DuckTales showrunners discuss that fourth wall-breaking season 3 premiere
DuckTales has done it again. After season 2 of the animated reboot brought Della Duck (Paget Brewster) back from the moon and into the lives of her sons Huey (Danny Pudi), Dewey (Ben Schwartz), and Louie (Bobby Moynihan), this weekend's season 3 premiere went in even more wild directions. "Quack Pack!," the second episode in the two-part premiere, directly parodied the Disney Afternoon series of the same name by trapping the DuckTales characters in a '90s-style sitcom. The result was a mind-blowing, fourth-wall-breaking episode that confronted the new DuckTales' cultural lineage, introduced Goofy (Bill Farmer) into the show, and got season 3 off to one hell of a start.
EW caught up with DuckTales showrunners Matt Youngberg and Frank Angones to break down "Quack Pack!" and find out what to expect from the rest of season 3.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You guys did so much in the first two years, including bringing in Della in season 2. Going into season 3, what were your goals for this year?
FRANK ANGONES: Matt started this season off with a challenge to us in the writers’ room: I want to do more globetrotting adventures. This is the first time in our show that the whole family has been together and on the same team. Season 1 was about everybody coming together and trying to figure out how they fit as a family. Season 2 had some of that, but Louie was feeling a little out of place, and then we incorporated Della into the family. Now they’re a functional unit. We came up with this season-long arc that really fed into the idea of globe-trotting adventures as part of the overall narrative. It’s really fun to see all of these characters working with each other in their element. I think it’s fair to say that it has resulted in some of the crazier and most fun episodes we’ve ever done. In season 1 we talked a lot about this family’s past, and season 2 was about adjusting for the present. In season 3 we talk a lot about legacy. Now that the family feels comfortable with each other, it’s time for the kids to figure out who they’re gonna be when they grow up. What’s their major in adventuring? What are they gonna specialize in, where do they belong? Are they going to take over for the adults and how does that work? That was a lot of fun to explore even before we introduced this concept of a global conspiracy against our family.
It makes sense that now that the family’s all together, in order to challenge them you have to throw the biggest possible conspiracy against them.
MATT YOUNGBERG: It was a happy confluence of events, because we’ve been seeding F.O.W.L. all the way back since the pilot. We knew this was a story that we wanted to tell with Bradford and Scrooge’s Board of Directors. Every time we came up with a new villain, we’d mark them off like “oh it’d be really cool to have this person in F.O.W.L. It’d be cool to have Rockerduck in F.O.W.L., it’d be fun to have Gandra Dee in F.O.W.L." Especially characters who seemed like they could be one-off villains, it was fun bringing them back and creating this evil counterpoint to Scrooge’s family.
Even though Della only arrived a season-and-a-half into the show, she's become one of my favorite characters. How did you guys manage that?
YOUNGBERG: We can speak to three things on that. One is the approach Frank and his team took with writing and developing her character. It was really hard to approach this character who is the sister of Donald Duck (Tony Anselmo), and the mother of the triplets, and the niece of Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant). How does she fit in this family and how does she stand out? What makes her unique? It was an amazing challenge to create this character who could stand on her own amongst all these really colorful characters. The second thing I would say is Paget’s approach to the performance. Paget Brewster is amazing. Every nuance and bit of energy she brings to that character, I could not imagine Della without Paget voicing her; she’s genuinely amazing. The third thing is the approach the directors and broad present her in episodes. She was this standout character who wasn’t trying to take the limelight away from anyone. She wasn’t a character who was trying to be bigger than anyone, but she has this joy of life that integrates very well into the cast of characters.
ANGONES: In that first episode where we really focused on her we put in little elements of each of the family’s personality: She’s a Junior Woodchuck like Huey, she’s negotiating with a monster like Louie would, she’s singing her own theme song like Dewey, she’s got Donald’s temper. That was the only episode we’ve ever done that didn’t have the kids, but you still felt like they were present because of how much they’ve informed her. Della has been an absolute gift to write for. Now that she’s fully integrated into the show in season 3, she’s just become an amazing utility player, and a great mom. She’s still every bit an adventurer, but she’s also very supportive of her children. She puts all of the enthusiasm she would’ve put into treasure hunting into raising children.
The "Quack Pack!" episode blew me away. One of the funniest things about it is that it’s Goofy’s first appearance on the show and yet that’s like the third-most interesting thing about the episode. What did you like about doing it that way?
ANGONES: It was really the case of necessity being the mother of invention. We joked a lot about doing bottle episodes on DuckTales. A bottle episode of a show is typically you’re in one location, and it’s everyone talking, and it’s easier on production, it’s supposed to be a breather. We keep thinking we’re doing bottle episodes but they’re proving to be impossible, because if it’s easy on the writers then it’s hard on design and boarding, and if it’s easy on boarding then it’s hard on design and writing. So I went into Matt’s office one day and was like, "what would actually be a bottle episode? What would actually be easy to produce?" He was like, "I don’t know, four backgrounds and six shots and everyone’s just kinda talking?" I said, "oh you mean a multi-camera sitcom?" He said "well yeah I guess," and before he could say no I ran out of the room and started breaking it. We knew we wanted the opportunity for a couple of different characters to come up. It’s part of the Disney Afternoon legacy. Our show is definitely from the adventure side of Disney Afternoon with Darkwing Duck, Rescue Rangers, and TaleSpin. But the whole other type of Disney Afternoon show was the family sitcom side, like Goof Troop and Quack Pack. It’s not a family going off on adventures, it’s aren’t these cartoon characters a wacky TGIF family? Then also playing into the idea of being in the Disney family, Disney knows how to make kids’ sitcoms, so playing with that seemed fun, because it ran so counter to how our family acts. So we came upon this Twilight Zone premise which let us do a lot of stuff while still ultimately grounding in the family sitcom.
YOUNGBERG: It was really important for us, as we were approaching the writing and directing of that episode, to make sure the sitcom segments were playing like a 100 percent sincere sitcom. It’s not just us trying to do send-ups of sitcoms, because a lot of us grew up watching TGIF and Disney Channel-style sitcoms. Those are things we have affection for. We wanted to make sure we were being true to those things. If DuckTales was a sitcom, this is how it would be. But then also riffing on the stuff that comes from the rest of the universe, like commercials and little bumpers and the laugh track.
ANGONES: Bob Snow, who wrote that episode, had a really interesting challenge, because we knew it couldn’t just be a bad sitcom. The jokes had to work. It had to feel like a good sitcom. If you’re just making fun of sitcoms and saying “boy aren’t bad sitcoms lousy?” That’d be really boring to watch, especially since we knew we weren’t gonna address it until 10 minutes in. People would just turn it off. It did actually still have to be engaging, the jokes had to work while still being in that multi-cam way we don’t usually write towards.
YOUNGBERG: We had this really funny thing that was just complete luck. We were recording Paget and Paget was like, "I feel like I have the record for most multi-cam sitcom pilots of any actor in Hollywood." So Paget was used to it. And we thought it would be fun, just because of the setup, to bring Don Cheadle back to voice Donald for this particular episode. He came in and we explained the multi-cam sitcom angle, and he was like, “one of my first gigs was the butler on the Golden Girls spinoff set in a hotel, The Golden Palace.” We had a bunch of people being like, "yeah, I know how to do a multi-cam." It was a lot of fun.
You were just explaining the concept of a bottle episode. When I first heard of "bottle episode" was on a show called Community. So the fact that Huey, the character uncovering the situation that they’re trapped in a sitcom, is voiced by Danny Pudi is another meta element that works so well.
YOUNGBERG: It’s a thing we’ve said since the beginning of our show: If this cast was in a life-action sitcom, it would be the greatest sitcom of all time. Season 3 is Huey’s season. Huey could not be further from Abed. Where Abed is so unflappable and so straightforward, Huey is so easy to wind up and it's so much fun. So it was like, this is the perfect person for a Twilight Zone episode to happen to.
ANGONES: It was really a choice with making sure that Huey was the one uncovering it. It speaks to the overall season for Huey. Being the Junior Woodchuck, the most responsible, he’s the one looking for answers to things, trying to uncover things and approach things methodically. Having him approach this crazy situation methodically, even though there is no logic, was really fun, and a great opportunity for him to find an answer even though it didn’t make sense.
Had you guys been holding Gene the Genie in your back pocket and this was the perfect opportunity to bring him in, or was he just the perfect way to make the episode work?
YOUNGBERG: We had known we wanted to use Gene for a while. One of the things we talk about is the unified theory of DuckTales, where we use every part of the buffalo. If you remember DuckTales from the video game we’re doing that, if you know DuckTales from comics we’re gonna do that, if you know DuckTales from Disney Afternoon, we’re gonna pull that in. We had already kind of touched on some stuff from the DuckTales movie, but Gene is such a huge part of that movie, it felt like there was an opportunity to do something fun with him. We had kinda been keeping him in our back pocket. We just got lucky, Bobby Moynihan had worked with Jaleel White before on a show and said Jaleel would be interested in doing something. He’d be great to play Gene, and then there’s some kind of extra charge to having Jaleel White be the cause of your '90s sitcom episode. It was this amazing confluence of events. We go in and record Jaleel White, and he’s incredible, he’s hitting all these beats. He’s reading the script we wrote exactly right, and it’s like oh right, that’s where we got our comedic timing from: Jaleel White on TGIF. That same inherent rhythm. Like, you are the reason that I think what is funny is funny.
How did you decide to incorporate humans into the audience of this magical sitcom, and make them so horrifying to our characters?
YOUNGBERG: When we first approached that episode, we thought the audience was gonna be a bunch of horrifying smiles, or a scorpion made of smiles. Partway through, I realized, "oh there were humans in Quack Pack and they could look horrifying in this world." To our ducks, who had never seen this kind of creature, they would look horrifying. We looked at the original Quack Pack human designs and did a riff on those designs. So the people in the audience are based on human characters from the original Quack Pack. That was a fun homage. "Quack Pack!" is a definitive episode of our show in terms of we took things from this, and we took things from that, and we’re doing things you wouldn’t expect, that are both heartwarming and horrifying.
ANGONES: "Quack Pack!" is a good table-setter for the rest of the season. When we did it I was like, "this is crazy, I can’t believe we’re doing this episode." Since then I’ve said that about multiple episodes.