We could bemoan DuckTales getting revived 30-odd years after its initial run. Yeah, it’s GenX types (like me) reliving their halcyon days where all the world’s problems didn’t exist because we were little brats oblivious to how wretched life was in the mid-to-late 80s. Kids deserve their own new stuff with characters made for them, rather than concoctions from the past rebranded with a modern attitude and aesthetic.
Thing is, that just as perfectly describes the original series as it does Shin DuckTales. OG DuckTales was just a rebranding of the Uncle Scrooge comics from the 50s, which in turn was a comic repurposing of Donald and company from the cartoons. These things have gone through so many stages of reimaging over the years that I honestly find it hard to get too irked by it anymore. It isn’t just DuckTales that’s been through the processor this many times. How many times has Scooby Doo been recalibrated for kids?
Anyway, yeah, these things usually suck. They either skew too much towards internal references and go over the head of the kids who should be the intended audience. As much as I dug Mystery Incorporated, that’s exactly what probably kept it from catching on and being its own thing. Or they water things down trying to be “relevant” and miss all the charm of the original thing. The new Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry cartoons have fallen into that category– stripped of their initial chaos and absurdity in favor of friendly iterations of the characters designed for no one who actually exists.
I’m not gonna make any judgement calls on OG DuckTales, since it’s been ages since I’ve seen it, but Shin DuckTales looks to be avoiding most of the pitfalls that ruin these sorts of things. It’s legitimately good stuff.
The set-up is pretty much the same here: Donald’s nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, move in with Uncle Scrooge and get wrapped up in Scrooge’s adventurous lifestyle. The only real twist to the formula is that Donald gets to be a regular cast member. I guess he was too much of a “star” to be on a syndicated cartoon back in 87, but his value has sunk enough that he’s allowed to be a supporting character on a cartoon on a second tier cable network. Either that or it’s the allure of prestige cable TV allowing big stars to no longer feel like they’re “slumming” when doing such a thing.
What pushes the show over into being good, rather than just a serviceable rehashing, is how they’ve expanded on the nephews. They used to be interchangeable, with the only difference being their choice of baseball cap color, and now they’re pretty distinct dudes.
Huey’s gotten the least amount of time so far, but he comes off as a bit of a by-the-books, kinda nerdy Archie type. He’s the only one who’s kept the baseball cap look, and he’s also the only one who’s referenced the Boy Scout-like Junior Woodchuck thing thus far. I’m assuming he’ll get more to do later, but so far he’s the one who comes closest to how the nephews used to be.
Dewey seems to be a bit impulsive and rash, definitely the Reggie of the group. He’s cocky and sure of himself, but he’s also the nephew most affected by their mother’s absence. Most of his “stuff” so far has centered around his search for info on her, especially during the third episode where half the plot revolves around he and Webby going to Scrooge’s library to dig up dirt on the boys’ missing mom. He’s probably that tough but sensitive type who puts up a shield and all that.
Then there’s Best Nephew, Louie. He’s the Jughead of the group: kinda lazy, kinda sarcastic, and kinda sinister. When Webby asks which nephew is the “evil triplet,” Huey and Dewey don’t hesitate in pointing to Louie, who shrugs in acceptance. He’s the sort who’d rather get someone else to do something for him, and is the sort of smooth talking, manipulative, button pushing type who can get away with it. He’s spent the most time with Webby over the course of the first two episodes, and in each one he shows her ways to pretty much get in trouble in the name of slacking off.
So we have the three essential archetypes: The Nerd, The Jock, and The Satanic Figure.
Webby gets an even bigger makeover with the new show. She was always a bit of a wallflower, never being nearly as active in the adventures as the nephews– yet another token Girl character who exists for no other reason than to have A Girl. Now she’s a naive, sheltered, home-school type– awesome at what she’s been allowed to study at home, which seems to be some regimen of combat training, survival skills, and research into things like archaeology and the occult, while being painfully awkward and inexperienced at anything requiring social skills. She’s been trained to either be a child soldier or a future Indiana Jones by her grandmother, Mrs. Beakley, who is totally a spy in her own right (she says as much, “jokingly,” to Donald in one of the episodes).
A few other old characters have appeared, like Launchpad and Gyro, but they haven’t had much to do. Guess we’ll see what they do with them later, if anything.
It looks like they’ve created a cool cast of characters who can actually play off of one another when they go on cool pulpy adventures. There hasn’t been too much of that thus far– the second half of the hour-long premiere deals with Atlantis and some standard ancient temple hijinks– but even the more down to earth episodes have pulp novel-like names. The episode where the kids run off to an arcade and deal with an attempted kidnapping by the Beagle Brothers is called “Daytrip of Doom!” and one of the upcoming episodes looks to be called “The Infernal Internship of Mark Beaks!” All of those exclamation points are right there in the title, that isn’t just me being hyped here.
Other cool stuff:
Donald has a very Venture Bros-like moment in the premiere where he thinks he’s going for an accounting interview and ends up becoming a member of Flintheart Glomgold’s evil crew. Donald’s living that Hench Life.
The other henchmen in that episode have AWESOME names: Gabby McStabberson and Hack & Slash Smashnikov. Gotta wonder if they legally changed their names to fit their jobs as hired mooks or if they were born into said families and got forced into the family biz.
Gyro is totally a douchebag Silicon Valley type and is probably a villain based on how his little bit in “The Great Dime Chase!” plays out. This is an acceptable change, since it makes him more interesting.
The OG Webby doll pinned to the wall with an arrow in Shin Webby’s room.
I’m far from the first dude to point it out, but Donald’s interview duds are totally from Spike Spiegel’s wardrobe.
I love how they don’t tone down Donald’s voice. If anything, he’s less intelligible by normal standards.
It isn’t quite as good as DisneyXD’s best show: Star vs the Forces of Evil. But that may be my favorite currently airing cartoon, so it’s not a fair comparison. More about Star some other time.