2017’s Ducktales, developed by Francisco Angones and Matt Youngberg, is a funny, adventurous, and endlessly intelligent adaptation of one of the most beloved Disney franchises of all time.
With an unimpeachable cast, a clever sense of humor, and a commitment to the underlying thematic concerns of the story, these three seasons represent the best-case scenario for the reboot of a beloved TV show: a sensationally self-aware series that takes its characters seriously while still delivering side-splitting slapstick.
A Unified Duckburg
While you may be most familiar with Duckburg thanks to the 1987 Ducktales cartoon, which served as the foundation for the Disney Afternoon’s unparalleled block of animated programming, that wasn’t the origin of Uncle Scrooge, Duckburg, and Flintheart Glomgold.
All three of these integral Ducktales elements (not to mention Gladstone Gander, the Beagle Boys, Magica De Spell, Gyro Gearloose, and more) first appeared in the comics of Carl Barks. One of three inaugural inductees to the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame, Barks became known as “The Good Duck Artist” for his voluminous contributions to the wider world of Donald Duck.
However, in more recent years, the popularity of the 1987 animated series Ducktales has somewhat eclipsed awareness of the comics that inspired it (especially in the United States, where Disney’s Duck comics have never been as popular as they have proven to be overseas). In fact, cartoonist Don Rosa is known for appearing at comic conventions with a sign that warns fans of the 1987 series that his Uncle Scrooge comics are distinct from the animated show.
However, the 2017 reboot of Ducktales went to great lengths to integrate all previous incarnations of the Duckburg stories. This calls to mind Rosa’s strategy with his Uncle Scrooge comics: as he explains in the foreword for the excellent Fantagraphics collection of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, Rosa undertook the “fanboy challenge” of constructing a narrative that took into account every “fact” about Scrooge that had been revealed by Barks’s classic comics.
2017’s Ducktales wasn’t able to completely unify Uncle Scrooge’s timeline – perhaps the largest challenge was posed by the original 1987 animated series: after all, how could the characters meet for the first time in 2017’s Ducktales if they’d already had adventures in the 1987 incarnation? However, the original series did get plenty of references in episodes like “Quack Pack!” and “Let’s Get Dangerous!” – not to mention the omnipresent numeral 87, which appears as an Easter egg throughout all three seasons of the revival to call to mind the original series.
While many were disappointed that the Ducktales reboot only ran for three seasons, there’s a structural reason for the limitation: each season can be handily matched to one of the three nephews.
Huey, Dewey, and Louie were an especially important part of the Ducktales reboot because an important alteration was made from some of the earlier incarnations of the characters. If you watch the 1987 version of Ducktales, the three nephews are indistinguishable from one another. However, for the 2017 reboot, each of the three siblings was given a distinct personality… and each of the three characters can easily be matched to a season.
Dewey is season one – eager to be liked and driven to find the triplet’s lost mother. The second season belongs to the laziest, scheme-iest of the brothers: Louie – and it’s no coincidence that the ultimate schemer, Duke Baloney Flintheart Glomgold (Keith Ferguson), is the big bad for this season. And the third season belongs to Huey, with the rules and regulations of his beloved Junior Woodchuck Guidebook serving as the backbone for the final season’s story arc.
No doubt there will be those in the audience who will insist that a fourth season could be paired with Webby, but the revelations in the show’s final episode make it clear why this would not be appropriate. And aside from that, the definitive ending at the conclusion of the third season means that the story has plenty of time to reflect on legacy, and how they hope the next generation of stories might look back at their time strutting across the stage.
Every Which Way is Meta
But 2017’s incarnation of Ducktales isn’t content to leave the metafiction to the integration of all previous Duckburg adventures: hardly a single member of the cast doesn’t have some degree of additional meaning behind their roles.
For example, it’s hard not see how Danny Pudi’s iconic turn as Abed in Community is reflected in the text-devoted Huey, or how Bobby Moynihan’s laconic delivery is perfectly suited to the lazy Louie – not to mention how the bubbling-over charisma of Ben Schwartz finds a home in Dewey’s delectable DEW-livery. And Kate Micucci gives Webby Vanderquack just the right amount of adventuring enthusiasm (it’s no surprise that all four actors get roles in Flora & Ulysses, the comic-inspired movie that’s streaming now on Disney+ and even includes an onscreen cameo from issue #15 of IDW’s 2017 Ducktales comic).
But the meta madness doesn’t end with the main characters. Lin-Manuel Miranda has a recurring role as Fenton Crackshell-Cabrera, an intern who calls power and stardom to himself with the utterance of a few funny words. John Hodgman, who gained fame presenting himself as a satirical rich character on The Daily Show, appears as John Rockerduck. James Marsters, who played Spike the vampire on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, appears as Nosferatu. And Edgar Wright, who was taken off Ant-Man after working on the project for a decade, appears as Alistair Boorswan, the director of the Darkwing Duck reboot (who watches his artistic vision be compromised beyond all recognition).
And this doesn’t even take into account the many actors who return to the roles that they previously played for the Disney Afternoon shows, like Michael Bell as Quackerjack or Bill Farmer as Goofy.
And if you’re a fan of the Disney Afternoon cartoons, there’s plenty of references to the shows that aired alongside 1987’s Ducktales once upon a time: TailSpin, Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, Bonkers, Gargoyles, Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears, The Wuzzles, and especially Darkwing Duck get plenty of time to shine in the show, between subtle references in dialogue to full episodes spotlighting characters or plot elements from each and every one of the Disney Afternoon shows.
However, 2017’s Ducktales isn’t content to let the boundaries of metafiction lie there, either. For example, in the season two episode “Friendship Hates Magic!,” Beakley (Toks Olagundoye) and Launchpad (Beck Bennet) bond over their shared love of vigilantes with secret disguises – but the show goes all the way back to the 1905 novel The Scarlet Pimpernel to identify the true source of the characters’ shared interest.
By digging as deeply as possible into what defines the pulpy, action-packed stories that inspired the earliest Uncle Scrooge comics, 2017’s Ducktales is able to deliver episode after episode that is as close as possible to the apotheosis of adventure which defines the McDuck family.
Something for Everyone in 2017’s Ducktales
2017’s Ducktales is a truly ensemble show. Rounding out the main cast is David Tennant as Uncle Scrooge, Tony Anselmo as Donald Duck (although an ongoing gag had Thanos survivor Don Cheadle playing a more comprehensible version of his voice), and Paget Brewster as Della Duck (a late-arriving but truly outstanding addition to the cast).
Better yet, it knows it’s an ensemble show: in fact, some episodes only feature some of the members of the McDuck family. However, by creating a vivid world filled with vibrant characters, viewers simply assume that the characters that don’t appear in a given episode are just busy having their own adventures off-screen.
Furthermore, by not feeling obligated to include every character in every episode, 2017’s Ducktales affords itself a sense of variety (and adventure) that will keep you coming back for all 69 of the show’s stupendous episodes.
You can watch season one and two of Ducktales on Disney+ right now. The third season finale aired on Disney XD on Monday, March 15th, 2021, and while the third season will eventually be available for streaming on Disney+, you currently stream season three through the Disney XD app.