Disney XD’s revitalized and rebooted DuckTales is a testament to the staying power of Scrooge McDuck and his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. It’s also a grand showing of how far animation in general has come since 1987.
Comparing the TV movie that serves as the pilot for the new DuckTales to the first few episodes in the 1987 run is an interesting exercise, since the new show lifts the essentials from that story, while still being different enough in the details to be engaging. Scrooge still takes on the role of watching Huey, Dewey, and Louie very reluctantly. They still take to adventuring with gusto. Even a number of the same old villains from the first arc pop up again.
What’s changed a lot is the characterization. The new show’s synthesized the original show with some bits of the comics, while still coming up with its own version of the characters. Mrs. Beakley has gone from her more standard matronly character to a deadpan badass, for example. Webby’s gone from just being “the girl” to someone who is such a fan of Scrooge’s that she’s memorized all his adventures and has spent a fair bit of her life preparing to go on adventures. She’s still very upbeat, but it comes from a place rooted in knowledge. (Launchpad McQuack has regressed to being even weirder than his original incarnation, and he’s so out there it’s kind of amazing.) The biggest changes, however, come in the form of Scrooge McDuck and the nephews.
If you’ve followed Scrooge McDuck from comic book to 1987 cartoon through to now, you’d know that the character has undergone a fair amount of softening. The character’s original introduction was as Donald’s miserly uncle. The 1987 show gave him a hidden heart of gold where his family was concerned but retained Scrooge’s nasty distaste for the poor.
The new reboot has softened Scrooge even more. There are jokes in the original show’s first episode that make it nearly impossible for a modern audience to like him—one of first bits of dialogue is about how the poor don’t deserve anything. The new show focuses a lot more on Scrooge’s history as an adventurer who’s let his passion fall by the wayside, even as he hoards a truly staggering number of dangerous artifacts in his home.
While Scrooge still keeps track of all his money, the cruelty of the original Scrooge is downplayed—thankfully. There’s also a deeper, more interesting rift between Donald Duck and his uncle that the show uses to its advantage. (Donald just kind of drops the kids off at Scrooge’s because he joined he Navy in the original; Donald’s reasons are a lot more fleshed out and tied to the main story in the new show.)
Part of the joke of Huey, Dewey, and Louie was that they were identical and the only thing that separated them was the color of their hats and shirts. That’s extremely not the case in the new show. From the design alone, you can see more work has been made to distinguish the brothers.
Making Huey a planner, Dewey a middle child, and Louie a gung-ho adventurer not only gives them distinct personalities, but also opens up the sibling dynamic in a lot more interesting ways.
DuckTales does all that and still has room for a Scrooge who is “smarter than the smarties and tougher than the toughies” and, of course, does a swan dive into a vault filled with gold. The things no one wanted to change—like the theme song—remain intact, while the things that have changed only add to the show.
Is the 2017 DuckTales as transcendent a piece of animation as, say, Steven Universe or Avatar? No. It’s aimed a very young audience with an added number of references and Easter eggs for the parents who watched the original show to enjoy. But it’s an extremely smart update that knows exactly what to keep and what to change.
And most of all, the new DuckTales is emblematic of the larger trend of children’s animation getting more serialized and more emotionally honest. It’s mostly still made up of jokes and good, fun action, but adopting some of the newer animation trends has made this DuckTales even better than it was before.