When DisneyXD’s DuckTales was first announced in 2015, it was met with the usual mix of excitement and hesitance. The revered original series provided a deep well of characters and memories for fans, not to mention a theme song for the ages. Would the new iteration live up to that legacy? Did it need to?
Reboots and remakes are all about a delicate balance of nostalgia: Too much and the show never gets to forge its own identity, while too little risks alienating audiences who hold the original dear. That DuckTales managed to strike this balance so well over 72 episodes is a testament to the fact that it was made in the hands of fans themselves: showrunner and executive producers Matt Youngberg and Francisco Angones. Their series managed to cut through the noise with invigorating surprise, finding that sweet spot between acknowledging what came before and reevaluating it for a new generation, letting the series stand on its own two (webbed) feet.
Adapted from Carl Barks’s classic Uncle Scrooge comics, DuckTales had always been about fantastic adventures, but Youngberg and Angones wanted their series to offer something more tangible for audiences, the pair told Vulture ahead of the DuckTales series finale, which aired on DisneyXD this week and is available on DisneyNow; the first two seasons are currently on Disney+.
“We obviously were inspired by Barks’s comics, but we knew that we wanted to do something that was serialized but that also the episodes itself could also be self-contained — we called it self-contained serialization,” Angones explained. “We knew that we wanted every story to be a complete beginning, middle, and end like those Chris Claremont X-Men comics. You could get a full story within one issue, but you could also see all the entanglements of all the other narratives that they’ve been seeding for years, and that idea kind of evolved to how we viewed DuckTales in general.”
Youngberg added, “Claremont was a really good inspiration [for us], especially … because the down time was just as important as the adventure time. Even things like Modern Family were influences … But luckily there had been such great groundwork that was already laid with the original series that we just asked, ‘How do we mesh all of these influences together?’”
To celebrate a duck blur of a run, Angones and Youngberg went through some of our favorite DuckTales episodes to spotlight a few key moments, from meaningful cameos to behind-the-scenes fun and woes, that get to the core of what made the series such a special feat.
“Woo-oo!” (Season 1, Episode 1)
We’re starting with the one that started it all, a hilariously refreshing reintroduction to the series’ well-known characters. Within the first five minutes, we’re given exact characterizations of Donald Duck, a single father figure to his nephews, and Huey, Dewey, and Louie, who now have incredibly distinct personalities. Scrooge is largely the same familiar curmudgeon, along with lovable doofus Launchpad McQuack. Mrs. Beakley and her granddaughter Webby were majorly revamped, with actual well-rounded personalities this time around. With a cast of strong voice actors like David Tennant, Ben Schwartz, Danny Pudi, Bobby Moynihan, Kate Micucci, Toks Olagundoye, and Beck Bennett that gelled so well, “Woo-oo!” seemed so natural from the start that it felt like DuckTales hadn’t skipped a beat.
“I think literally the only second guess we had was that Bobby had also auditioned for Launchpad and was great as Launchpad,” recalled Angones. “Then we heard Beck Bennett as Launchpad, and we were like, ‘Great, problem solved!’”
But beyond what Youngberg refers to as “a dream cast,” what really makes “Woo-oo!” special is how much groundwork it lays for an ongoing story that’s all tied together in the finale. “Seeing where our core characters evolve into from the pilot … That’s the work we’ve been doing throughout the whole course of the series,” Angones explained. “Woo-oo!” introduces a broken family, out of touch, with barely any connection other than blood relation, but at the center is Mrs. Beakley’s granddaughter Webby Vanderquack, who’s piecing together the history of the McDuck family and essentially kicks off their first adventure. “Webby’s story is one that we have been telling since [this pilot],” Angones noted.
Bottom line: Hearing David Tennant perfectly embody the essence of Scrooge McDuck will give you an out-of-body experience. Truly, it’s like he originated this role all over again.
“Who Is Gizmoduck?!” (Season 1, Episode 20)
Near the end of the first season, in what would become Youngberg and Angones’s fashion, they took beloved character Fenton Crackshell (a.k.a. Gizmoduck) and reintroduced him as a more accessible character, defined in part by his race, yes, but also by his grit. “Who Is Gizmoduck?!” introduces Fenton Crackshell-Cabrera, ruffled intern for Gyro Gearloose at McDuck Industries by day, and fearless superhero by night.
Even before they had Lin-Manuel Miranda onboard to voice Fenton, Angones knew he wanted the character to be Latino. “It was one of our main goals. I’m Cuban, I grew up in Miami, and even to this day there are not that many Latino superheroes,” Angones said. “I went to Matt with this pitch like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if like the main superhero of DuckTales, that everyone knows, was Latino?’” He and Youngberg thought to fashion the new Fenton Crackshell-Cabrera as a hybrid of Tony Stark and Spider-Man. “This was before the Marvel Spider-Man and Tony Stark relationship, but we thought of [Fenton as] Peter Parker with Tony Stark’s armor,” Angones said. “Fenton is this young Latino dude who had a million ideas, spoke a mile a minute, and always wanted to make the world better, but he had a problem focusing his energy and his ideas because he has this suit that has a million different weird gizmos.”
Luckily, Miranda was onboard with the pair’s vision for Fenton. “I thought I’d never be able to work with him, but as I was writing the script, I thought Ah, damn it! This is Lin-Manuel Miranda,” Angones said. “So I wrote this letter to Lin explaining why it was important to have a Latino superhero, even if they were ducks! The mission statement of the show was always, as we go globetrotting, to actually represent in the casting of different nationalities and to create a world that looked more like the world that kids today see around them. The lo and behold! He liked it and he said yes! He got so excited to yell ‘blathering blatherskite!’ It was a trip.”
Bottom line: DuckTales’ new take on Gizmoduck is a perfect nexus point for the show’s millennial and Gen-Z viewers: an incredibly overwhelmed and anxious person who is still determined to make a change in the world. Also, the literal ten seconds of the telenovela Patos de la Pasión in this episode is ducking hilarious. Watch that.
“The Last Crash of Sunchaser” (Season 1, Episode 23)
As DuckTales’ first season moved from one thrilling adventure to another, Youngberg and Angones were carefully threading in hints about the disappearance of Donald’s sister, and Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s mom, Della, which all came to a head in a visually and emotionally nuanced penultimate episode. “We knew that we had to get to this big turning point where we finally reveal what happened to Della, but it was a lot of thinking about how we would get this to come out?” says Angones, who wrote the episode’s teleplay.
With Dewey’s investigation into his mother on its last legs, Scrooge takes all the kids on a vacation, but their plane crashes into a large mountain and leaves them teetering on the brink of survival. But their harrowing circumstance finally lets the Duck family address Della. “By nature of DuckTales, each episode was a new big crazy adventure so [the family] never had to talk about that big family secret that we never want to talk about,” said Angones. “It was important to keep Donald off of that trip because Donald was the only other person besides Scrooge who knew.”
“It was not an easy episode to execute,” Angones admitted. “That last act has maybe one joke in it, but it was important to build. This was the emotional core of everything we had talked about up to that point in development, so it felt like it needed the time and the space.”
Bottom line: It’s one of the more serious episodes on this list, but never loses its entertaining spark.
“Last Christmas!” (Season 2, Episode 6)
A television series is not complete without an iconic Christmas special, and this episode provides a joyous spin on A Christmas Carol, complete with several winking nods to 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol, starring Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer Scrooge. But in DuckTales’ spin on the Christmas classic, Scrooge-as-Scrooge is sent on a time-warping journey with his now-friends, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, to blow off some steam, partying at all the greatest Christmas parties. But while Scrooge takes a tour de soirees, Dewey reckons with another holiday without his mother, in a moving story line that marks this episode as a standout.
But what really earns this episode a spot on this list is when Dewey accidentally drops into a Christmas Past and meets young, emo Donald Duck, complete with swoopy side bangs (“Grunge felt 100 percent something that Donald would be into!” said Agones), voiced by the literal voice of DuckTales (1987), Russi Taylor, who voiced the original Duck triplets, as well as Minnie Mouse, up until her death seven months after the release of “Last Christmas.”
“Russi is one of those things that we revere and love about the [original] series, so we wanted to make sure we could bring her in in a way that felt very natural, and utilized her talents as best as we could,” Youngberg recalled, with Angones adding, “She could have very easily been like, ‘You’re doing DuckTales, and you got these other voices for the nephews!’ but she wasn’t. She understood that the whole episode and the Donald portrayal was a way of honoring her performance … She was 100 percent a legend in every sense of the word. And she ad-libbed that song that Donald sings! We had the lyrics but she just went for it.”
Bottom line: A smooth-jazz Christmas-inspired rendition of the DuckTales theme song AND a ’90s grunge ballad sung by Donald Duck in the same episode makes this a must-watch.
“What Ever Happened to Della Duck?!” (Season 2, Episode 7)
As evidenced by “The Last Crash of Sunchaser,” DuckTales knew when and how to let adventuring take a back seat to family-centric storytelling, but that doesn’t mean “Whatever Happened to Della Duck?!” wasn’t a challenge. As Youngberg put it, “The idea to do [an episode of] one character stuck on the moon with only herself to talk to, that was a really big swing.”
Though Della’s presence had been building for over a season, fans had never gotten to see or hear more than a quick flash of her in a sprinkle of episodes. Heck, she wasn’t even really a character before this series; she appeared sparingly in the comics, but that’s about it. “I remember when we started DuckTales,” Angones recalled, “one of the Disney execs was talking about what a difficult time they had finding female characters because the old DuckTales did not have a lot of female characters. We wanted to have cool, adventurous, aspirational characters.”
Youngberg continued, “So, introducing Della to the world in a way that didn’t give you the full picture of her would’ve felt like a disservice. This was an opportunity to show who this character was to her very core, because you had to strip away everything else, strip away any other interactions she had with anyone else, strip away anything that gives an ease of life, and that lays bare exactly who she is at her core, and that’s what this episode was able to do. This is foundationally who this character is, so moving forward you’ll never forget who [she] is.”
Bottom line: In case you weren’t aware, this episode really establishes Paget Brewster as a bona fide comedic queen. The voice acting? Impeccable.
“Quack Pack!” (Season 3, Episode 2)
If you go into this episode blind, you’ll notice everything is slightly off. Everyone’s costumes are altered, there’s a laugh track (?!), and Donald Duck is voiced by Don Cheadle! That’s about when you may realize that what you’re watching is actually Quack Pack, which was an actual season-long Disney Afternoon show in the Goof Troop mold starring Donald, Daisy, Huey, Dewey, and Louie.
Meta commentary within a sitcom format isn’t exactly new, but for an animated show to attempt an ambitious Twilight Zone–esque sitcom scenario is definitely not an easy feat. “We had just come off of ‘Moonvasion’ [the season-two finale] and that was huge. It was very hard,” Angones said. “Some of our best episodes showed up when our crew was stressed, because we needed to figure out a creative way to take the pressure off some of the art department and the board and story departments. We tried to do this before, the notion of a bottle episode that only took place in one location, but a bottle episode in animation is a lie. There’s no such thing! You still have to draw every angle of the room.”
So the pair brainstormed ideas, when one day Angones recalled saying, “Matt, what would actually be easy?” to which Youngberg said, “Maybe one location with maybe two or three shots, something like that.” Immediately the light bulb went off and Angones thought, “Let’s do a multi-cam sitcom!”
“Then we thought, why are they stuck in a sitcom? And suddenly we found the emotional core [of this being] what Donald wants his life to be. Donald just wishes his life was Quack Pack, and unfortunately his life is DuckTales.”
Bottom line: WandaVision fans, you may not get your witch and robot fix here, but you will enjoy this hilariously inventive entry in the meta-sitcom canon.
“The Last Adventure!” (Season 3, Episode 22)
Woo-oo, boy. After watching three seasons of DuckTales, it felt like this series could’ve gone on forever, but in the end, Youngberg, Angones & Co. made every second count. “It was tough, but I will also say because we had the benefit of knowing that going into season three that it would be our last season, it was nice that [our finale] wasn’t just an episode of television, it was a culmination of the series,” Angones said.
“The Last Adventure!” packs a punch. A raucous adventure with a twist! A showdown of good versus evil! But ultimately it ends with a genuine, emotionally resonant finale. One big, final mystery solved that returns to the heart of this reboot: the McDuck family. “The first script was about 20-minutes too long because of all the characters you want to get in there,” Youngberg said. “We had huge moments we had to cut out of the finale because of time … But ultimately, it’s a show about family so we need to show that family.”
Angones continued, “We knew that each of the seasons were going to focus on a different triplet, but also that the series itself was going to be the overall story of Webby slowly threaded throughout the entire thing. And that all came off as we knew that each of the four kids were going to represent a different part of Scrooge’s motto. Huey was going to be smarter than the smarties, Dewey is going to be tougher than the toughies, Louie’s going to be sharper than the sharpies, and Webby was gonna earn her place in the family square.”
And while the end of this iteration of DuckTales is bittersweet, Angones and Youngberg made sure to leave room for whatever’s next: “If you see this finale, you know where [the McDuck family’s] next adventure is going to go.” (Announced a fews days after our talk with Angones and Youngberg, Disney revealed a preview of This Duckburg Life, a narrative podcast starring the original cast, though the pair are not attached.) “We had the benefit of knowing that we didn’t have to put these characters to bed. We wanted to open as many doors as possible to whoever gets to touch these characters next in more possible adventures.”
Bottom line: Grab your ducking tissues, and say one final woo-oo.
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