The great DuckTales finale, reviewed
DuckTales (2017 TV series)
The finale of DuckTales was an ecstatic conclusion to a confident first season. “The Shadow War” promised a showdown with “an invincible juggernaut of black magic!” and delivered a tremendously satisfying smash-up. It found time for little grace notes for every member of the Duck family, plus a surprising amount of minor characters superteaming up against Magica De Spell (Catherine Tate).
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Gizmoduck and Jim Rash’s Gyro Gearloose? Sure, could’ve anticipated they’d swing by. But who knew there’d be an emotional high point for Manny, the Headless Man-Horse? As the demonic shadows closed in, humble Manny stomped some final words to Little Bulb: “FAREWELL…BROTHER.” Am I laughing or crying?
Presumably, with one eye on rerun potential, this hourlong finale had two distinct halves. Act 1 saw the Duck clan at their furthest point of separation. Donald (Tony Anselmo) and the boys were back on their houseboat, leaving Scrooge (David Tennant) more alone than ever in his mansion. Prospects of reunion looked dim; Donald announced a family move to Cape Suzette, another nudge toward a Disney Afternoon Cinematic Universe. (Has anyone fantasy-cast the Rescue Rangers yet? Michelle Rodriguez as Gadget, just an idea, “and featuring Vin Diesel as Zipper,” just another idea.)
Act 2 would have more pyrotechnics. But the first half-hour was a prime example of what DuckTales can do so well. On both fronts, the plotting was sitcom classical. Magica, under the guise of niece Lena (Kimiko Glenn), was trying to fool Scrooge into doing something. Same-but-different with Launchpad (Beck Bennett) and Webby (Kate Micucci), who were parent-trapping the nephews toward reconciliation with their tycoon great-uncle. In McDuck mansion, Lena found Scrooge a tanktop-wearing, pizza-gorging wreck. On Donald’s houseboat, the plotters offered “a culinary journey of Duckburg!” Mrs. Beakley (Toks Olagundoye) offered to help. Sension tension, Launchpad deployed an “EMERGENCY BOUNCEHOUSE!”
Magica returned amidst a flood of revelations, some pleasantly inevitable and one flat-out gutwrenching. It turns out that the mystic’s body’s been imprisoned inside Scrooge’s dime. It’s a nice twist on Magica’s eternal quest for the coin. Of course, when you realize that Scrooge carried the dime with him everywhere, this revelation feels a bit mythic, halfway to Michael Moorcock’s Elric: McDuck keeps his friends close, but his greatest enemy was so much closer she was literally hanging around his neck. Scrooge himself spent much of the second half imprisoned in his own dime, a truly eerie effect with resonance: He was, as Magica explained, “trapped forever inside the thing he loves most.”
Magica’s return didn’t set Lena free. Quite the opposite. Turns out, she’s not Magica’s niece — she’s her shadow, brought to life by magic. Credit to the DuckTales writers for referential cleverness: This twist directly points back to the original series episode “Magica’s Shadow War,” where dark magic brings Magica’s shadow to life. But this was a demolishing bit of hyper-referential adaptation, and a good demonstration of how this new series revitalizes its source material. Here, Magica’s “shadow” had a life of her own.
Magica made for the McDuck money bin, surrounding herself with an army of shadows, building herself a throne of coinage. That left Scrooge’s family and friends to plot a large counterattack. In an episode full of bright ideas, the brightest had to be giving Donald a voice modulator. All hail guest star Don Cheadle, who got to play the Disney icon as a hero dad. “Get ready for the storm!” Mrs. Beakley warned. “I AM THE STORM!” declared Donald.
There was a pleasantly architectural quality to the grand showdown, building on a lot of narrative work done this season. The kids entered the money bin via Gyro’s underwater laboratory. Gyro and Gizmoduck approached via the bridge. Launchpad took the air, kept on trying against all odds to CRASH THE PARTY. The blissfully kinetic final fight took place amongst the money stacks, the Ducks dodging Magica’s (de) spells.
The finale deftly clashed action dramatics with sensitive character beats, never losing its goofy spirit. “We have to get to that dime and save Scrooge ourselves!” said Dewey (Ben Schwartz). “And I know just how to Dewey it!” Blink and you missed the other ducks’ reaction to that line — a shaken head, eyes rolled. I also loved Magica asking imprisoned Scrooge to “blink twice” if Gyro is “just a work acquaintance.” Little moments like that piled up around grand declarations. I dunno, man, maybe I’m just going soft, but if you didn’t cry just a bit when Scrooge McDuck proclaimed “We’re all stronger together!” then you must be a decapitated horse with a statue head that can’t cry.
One quibble. I cheered when Lena suddenly reappeared, a light shadow brought to life via friendship bracelet. By the end, she appeared to be halfway nonexistent, living on as Webby’s shadow. The mystical logic here’s a bit loose; cut to Magica, exasperated, “It’s just magic, okay??” I’m more bummed that Lena might be semi-gone. She had a great presence, was a shining example of how this reboot could add vivid new characters’ faces to an ensemble as old as the history of motion picture animation. Cool that she’s become, like, the Ghost Rider to Webby’s Johnny Blaze. But I also enjoyed it when they were just two characters hanging out together.
It’s a minor complaint — and, possibly, something that will be addressed in the second season. These first 23 episodes went in disparate directions, but the finale proved DuckTales is adept at playing a long game.
And its game just got longer. The final moments of the finale revealed Della Duck, alive and well on the freaking moon. Della’s debut — “[GASP], Boys?!?!?!” was voiced by Paget Brewster, a casting decision that makes me think/hope the character will be a large presence in the future. (Which also means, like: SPACE!) There was some added playfulness here. It looks like Della just got her TV set working. She’s been wandering adrift in the cosmos for years, and the first thing she sees on TV is, well, DuckTales.