Walks like a Duck, Quacks like a Duck

So, yeah. DuckTales 2017 is, as many predicted, almost more of a re-adaptation of the Duck comics than of the 1987 show. It has the optics: Donald is present as a key team member, Scrooge is in his Comic colors, there are Ben Day dots all over the place. Whatever. But, Jesus.

I mean, seriously, this goes straight back to the comics. And not just Carl Barks. I mean Don Rosa. The first episode combs through Life & Times, with portraits of Scrooge’s parents, a lineage chart for the nephews that includes Hortense and Quackmore, and just generally way more awareness of and investment in the comic mythology, as focused and enhanced by Rosa.

Scrooge and Donald carry something more like their comic personas. Donald is about 60/40 Comic Don versus Cartoon Don here — still recognizably the guy who you can depend on to throw walnuts at Chip & Dale out of spite, but also a more layered character. The Comic Donald is a simple, lazy, fairly unlucky guy way out of his depth in every part of his life. Part of his laziness seems to be a zoned-out avoidance because he can’t handle the life he’s been dealt. But, importantly, when he’s really needed he always steps up and is willing to get, you know, shot in the face if need be to live up to his obligations or protect the people he cares about. He’s a sympathetic character in the way that Cartoon Donald could never be. He also speaks like a normal person, with his own curious idioms and speech patterns, as opposed to an incomprehensible squawkbox. That cartoon element is still present in 2017 Don, because people would flip out if they changed it, but it seems to be played as one more of a million things that makes the poor guy’s life hell. He can’t even get a sentence out, and his lack of an ability to communicate only fuels his bad temper.

Scrooge, meanwhile, is back to being the largely self-centered, irresponsible figure he is in the comics. The first episode goes to great lengths to contrast the two uncles’ parenting styles; whereas Donald is paranoid and overprotective because of his own experiences with life, always on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop, always sleepy from his against-his-nature vigilance against the horrors of life that may at any moment pounce on his nephews, Scrooge just doesn’t give a damn. He has no regard for danger, and often stirs more trouble than he expects or immediately knows how to handle. But he’s sure he’ll think of something. Which totally Freaks Donald Out.

Long ago he used to assist Scrooge on his adventures, but by the time we catch up here he’d long since distanced himself from Scrooge, to the extent that the nephews barely seem aware that Scrooge was a relative.

Since this is 2017, there also seem to be some ongoing story threads. The very final shot of the pilot ought to be interesting, as it dives right into the biggest unexplained mystery in all iterations of the Duck universe. This is like “why exactly did the Doctor leave Gallifrey?” business. A thing that even Don Rosa steered way clear of touching, except in a passing manner in a late chapter of Life & Times.

It also is consciously DuckTales, in that it borrows from the earlier show’s iconography enough to call itself DuckTales. And then borrows from Darkwing Duck, and TaleSpin, and Goof Troop. More than just DuckTales, the show seems to be quietly setting up a new Disney Duck Animated Universe.

You’ve got most of the original DuckTales characters who aren’t useless or annoying (no Doofus or Bubba, I so hope — have yet to hear anything), but they’re remixed and employed in functional roles here. Duckworth is pretty much gone (though I’ve read he’ll appear in some form, later?), while the more-vital Launchpad and Ms. Beakley step into that void and split his duties. Beakley is more vital because she comes with Webby — who now, instead of being, uh, plot luggage, has been upgraded to an audience surrogate — so she’s been made a more general and much more capable personal assistant. Launchpad is just a general hired hand/chauffeur, no matter the vehicle or task. He’s incompetent at everything, but he’s game and presumably he’s inexpensive.

Then you’ve got the odd changes brought about by the 1987 series, which the 2017 one just runs with. Glomgold is not just Scottish (instead of South African, as in the comics); he’s so Scottish that he constantly talks about how Scottish he is. Which… come to think of it may be overcompensation. Is he genuinely Scottish? The way this is set up, I’d be unsurprised to see a long game in here.

Anyway. This is really well-done. The pilot at least is very smart and well-written. They seem to have thought this project through in insane modern showrunner sort of detail, with hints and seeds of future adventures and character development and revelations strewn all over. And nearly everything the characters do, every plot that they embark on, has its roots in character, and in the show’s basic themes (which are themselves rooted in character). You know how Buffy‘s monsters are all projections of the characters’ anxieties and the emotional things they’re going through that week? This is kind of like that, except with Barks/Rosa style adventures that illuminate family tensions and anxieties.

Like, in the pilot, Donald reluctantly leaves the nephews with Scrooge, whom again they’d never met and it seems like Donald has rarely if ever mentioned around them, issuing him (not them) a stern warning to behave while he’s off, because he needs someone to watch them while he goes off on a job interview. That interview happens to be with Glomgold, who Donald is dense or self-absorbed enough not to clock as Scrooge’s arch-nemesis. So while Scrooge gets carried away and winds up on an adventure with the nephews and Webby, Donald ends up becoming Glomgold’s own personal Launchpad. All of which is structurally really cool and which serves as a perfect canvas for exploring what’s going on within and between all the characters, and why it is that Donald is so pissed off with his uncle.

Which… may or may not have something to do with that final shot, again, and that unspoken mystery at the heart of Duckdom.