DuckTales showrunners break down that Darkwing Duck two-parter, tease the rest of season 3
Ever since they began working on the new version of DuckTales, showrunners Matt Youngberg and Frank Angones have known that not everyone has the same source text. Some people know DuckTales from the original '80s animated series, but some people know the movie better, or the original comics. Surely there are other viewers who are more familiar with DuckTales' fellow Disney Afternoon shows like Darkwing Duck or Rescue Rangers. As a result, this DuckTales has from the beginning worked to encompass all the things people love about all the different versions of its DuckTales and its larger Disney duck mythology. That has been especially at the forefront in season 3, which began by colliding DuckTales with the Disney Afternoon sitcom Quack Pack and reached a new peak on Monday night with a two-part episode focused on Darkwing Duck.
The new version of Darkwing Duck first showed up in DuckTales season 2, with a characteristically meta twist: The TV show Darkwing Duck as we understand it also exists in the world of DuckTales. Launchpad McQuack (Beck Bennett) is a huge fan, as is actor Drake Mallard (Chris Diamantopoulos), who got the opportunity of a lifetime to play his hero in the film reboot. When that project literally crashed and burned, Launchpad convinced Mallard to break the boundary between fantasy and reality and start fighting crime as an actual superhero. Monday's epic two-part episode was our first check-in with the new superhero in St. Canard, and saw him come face-to-face with four classic villains from Darkwing Duck — Bushroot, Quackerjack, Megavolt, and Liquidator — after they were literally plucked out of their fictional universe by a quantum machine.
EW caught up with Youngberg and Angones to discuss meta storytelling and what's in store for the rest of DuckTales season 3. New episodes air Mondays on Disney XD.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We've seen Darkwing Duck a few times over the course of the show so far, but you guys have been really patient rolling it out. What’s been your approach to incorporating him into DuckTales?
MATT YOUNGBERG: "Patient" is definitely the word, if you know Frank at all. I think we wanted to make sure that we were telling the story the right way and telling it at the right time. The first couple of seasons were setting up a lot with him and setting up a lot with Launchpad as well. Launchpad was kind of the key driver in the Darkwing storyline. When we were having Darkwing episodes pop up, it was driving Launchpad’s story, and that was really important for us. But then, for this season, as we started expanding more into the Disney Afternoon and bringing in characters from all these other shows, it felt like a natural place to be able to expand the story of Darkwing as well. We were again using the entry point of Launchpad, but making this a story that was both truly a DuckTales story — because the whole season hinges on this two-parter, so there’s a whole DuckTales story that needs to have these threads resolved and then frayed into a new direction — but then we also needed to make this truly a Darkwing story. I felt like we found this really good balance there.
FRANK ANGONES: Part of the legacy of DuckTales is the Disney Afternoon. There were a couple shows before, but once DuckTales hit that’s when they started calling it the Disney Afternoon and its success led to all these other things and built into all of these legacies. Season 3 is so much about legacy. The overall theme for our characters is, who are we going to be going forward? That was important to us. There’s a narrative reason why you’re seeing the Rescue Rangers pop up, why all of the Darkwing characters are showing up all of a sudden and TaleSpin characters are coming in.
It’s all part of both this larger villainous plot, but also this larger meta-narrative. Each of our characters in season 3 is dealing with their legacy and who they're going to be moving forward and how the past two seasons have affected them. Like, Darkwing Duck is Launchpad’s legacy. That was where he was always going to build. So it was important that we introduced that our version of Darkwing is built off of our version of Launchpad. Like we said in the previous Darkwing episode, Launchpad knows a lot about this one thing. His love of Darkwing has become his operating ethos.
So he’s had this experience with the Duck family, and now maybe he's starting to try to figure out what his own adventure family would look like. It is a distinctly Launchpad adventure family, because it's a bunch of characters who crash and get hurt and then get back up and they’re okay. Building Darkwing not just as an evolution of the original Darkwing Duck show and characters, but also as an evolution of the characters within our show, was a really interesting challenge.
Some Darkwing Duck characters like Steelbeak have already shown up in the show, but in this episode we meet the Fearsome Five — who literally just get plucked out of the original Darkwing Duck show and dropped in the new DuckTales. How did you decide which characters to build out organically and which to just drop in like that?
ANGONES: I think it has to do with Matt’s original ethos for DuckTales, the idea that these characters are grounded in pulp adventure. You can buy all these characters like sorcerers, robots, tech geniuses, and even aliens can go into that pulp area, but once you get into like costumed loonies with themed superpowers, it starts to become a little bit more Darkwing-y. And obviously we had established Darkwing as a show within a show. It truly is a narrative ourobouros, the snake eating its own tail: Did Darkwing create Launchpad, or did Launchpad create Darkwing? The answer is “yes.”
Since we started DuckTales, we’ve always said everyone has their version of DuckTales, so the idea of “what if one of those other versions showed up in our show?” was interesting to us. Our show is an amalgamation of all the stories that came before it. It's just that this time, it's a little bit more literal than usual.
The last time we were talking at the beginning of season 3 was about the "Quack Pack!" episode, where they go into the show Quack Pack as a magical dimension created by a genie. I also revisited your original Darkwing episode to prepare for this one and it’s still so funny to have Edgar Wright doing a Christopher Nolan impression and riffing on the last decade-plus of post-Nolan reboot culture. But this season definitely feels like you guys have turned the meta-ness up even further.
YOUNGBERG: It’s interesting you make that connection because as Frank was saying, having these super villains showing up seems like less of a DuckTales episode, but we needed Darkwing to fight supervillains because that's a Darkwing episode. So it was like, how do we marry those two things? Instead of giving a gritty, realistic reason for these supervillains to exist, it was like, no they're just supervillains, and that's a really fun thing we can do.
ANGONES: And I will say within the context of DuckTales, Jim Starling as Negaduck make sense, and Taurus Bulba makes sense. Water Dog is a little harder to buy. Joker Duck? Trickier!
There’s something really interesting about our version of Drake Mallard, this guy who was inspired by the original Darkwing Duck and is now living this wish fulfillment. Like Launchpad says at the beginning of the episode, you’re living my dream. So the idea of having him face not only his own future, but quite literally facing the legacy of the original Darkwing Duck seemed interesting to us. There's the way you expect things are supposed to go, and then there's the reality that everything's a failure, which is a thing that we can all identify with right now. The notion that "you’re here, you’re stuck in the middle, and you have to try and make the ideal version of the thing happen as life keeps throwing curveballs at you," that’s heroism to me.
The thing that we established in the original Darkwing episode is like, you get beat up, you get blown up, you get electrocuted, but you always get back up. And it was important to, over the course of this episode, set that up as a motivation for not just Darkwing, but also Gosalyn. She's not having pianos dropped on her head, but she's put through the emotional ringer on this one and Darkwing know something about that.
In our previous conversation, you guys were talking about how season 3 is really Huey’s season. This episode in particular he comes off like the perfect counterpart to Bradford, who is finally revealed as the brain behind F.O.W.L. How does this episode play into Huey’s strengths and his journey this season?
YOUNGBERG: It’s interesting in these two episodes where the first part is about how something doesn’t make sense to him on the physics level, and he’s trying to figure it out. He’s not looking to discover somebody’s a villain, he’s just trying to solve a problem. Solving that problem leads to him discovering there’s more going on behind the scenes. It starts with a questioning nature that leads to stumbling onto something even bigger. It sets up where he needs to go and what he needs to feel in the second half of the season. A lot of times when he figures something out, it makes him feel better. But sometimes, figuring something out leads to a bigger problem, and then it’s like, "wait, I don’t know what to do with this bigger problem."
ANGONES: Huey’s so focused on order, putting things in boxes and checking off Junior Woodchuck badges. Part of this show is that there is no order to adventure. Bradford asks, "shouldn’t there be? Don’t you guys see that this is not a thing that children should be doing?" It’s funny as a counterpart to "Quack Pack!" because "Quack Pack!" was about Huey looking around asking, “are we in a TV show?” And this episode is Huey looking around like, “are we in a season arc?”
We’ve said since the beginning of season 3 that for the first time the whole Duck family is together and adventuring and they have this Isabella Finch journal of missing mysteries, and it’s all gonna be fun and games and classic DuckTales stuff. They have been oblivious to the fact that it’s all connected. This is the turning point of that. It’s why we like Bradford so much, because Bradford doesn’t just call into question Scrooge or the family, Bradford calls into question the existence of DuckTales and the Disney Afternoon. Like “no, this is bad! Did you see what just happened? The city is in chaos, we need to stop this.”
YOUNGBERG: In a way he is a perfect foil for Huey. If Huey went too far in his desire for logic and order, he could become Bradford.