Disney's family adventure turned into the reboot era's stealth masterpiece.

By Darren Franich
February 19, 2021 at 02:01 PM EST
Credit: Disney XD

In the marvelously satisfying DuckTales series finale, the cast assembles one last time. Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant) and his nephews; heroic superducks with gizmos or dark wings; the teen sorceress who used to be a witch's shadow; a mystical man-horse whose face is the decapitated head of a Scrooge McDuck statue — I could go on. (Don't forget the chipper robot boy with anime ultra-powers!) The lineup includes sacred Disney creations from Walt's lifetime alongside snarky '90s spoofs and soulful new-millennium weirdos. Yes, this was DuckTales, a relentlessly fun family adventure that treated decades of cultural history like an infinite toy box. 

The show ends March 15th on Disney XD with a 90-minute extravaganza. The closing batch of new episodes air weekly starting Monday, and the network will stage a full-series marathon beginning March 8th. Seasons 1 and 2 are already available on the streaming service you use to watch WandaVision. So there's still time to dive into this money bin of pure TV joy, and swim through its three cubic acres of entertainment.

In the stellar third and final season, DuckTales could do any kind of story. Eternal lover-rivals on a Spring Break, hunting for the fountain of youth. Superteams battling for the fate of the multiverse. There was a nightmarish sitcom parody — and a yuletide duel with literal Santa! In the upcoming March 1st episode, a bear with giant butterfly wings has an air chase with sky pirates. I propose to you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that this new DuckTales was that proverbial buccaneer-battling butterfly-bear, a glorious strange-funny-poignant mutation. "Excuse me, we are the science guys," Gyro Gearloose (Jim Rash) has to clarify in the finale. "You must be looking to fight the magic guys?" 

Science and magic backdropped a duck-blur of visual gags, pun- tastic dialogue, and never-annoying self-awareness. My favorite character was Louie (Bobby Moynihan), formerly just "the green one," now a larcenous con boy whose quick-buck scams spiraled global. No, my favorite character was Della (Paget Brewster), Scrooge's long-lost niece, unstoppably gung ho even after a long decade cast away on the moon. Who am I kidding? You can't beat Webby (Kate Micucci), a hero-worshipping heroine who could turn the littlest thing into a mythic quest.

The all-star voices told a tale. Danny Pudi and Ben Schwartz played Huey and Dewey, respectively, both actors' presence signposting how neo-DuckTales honored the cult-comedy absurdity of Parks and Recreation and Community. Perhaps another children's cartoon will guest-star Giancarlo Esposito, Allison Janney, Edgar Wright, and Natasha Rothwell— but that show won't have Don Cheadle occasionally voicing Donald Duck. Mostly, of course, Donald was wonderfully played by Tony Anselmo, Disney's official quacker since I was a baby. DuckTales honored its own history with goofily religious awe, stitching fellow Disney Afternoon remnants together with comic book lore and Three freaking Caballeros into an interdimensional cinematic universe, even as it prankishly blazed its own trails.

The butterfly-bear episode guest-stars Adam Pally as Kit Cloudkicker — TaleSpin's skysurfing '90s kid, all grown up into a slacker with money problems. That subplot epitomizes how showrunners Matt Youngberg and Francisco Angones layered nostalgia with misfit-toy poignance. Viewers of any age who don't know their Carl Barks from their Don Rosa could appreciate the producers' modernizing instincts. A notably diverse perspective conjured sweet romance for Lin-Manuel Miranda's Gizmoduck—and revealed, with who-cares aplomb, that brainy Violet Sabrewing (Libe Barer) had two dads.

It helped and hurt that DuckTales didn't fit any larger corporate strategy, moving from Disney XD to the Disney Channel and back. Speaking as, like, a grown-up who didn't know there were multiple Disney networks, you needed a magical map to find it—and then Disney+ launched with this very serialized saga's episodes out of order. Too many have missed DuckTales in its first run, but that just makes it the reboot era's great hidden gem, awaiting future discovery in the (now-corrected) streaming archive. And aren't the best treasures always buried? 

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