The Mighty Ducks might be underdogs in the original 1990s trilogy but they became fan favorites as a result of their original run.
In reading through the oral history in TIME, it’s fascinating to see what these films could have become. Imagine a darker first film along the same lines as Little Miss Sunshine. More than this, imagine Peter Berg portraying Gordon Bombay. I don’t know about you but Emilio Estevez will always be Coach Bombay. It’s understandable why Estevez didn’t have a larger part in D3 but now I understand why. It turned out he was directing a movie and didn’t have a larger time commitment. Because of this, the films ended up becoming more of the Charlie Conway story rather than Gordon Bombay.
A darker film could work in theory. However, it wouldn’t have spawned two sequels nor become a cult favorite for many people. I also don’t think the sequels would have happened had Robert Iger been CEO rather than Michael Eisner. This was back at a time when Disney was willing to take the risk. Once Iger replaced Eisner, Disney movies began to change on the big screen. They became fewer and fewer until there were maybe ten films being released per year.
These films are classic underdog stories. Whether it’s against the Hawks, Iceland, or the Eden Hall Warriors varsity team, the Ducks have always had to battle from behind. They had to do so twice with Adam Banks playing for another team during the first matchup. We’ll see what The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers has to offer come Friday–one day after the anniversary of D2‘s 1994 theatrical release.
Over a course of a few years, we saw these kids grow up in front of our eyes. One of the things I noticed this year is how The Mighty Ducks have always been a co-ed team. Was this intentional? I don’t know but it’s not really something you’d see happen in a sports film today. There’s a horrible fight against having transgender athletes playing sports in this day and age. That’s another story for another day but I think it just comes down to these conservatives hatred of anything that isn’t a cishet person. But anyway, I digress.
The Mighty Ducks ends on a cliffhanger and that gave way to D2: The Mighty Ducks in 1994. We move away from the friendly confines of Minnesota to the Junior Goodwill Games in Los Angeles. Rather than making Canada or Russia the rival team, the main rival is Iceland. In having to coach Team USA, it changes Bombay and he needs to learn how to have fun again. We’re also introduced to five new members of the Ducks. In some ways, they take the place of the five departed Minnesota players. Team USA later picks up Russ Tyler (Kenan Thompson). In a case of Disney synergy, a new logo is brought about by the end of the film. Disney would make great use of the corporate synergy in the third film.
D3: The Mighty Ducks opened 25 years ago this October. This makes me feel old because I was just a kid when I saw the film in theaters! I’ll admit that it’s not the finest closing act. Yes, we get some closure to a lot of story arcs. The Ducks come from behind once again to win the game. But had Emilio Estevez been available, I wonder what they would have done. In this film, his Team USA duties mean the Ducks/Warriors have to play for Ted Orion (Jeffrey Nordling). He has a different perspective of coaching than Bombay. The Ducks like to have fun during their practices. Not Orion and it’s not even close. This film also plays more into the juvenile humor with the JV Ducks and Varsity Warriors at war with each other.
I’m a kid of the 1980s and grew up watching the family friendly sports comedies in the 1990s. The Mighty Ducks, Little Giants, The Sandlot, Little Big League, and despite the fact that I loathe the Chicago Cubs with a passion, Rookie of the Year. These films will always be special to me for that reason. Because of this, it’s honestly hard to step back and look at them with a critical perspective. Despite the negative reviews upon release, these films have grown into a cult classic. With the new series launching this Friday and my SXSW effectively finished because of depression, I decided to rewatch the trilogy just before the weekend. Let me tell you, I really needed the nostalgia! I will never not have fun while watching these films!
Watching these films towards the end of the week were also a reminder that studios just don’t make the family-friendly sports comedy anymore.
The Mighty Ducks
DIRECTOR: Stephen Herek
SCREENWRITER: Steven Brill
CAST: Emilio Estevez, Joss Ackland, Lane Smith, Heidi Kling, Josef Sommer, Joshua Jackson, Elden Ratliff, Shaun Weiss, M.C. Gainey, Matt Doherty, Brandon Adams, J.D. Daniels, Aaron Schwartz, Garette Ratliff Henson, Marguerite Moreau, Jane Plank, Jussie Smollett, Vincent A. LaRusso, Danny Tamberelli, Michael Ooms, Casey Garven, George Coe
D2: The Mighty Ducks
DIRECTOR: Sam Weisman
SCREENWRITER: Steven Brill
CAST: Emilio Estevez, Michael Tucker, Jan Rubeš, Kathyrn Erbe, Joshua Jackson, Elden Ryan Ratliff, Shaun Weiss, Matt Doherty, Brandon Adams, Vincent A. LaRusso, Marguerite Moreau, Garette Ratliff Henson, Aaron Lohr, Ty O’Neal, Kenan Thompson, Mike Vitar, Colombe Jacobsen, Justin Wong, Carsten Norgaard, Maria Ellingsen, Scott Whyte
D3: The Mighty Ducks
DIRECTOR: Robert Lieberman
SCREENWRITERS: Steven Brill & Jim Burnstein
CAST: Emilio Estevez, Jeffrey Nordling, David Selby, Heidi Kling, Joshua Jackson, Elden Ryan Ratliff, Shaun Weiss, Vincent A. LaRusso, Matt Doherty, Garette Ratliff Henson, Marguerite Moreau, Michael Cudlitz, Christopher Orr, Aaron Lohr, Ty O’Neal, Kenan Thompson, Mike Vitar, Colombe Jacobsen, Justin Wong, Scott Whyte, and Joss Ackland