It was recently announced that the 2017 reboot of the Disney Afternoon classic DuckTales will be ending at the conclusion of its third season.
The information was first made public by an entertainment reporter for Collider, but was not fully confirmed until later that day by the DuckTales crew. DisneyXD eventually issued their statement firmly confirming DuckTales will be ending in 2021 with their season three finale. What has been cited for the reason has been lower ratings.
With DuckTales now winding its way towards its final ending, the question of the show’s legacy has been weighing on me. What will become of the show and the way it’s remembered? What will become of its world? How will Disney treat the show in the years going forward?
This is a look back and also a discussion on what DuckTales has been these last three years. Along the way, maybe we can figure out where the show will land in Disney’s hall of memory.
DuckTales, Myself, And The Modern World
Nostalgia has been a hot commodity for several years now. It feels like you can’t walk more than five feet without discovering that they’re remaking or rebooting or making a new sequel to something. Whether it’s a show, a film, a game, a pinball machine, it doesn’t matter. The older it is within a certain window, the more ripe it is. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you have passionate people who want to create a new definitive version of something. DuckTales was approaching its thirty year anniversary, so it was of course an easy selection, after all so many people had gotten their start in Disney’s world with DuckTales.
I didn’t start with DuckTales, I started far later.
If you communicate with me to any extent, you will quickly discover my love for all things animation. And, adjacent to that, you will uncover my love of Disney’s ToonTown world and all its characters; Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Oswald, Pluto, Clarabelle, Max, and so on. Towering above that, however, is my love for the Disney DuckVerse. The world of Donald Duck and his girlfriend Daisy and his Uncle Scrooge and his triplet nephews and their pilot Launchpad and everything that that spins off into.
One of my earliest memories watching cartoons in my home was catching an episode of Darkwing Duck that randomly re-ran some early afternoon on the Disney Channel. I don’t recall why the episode aired, nor can I recall which one it was. What I do recall is the engrossing world and fascinating characters. My father, when I told him about this strange show I’d encountered, told me about the original DuckTales (1987), a show he watched and enjoyed. I wouldn’t be given the opportunity to see DuckTales for years after that, but I ended up tumbling headfirst into the world of Disney’s ToonTown. A Goofy Movie & An Extremely Goofy Movie were my next major introductions to the world, but soon I was deep in the world of every character Disney had to offer with their exceptional series House Of Mouse.
House of Mouse aired their own new original shorts featuring Disney’s cast of classic characters, with its wonderful world building based around their frame narrative: Mickey owning and operating a skit-based comedy-entertainment club with all his friends. To me, for a long time, House Of Mouse has stood as a definitive version of these characters, for more reasons I’ll explain later. But, primarily, there’s a uniqueness to that show and that version of many its characters that does what Disney feels, at times, afraid to do. The show extrapolated what made these characters interesting in their original, classic forms and pulled them into the modern world. House of Mouse does many things right that I’ll discuss, but what it does best is make the characters feel modern, yet timeless.
When I finally watched the original DuckTales many years later, I saw the stepping stones of what would become the character portrayals in House Of Mouse. Even as a child, I felt something off. I adored the characters, each and every one, and the world of DuckTales sucked me in immediately. Over the next couple of years, I would be digging into the world of the Ducks and the greater ToonTown-verse. I’d own the comics; I’d tracked down Carl Barks’s and Don Rosa’s work; I’d purchased Darkwing Duck, one of my favorite shows of all time, on DVD once I spotted it out in the wild. The series itself, in spite of my love for it, feels, much like a lot of Disney’s extensive back catalogue, archaic in a way. Not like it belongs in the realm of 1500s literature, but the series, I think on purpose, feels incredibly nostalgic.
DuckTales feels like its made to fit in neatly with Disney’s extensive library of animated shorts. To this end, the show feels old, older than it actually is, and that feels like it’s done with intent. They want the show to feel like an adventure, but something cosy for you to hook yourself into, done in that classic Disney art style. And since this exists firmly as the foundation of the Slice Of Life Adventure genre of animation, that makes a lot of sense. Yet, for me, I wouldn’t return often to DuckTales. The show, for its splendor and wonder, always felt too far away and disconnected in a way. It felt like the show didn’t exist in the world of the ToonTown I loved. Why is Donald never around? What about Daisy Duck? Why are the triplets all just the Same Person™? And that nostalgic tone wasn’t super appealing to me. On the other hand, Darkwing Duck, which doesn’t give that same distant and out-of-reach tone, was a show I returned to constantly, and continue to even now. The world feels like it’s right here within grasp, even if it is actually trapped in the nineties.
Ironically, I always yearned for a return to the greater world and adventures present in the DuckVerse. What I always yearned for was a show that took Disney’s new extensive history with these characters and continued to explore these worlds. I wanted to see them build on what they had, the same as DuckTales, Goof Troop, and House of Mouse had done before them.
Then, DuckTales got older, and its age gave birth to DuckTales.
DuckTales And The Joy Of Rediscovery
What the DuckTales (2017) series does so well is that it sinks its claws and teeth into every inch of the world of the DuckVerse, Disney Afternoon, and more, and then it asks how to bring it to our world now. A lot of that modernization comes out of playing our expectations and the way the Disney Afternoon shows are remembered these thirty years later, but in a lot of ways the choices they made were deeply simple, but brilliant. And, in fairness, the show has been able to build on the back of thirty years of television animation evolution.
The decision to keep the namesake of the DuckVerse, Donald Duck himself, as a core component of the cast is itself exciting. Disney, at times, feels very stingy with their three classic characters (Mickey, Donald, Goofy). So, to see that Donald would be joining the cast rather than dumping the triplets on Scrooge’s doorstep was already exciting. And rather than simply playing the short-tempered, over-confident straight man he often plays, the writers gave us a short-tempered, deeply-loving family man. A duck who has had his adventures and carries their weight and just wants to make a good life for his family. It’s a fascinating arc to give a character like Donald.
On the other hand, there’s the triplets. After decades of the joke being that they’re basically clones with different colored hats, DuckTales simply took all of the aspects of the triplets and applied them separately to each of them. Huey is a smart boy scout who yearns to be seen as mannerly and understand the world around him. Dewey is now an excitable adventurer looking for the public eye. Louie is now an incredibly laid-back wealth-seeker who wants to find the get-rich-quick path. It adds a new dynamic to how these characters interact with each other and the world, while allowing them to grow differently as the show progresses. It’s not too dissimilar from what needed to happen to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to make them unique and give their franchise a stronger staying power in the public consciousness.
Webby Vanderquack and Mrs. Beakley shift from their previous roles of token girls that often lacked any power in their plots to arguably the most competent characters in the series. Webby’s self-trained talents and yearning to experience adventures like Scrooge’s turn her into the most valuable asset the kids have. Her adoration for Scrooge’s adventures and the Duck Family (a logical extension living in McDuck Manor her whole life) sell to us within seconds how big of a deal Scrooge truly is and serves as the catalyst for the rest of the events of the series. Yet she still retains the innocent and naive nature of her 1987 counterpart, but it comes through in the form of relentless optimism and trust. Juxtaposed is her grandmother, Mrs. Beakley, who made the shift from good-natured housekeeper for Scrooge into a good-natured housekeeping former super spy who operates at or possibly above Scrooge’s level of competence. But, her concern and motherly nature are still to be found in her constant worry for Webby and the rest of the Ducks.
Need I even discuss the masterful subversion of Darkwing Duck? I will.
The writers spend a painful amount of time having Darkwing Duck be simply nodded to as an in-universe television series. Using that instead, when we meet Drake Mallard, he isn’t Darkwing Duck, he’s a man who sees Darkwing Duck as the hero that gave him confidence enough to pull himself back up and become something. The simple natural progression of turning Drake Mallard into a fan, uniting him with Lauchpad over a shared love of a hero, and having him face his personal hero once he discovers the person he admires is actually a terrible person is a masterstroke of reinvention. Drake Mallard experiences this deeply relatable story about being forced to pull your own heroes off their pedestal. But, the choice to also make him a down-on-his-luck actor looking to do something more lets us keep those defining traits of Drake’s original incarnation, a noble warrior of justice seeking recognition. And we are able to see in full that struggle when he encounters Gosalyn Waddlemeyer, who herself is changed by the crew simply focusing on her talents, while expanding on her excitability and jockish charms. They emphasize what make the characters great, accentuates their flaws, and make their connections deeper because of it. It’s just deeply intelligent writing.
And the series does this with everyone, I could go on for pages. Magica’s role as a powerful evil sorceress willing to do anything because she has a moral compass that is pointed at THE DIME, but it’s so much more powerful and even scary by the crew’s decision to give her a niece (and a target for her wrath) with Lena. Flintheart Glomgold being functionally the same as every other incarnation, but just being turned up to eleven. The inclusion of Della Duck AT ALL in this series, but turning her into a perfect opposite and foil for Donald. The shift in Gyro Gearloose’s personality to include his eccentric scientific creation, but the very Dr. Venture-esque sassiness and self-defense of his creations that go wrong. Fenton Crackshell-Cabrerra and simply turning up his earnest optimism and desire to do things right, while turning him into some hispanic representation, and making Gizmoduck buff. And this isn’t even touching on characters like Steelbeak, Gandra Dee, Emily Quackfaster, Fethry Duck, Gladstone Gander, The Three Caballeros, The Beagle Boys, Goldie O’Gilt, Doofus Drake, and so much more. Or the unique takes on the cast of Rescue Rangers or Goofy’s positioning as the still-wacky, advice dispensing father people remember from A Goofy Movie.
But, I want to finish this section with Daisy Duck.
Another notable absence alongside Donald in the original DuckTales was Donald’s girlfriend Daisy. For some time it seemed as though she would be missing from this version of the series as well. Then, it was revealed that the 2017 series was doing something that feels, at this point, unheard of: Daisy was going to be introduced and we were going to see a logical arc to her and Donald’s relationship, something that due to decades of Disney lore was always a given. She also appears with a complete redesign, like most characters brought into the new show’s wonderful art style. Her new design, clearly inspired by her design in the Donald Duck short Donald’s Diary with a touch of her normal design and a splash of her Quack Pack color pallet, gives off a more mature look, it feels new and clean. I realized looking at her new design a similar realization I had watching House Of Mouse; Daisy Duck’s basic design feels old. I put part of that down to how long that design has been around, obviously, and that it was designed over fifty years ago. DuckTales’s Daisy Duck though feels modern, but also deeply faithful, she’s still instantly recognizable as Daisy Duck. Adding to that the choices to focus on her confidence, but also the short-temper she shares with Donald. A seething-with-rage Daisy Duck, as seen in her first appearance, feels new and freeing, because that kind of anger has been monopolized by Donald in Disney’s ToonTown. We get to see exactly how Donald would fall for this girl, and how she could fall for him, and it feels as natural as it can on television. Daisy feels almost like a completely different character because of these simple choices, everyone does, but Daisy feels almost transcendent at times, like I could easily see this version of Daisy becoming the definitive Daisy Duck.
Daisy was the character I thought about most when I asked myself, “what happens to DuckTales when it’s over?” This question is asked with the worry that Disney will do what they always do.
The Disney Problem
Disney has been selling nostalgia since day one. Walt Disney’s classic animated shorts featuring Mickey Mouse were made with the intent of capturing an image of America familiar to a younger Walt. Disney’s original slate of animated films were based on fairy tales and children’s stories, but even the ones that are wholly original are made with this spin of presenting an antique world. Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. was constructed to capture the look of Walt’s childhood hometown of Marceline, Missouri. Walt Disney only spent the final years of his life truly trying to sell the future, to little avail. Instead, nostalgia has been injected directly into the DNA of The Walt Disney Company.
When it comes to their classic characters, Disney has a knack for pulling back. The version of these characters Disney wants to present and sell are the ones that evolved out of the Walt years. The company seems happy to allow people to experiment with their characters and its history, but they will also seek to simply dodge and avoid aspects of those things depending on how new they are.
For example: Max Goof.
And Max and I made a memory. That’s just who we are.
Max Goof was an evolution of the character Goofy Jr. from a 1951 Goofy short that presented Goofy as a father. Max’s most iconic appearance is his reintroduction to Disney canon in Goof Troop, and later the films that followed the series, A Goofy Movie and An Extremely Goofy Movie. Max Goof is a beloved character that people were allowed to watch realistically age and get older and find new problems. But, those three projects mentioned are all part of the same series. What is truly fantastic is when House Of Mouse comes around. Admittedly, the Goofy movies were fairly recent at that point, but Max Goof’s appearance in this show, surrounded by the rest of Disney’s classic canon characters, added this sense of change to the canon. House of Mouse did that specifically very well, this weird cohesive sense of grabbing onto all of Disney’s work and uniting it. It made it feel like the world was advancing with us. Max Goof also appeared in Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas and Mickey’s Twice Upon A Christmas, appearing in the second one in his older college-age form.
Then his next appearance is a picture cameo in DuckTales SIXTEEN years later. At some point, Disney reverted back to having Goofy appear without his son. Disney acts, at times, like the unique takes on their characters should be limited to simply that version. Or that expansions of their canon simply shouldn’t occur. Goof Troop mostly phases out of Disney’s presentation after Max’s last appearance. The original DuckTales is the same way. As are the rest of the Disney Afternoon shows. As a fan of Darkwing Duck, it’s painful how hard Drake, Launchpad, and Gosalyn disappear out of Disney’s universe aside from a comic run two decades later and tiny nods here and there. Disney+ still does not feature House of Mouse and that series is practically treated like it never happened.
But why should these things be stuck to their original projects? Of course it makes the individual projects unique and special, but if it’s fascinating and interesting and develops the characters (both in the sense of pushing characters in new directions and creating new characters) why lock it to a single product? There’s so many characters from DuckTales now that I’d be happy to see Disney monetize to let me purchase for me and my family, but if these versions are erased? Then there’ll never be anything.
Disney wants to sell nostalgia, and there’s nothing wrong with that, people have done it since the concept of “yesterday” was created. Disney seems smart enough to understand what the cycles of nostalgia are. If they didn’t, DuckTales would have never had a reboot. My father watched DuckTales, and that’s really the sentence that explains why it’s the perfect time. Generations have already grown up on it, so it’s time to draw them back and introduce a new generation to it. It just feels like Disney still wants to present the versions of these characters considered “iconic” for their longevity and age, but who decided that besides the people who were nostalgic for it decades ago. I look at the designs and personalities of many of DuckTales’s core cast as they appear elsewhere (like the Triplets) and fear that Disney will simply pull away from the passionate work these new iconic versions were made with.
I suppose, like the characters, I just want to see Disney evolve with their canon.
What Happens To DuckTales?
I don’t know. I’m confident in saying that I don’t know.
There is the chance that DuckTales simply ends and we move on from the adventures of all our wonderful cast. Perhaps the show exists like many shows, remembered extremely positively by its fans for the passion and work put into it, but mostly abandoned by the company that made it. In that case, I know that I would hate to see the end of so many of these characters. What happens to the wonderfully confused lesbian Penny? The deeply fascinating Lena Sabrewing? The perfectly adapted Drake and Gosalyn Mallard? Do Webby and Mrs. Beakley simply return to the aether? Does Della Duck, after disappearing from canon for decades, only to reemerge as a wonderful spark of life for the cast and amazing representation for people with disabilities, simply return to the Disney Vault? I’d hate to see that happen.
Perhaps, in a different way, these characters will simply live on via social media and the occasional DisneyXD promotional bumper advertising a DuckTales marathon or time slot change, as the channel still does with Gravity Falls or Star Vs. The Forces Of Evil. The characters will simply live on in this strange little corner, existing in lip service.
There is of course the chance that Disney takes aspects of this series and uses it elsewhere. Maybe Disney will attempt to push forward with more comic book products based on the greater universe present in DuckTales, letting these characters and their stories exist beyond simply the supplemental (and still VERY good quality) DuckTales comic. Maybe we see the rebirth of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics with this canon, or aspects of it, as part of a renewed push to advance the popularity of the DuckVerse here in the states. I don’t know if we could ever reach the fervor of other countries and their loves for the DuckVerse, but wilder things have happened. Maybe, at the same time, aspects of these characters and their new characterizations or designs will leak out into more Disney projects.
I know that I still stand with a lot of fans in the hope we won’t have to say goodbye to this world forever. In DisneyXD’s official statement on the cancellation, they told us:
“The creative team, led by Matt Youngberg and Francisco Angones, have delivered exceptional storytelling with uniquely reimagined characters for three seasons of 75 episodes and more than 15 shorts. While physical production has wrapped, ‘DuckTales’ continues to be available on Disney Channels and Disney+ around the world and fans will get an epic season finale in 2021”.
And my immediate thought simply goes to Disney+, a service that feels deeply underused by Disney during its year or so of operation so far. DuckTales feels like a show that would be perfect to make the jump to Disney+. A critically and commercially acclaimed animated series that releases its seasons episodically on Disney+ is perfect to stand against the slew of animated projects from Netflix like Glitch Techs and The Dragon Prince or against HBO Max with Infinity Train and Adventure Time: Obsidian. Disney still feels like it is lacking for more original Disney productions on Disney+, instead mostly having relied on the nostalgia it chooses to offer, the shows that already air on television, and mostly Star Wars and Marvel productions. And while the news is that there will be a Darkwing Duck series produced for Disney+ involving Seth Rogan, I admit to being wary given the producers involved, and nothing has been said to confirm or deny that it will have any connection to the DuckTales reboot that brought these characters back to us. DuckTales feels like an amazing first start to draw more people towards the platform that is aching for new content. But, despite Disney proudly proclaiming the show will still be viewable on Disney+, I recall that Disney+ had the episodes of the series fully out of order up until almost a year after the service’s launch.
I admit, I’m simply sad to see the show go. Three seasons in it still feels like the show is only getting its feet wet with the world. Like they’ve only just bitten into it. I think about the Harp of Mervana saying that Mrs. Beakley was lying to Webby. Or of Jim Starling’s transformation into NegaDuck in the sewers. I think of Boyd and only the start of Gyro’s development into a father figure; Violet Sabrewing’s fascination with magic that always felt like it was heading somewhere; Gosalyn’s search for her grandfather; Donald Duck’s friendship with Goofy and whatever was up with watermelon Mickey; any extant piece of DuckVerse lore from the work of Barks and Rosa the show drags in. I’ve loved every single thing the show has done up to this point, and I’m bitter that I can’t get to see this wonderful crew do more. Duck Avenger! Imagine!
But, we don’t know what comes next for DuckTales. Maybe after the finale, that’s it. Maybe Disney has a whole massive spin-off series called DUCK WORLD where it’s just a direct sequel but the scope expands to all of our various heroes from the last three seasons. I doubt that’s the case, but we don’t know anything really.
After news got around that the show was finishing, Matt Youngberg and Frank Angones took to twitter with a statement for fans, positively enforcing that they will be finishing on their terms because that’s how they enter every season.
DuckTales will end at some point in 2021. We don’t know when, exactly, its finale will come out. For my guess with how Disney has handled scheduling over the years, probably in the summer or so we’ll be saying goodbye.
I don’t know what happens to DuckTales’s legacy when it finishes next year, not really. But, I do know one thing about what it leaves behind. It will be recalled as probably the best reboot of anything in recent time. Nostalgia sells well, but nostalgia should be a doorway to creating something new and wonderful. Nostalgia should get your foot in the door, and what you get should be a new house. The crew and cast that have given us DuckTales understand that in spades. The world around us is vastly different from the world the original DuckTales was made in. The reboot grasps firmly what you should do if you’re working with nostalgia, you should make it relevant to the audience you’re bringing it to and you should make it more accessible and representative of the world. This show brings this world back to us, but expands the scope of who live in it. Fenton, Della, The Sabrewings, and Gosalyn are notable examples of what the show does to represent people of color, people with disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ voices. If you’re gonna bring a world back to people, it should look more like their world.
As a deep fan and lover of all things Duck, this was and is exactly the show I always wanted to see. I’m glad I got it, and I think people will be glad they got it too. And we’ll all be sad to wave goodbye, but we’ll be here together to do it and talk about how loved it is. Everybody on the crew and cast deserve everything they get after this, because they’ve spent years giving us something absolutely wonderful and that won’t be forgotten any time soon.
So, let’s fasten our seatbelts, try not to crash, and find the next adventure.