoil the ending here, except to say that it provides a tantalizing jumping-off point for the episodes to come.
The second episode of this new season of DuckTales, entitled “Quack Pack!,” is quite a bit stranger than its lead-in and somehow even more self-referential than usual– not that that’s a bad thing. The Ducks and McDucks return home to find themselves trapped in a strange sitcom-like alternate reality, where Scrooge, Mrs. Beakley (Castle’s Toks Olagundoye), Launchpad (Saturday Night Live’s Beck Bennett), and the nephews have all taken on more stereotypical forms of their own personalities. Dewey (Ben Schwartz from Parks and Recreation) has been heightened into a catchphrase-spewing smooth-talker, Louie (ex-SNL cast member Bobby Moynihan) is kissing up to his mom and grand-uncle a bit too much, and Donald has strangely reverted back to an unlikely form we’ve only seen– or heard– once before.
Everyone seems content in their newly idyllic circumstance except Huey, who begins to see the cracks in this unnerving existence: he can hear the audience’s laughter and identify the walls around him as stagecraft. So it becomes up to the red-capped nephew to wake his family members up to the truth and figure a way out of this nightmare, and he’s only got his own wits and very welcome special guest star Goofy (Bill Farmer, who’s played the famous Disney role since the 80s) to help him out. It’s all very meta, extremely funny, and eventually even a little scary, but I can foresee this episode fast becoming a fan favorite thanks to its tight script and many, many nods to the Disney Afternoon we know and love– obviously starting with the episode’s title and the throwback outfits each of the characters happen to be wearing. As the story progresses, more surprises unfold, and it’s absolutely worth watching to find out what strange magic is behind this reality-warping mind-trip.
DuckTales season three premieres Saturday April 4th at 9:30am on Disney XD.
Mike serves as Laughing Place’s lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly “Who’s the Bossk?” Star Wars podcast. He’s been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general since a very young age and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.