The Mighty Ducks Disney+ reboot is not short on humor or heart, but how does it stack up against the original films? Check out our The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers review!
About ‘The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers’
If it skates like a duck, has heart like a duck, but it doesn’t quack like a duck, then is it really a spinoff worthy of the The Mighty Ducks namesake? Shockingly, there is more that works in favor of the Disney+ series than against it. The star power is not lacking with the return of Gordon Bombay, original coach of the Ducks played by Emilio Esteves, as well as newcomer to the franchise Lauren Graham. Close behind attempting to perfect the Flying V, a band of younger actors filling out the rag-tag roster of potential hockey stars.
The series opens on the Ducks arena where the team, a now a well-known juggernaut organization, operates more as a mill for future NHL stars and less as a club sport for kids off the Minnesota streets who want a chance to play the game. To paraphrase one of the series’ breakout stars Nick, played by Maxwell Simkins, if you’re not cut out for the grind of the Duck lifestyle, you can expect to phase out after the participation pee-wee circuit by age 6.
Alex, a single-mother played by Graham, run down by the hustle of keeping her son Evan in the league and balancing a full-time job does her best to keep up with the schedule but falls short of the other parents’ standards. Unfortunately, her best efforts off the ice and his best efforts on the ice do not quite meet Duck standards and they are cut from the organization. But Evan has heart and determination and a love for hockey that keeps pushing his mother to find a way to keep him on the ice, even if that means building a team from scratch.
The team comes together with a surprise hockey podcast interview between Alex and neighbor Nick, who laments that while he in fact does love the game as much as Evan, he is not the typical hockey type for the Minnesota youth team standards. The newly-formed “Don’t Bothers” hope to gather enough kids with the same story to take on the Ducks this season.
In the three episodes of The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers that were available for review ahead of the premiere and at a run time of about 30-minutes each, the series has a short timeline to get things moving efficiently. It is one of the hurdles the series has a hard time clearing, favoring conversations that attempt to get several storylines moving off ice. But for at least one of the games, the series seems to hit a stride in telling a story that feels close to the original, especially once the Minnesota Miracle Man decides he can have his cake and enjoy it too.
For our thoughts on the series read our The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers review below!
‘The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers’ review
The updated installment Mighty Ducks may have smartphones, online gaming, and viral video edits of parental breakdowns, but the world of Evan Morrow fits into the wider universe of the franchise almost seamlessly. The series spends the first episode splitting time between Evan and his mother Alex, spinning two stories that appear on the surface to be headed toward the same goal, but the perspectives place them in conflict.
Once the story pushes Evan and Alex out of the Duck’s orbit, their strategy becomes focused on showing everyone how great things can be if they are in complete opposition to the status quo. They leave behind the Ducks and their $1000 training camps, 6 am practices, and cheering sections of parents who can sit in a rink and create protein-based snacks for their 12-year olds and their college prep coaches. The new team will be a return to “the good old days.” The days where children could pick up their stick and hit the local rink and play with no parental supervision and eventually win the Junior Goodwill Games if you only remember to have fun!
However, nostalgia has a way of shining the good parts in the spotlight, while casting a shadow on the less than desirable details. Evan is the first to admit that not everything the Ducks did was awful. The practices made him better, the competitive nature of the sport pushed him to try harder, and even when he was trying to play catch-up, he was having a good time with a team. The latter social aspect of the sport is what Alex tends to harp on not realizing that the other two parts in moderation are as essential to the psychology of the sport. Winning isn’t everything, but not even having a fighting chance because you did not fight hard enough is worse.
The crux of Alex and Evan’s story as the series kicks off is try to come to an understanding about what scared her off as a parent of a hockey player and what thrilled him about being a hockey player.
Game Changers does not shy away from the tougher parts of the story — the need to find a rink, no equipment, no coach, a kid who is ostracized because he was cut from the sport, a mother watching as her child becomes trapped in a mess she unintentionally keeps making worse, and the moments where the adults are alone to discuss the more pressing issues they cannot unload on the kids. Sometimes playing for “the love of the game” is not enough to save the day.
Evan and Alex’s relationship is structurally strong, but as Bombay points out, the standards that she thinks makes her different from other parents is actually what makes her most like them. After two feature films watching Bombay work through how to communicate with children, it’s touching to see how that old Coach shines through, especially in moments that do no revolve around the game that must not be spoken. But it’s with Alex and even Evan where if the topic is about crushed dreams or how “things will be different” that he comes across with an icy glare that would fix the trouble he seems to have with his rink melting.
The writers are giving these actors miles to run with in these scripts. The dynamic of the banter between the adults and the children is executed with that slapstick timing viewers may expect from a seasoned Sherman-Palladino reader like Graham. But even the heartfelt speeches and confessions of lost dreams and fear of hope for the future come with an edge to them that do not play as typical Disney-cringe writing. Bombay, though grumpy and off-putting at first, never comes off as unnecessarily harsh. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he sounds much more like Jed Bartlett in his older age, but Estevez delivers a Bombay that I would expect to meet on the street. That is to say, Game Changers perfectly tracks his life from the close of D2 to present day.
We meet up with Bombay at the Ice Palace, a rink where hockey is banned and he wants nothing more than for the lights to stay on and for the hot chocolate bar to run at optimum efficiency. At first, Alex does not even know who Bombay is making his pleas to leave hockey at the front door of his establishment and easy enough issue to sidestep. Enough money (and the wear down Alex’s presence) is enough to get Alex through the door, but not enough to get Bombay off the Zamboni. Several failed attempts later, Alex remains the coach as Bombay opts for the couch and the team is a disaster.
Aside from Nick, there are funny moments across the new faces as they present their defining character traits in off ice training as well as on ice montages. There’s Logan, the boy next door with the great hair, all the best gear, and no ability to stand on the ice. There’s Koob13 a goalie who saves every shot from his gaming chair in his mother’s basement, Sam who will do anything on a dare, among others. The drama of the final recruit surrounds Evan convincing his former Duck teammate to drop her parent’s insane standards and join a team where she can have fun.
By the end of episode 3 a few practices, a couple of even worse games, and shots of both Alex and Bombay returning to their former glory on the ice drive home that as much as this show shines a light on the harsher elements of youth and underprivileged sports clubs, it is the same old Mighty Ducks. And I’m holding on hope that Bombay will rise up to the challenge one last time.
Here are some extra thoughts on the new series that didn’t make it into our The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers review.
• Bombay eats a lot of sheet cake and that is the representation I want to see on my television during the pandemic era.
• Lauren Graham and Taegen Burns, who stars as Don’t Bother player Maya, have some of the best banter I’ve seen from Graham. If you’re outfits have ever been dragged by someone more than half your age, you will relate.
• I’ve said it a few times here, but I cannot overstate how brilliant Simkins is as Nick. “I have more of a podcast body.”
• While I was not surprised that there were that many rinks in Minnesota within driving distance for Evan to try to practice at, I was shocked that there were not more open teams. A quick Google search also informed me that there are five (five!) rinks within driving distance of my house.
• There is a heist montage that is very well done. The moments where as many of the ensemble members are involved are the best. It’s the kind of rhythm and connection in the dialogue at least that make them out to be a believable team, even if that doesn’t shine through on game day.
The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers premieres March 26 and airs new episodes every Friday on Disney+.
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