Back in the early summer of 2015, when Matthew Youngberg & Francisco Angones first met to discuss how they were going to try and reboot DuckTales for Disney XD, the big question that really dogged them was … Which version of this much-beloved IP were these two actually going to revive?
“Both Matt and I have an intense love for the original animated series. But we also understood that the DuckTales characters meant different things to different people,” Angones – the co-producer / story editor of this new Disney Television Animation production – explained during a recent phone interview. “For some people, they only know these characters from all of those great Scrooge McDuck comics that Carl Barks did. For other people, their introduction to these characters came with the TV show that debuted in 1986. For still others, they originally fell in love with this family because that DuckTales video game which Capcom produced back in 1989. And there were even some folks who only knew these characters from that ‘Treasure of the Lost Lamp’ movie which the Studio released in 1990.”
“So Matt and I had this wealth of inspirational material to draw from. And we genuinely wanted to create a show that would not only appeal to people who already loved DuckTales but also to viewers who were just now meeting these characters for the first time. Which is when we began to ask ourselves ‘What’s the one constant that runs through each & every iteration of this IP?,’ “ Francisco continued. “And what we eventually settled on was the idea of this duck family that goes on adventures. Which is why we then decided – in order to differentiate our version of DuckTales from all the other ones that had come before it – that we’d now really lean into the family aspect of this show. Make sure that every single story that we told in this version of DuckTales somehow sprang from the very unique way that this specific set of family members interacted with one another.”
Which was an idea that initially met with some resistance from Mouse House managers.
“I remember when we initially went in to pitch our take on this reboot,” Angones recalled. “We said that we wanted to build this version of DuckTales around family. And the head of the studio said ‘This is Disney. Every show we do is about family.’ That’s when I explained that we wanted this show to be about the way families really are. Which is messy and complicated.”
Take – for example – how Matt & Francisco opted to end “Woo-oo!,” the one-hour television movie that introduced the world to their new take on DuckTales back in August . As Dewey is exploring Scrooge’s museum of past adventures (AKA the garage at McDuck Manor), he comes across an old tattered painting which shows his Great Uncle & Uncle in action during their swashbuckling days. But as Dewey pushed a corner of this torn canvas back into place, he spies something genuinely startling: An image of (SPOILERS AHEAD) his mother, Della Duck, also taking part in this grand adventure with Scrooge and Donald.
“To my way of thinking, ending our introduction to this brand-new version of DuckTales with that reveal of the nephews’ mother was just a natural extension of the approach that we’ve chosen to take with this show. Which was an in-depth study of the unique dynamic of this specific family,” Youngberg said. “I mean, here was this huge piece of the DuckTales puzzle that no one had ever touched on before: Whatever became of Huey, Dewey & Louie’s Mom. And we were now the ones who were going to get to explore that. That’s a fun mystery to unravel.”
“Mind you, when we first pitched the idea of including Della in this show, the people here at Disney were like ‘Okay. You’re sure you really want to open this can of worms? Because it’s going to get messy,’ “ Matt laughed. “And we were like ‘Great. We like messy. Because real families are messy. Adventuring families even more so.’ More to the point, a plot element like this gives us a lot of opportunities to do some sincere storytelling.”
Of course, there are consequences to choosing to go down this particular story path. In the wake of Della’s disappearance, Donald (for some yet-to-be-revealed reason) has opted to distance himself for Scrooge. In fact, as this DuckTales reboot is getting underway, it’s been years since these two have last spoken.
“That’s why we decided to start our pilot with Huey, Dewey and Louie not even knowing that they were related to Scrooge,” Angones stated. “I mean, what if you only knew Scrooge McDuck as this mythic figure, a reclusive adventure capitalist who was a cross between Willie Wonka and Tony Stark? But then one day, you learned that this dude was your Great Uncle. Even as the possibilities of this world opened up to you, wouldn’t you then have a lot of questions?”
Viewers of “Woo-oo!” certainly had a lot of questions after they viewed this one-hour television movie. Especially in the wake of how cool & cryptic Donald & Scrooge were to one another when they first met up in the driveway of McDuck Manor. (“Mrs. B said that you would watch the boys. Can you do that without losing them?,” Donald pointedly asks Scrooge at this meet-up. Later – before he leaves for his job interview – Donald says “Remember: No tricks. No lies. No trouble.” Huey, Dewey and Louie quickly reply “Yes, Uncle Donald.” His muted response – as Donald squints across at Uncle Scrooge -- is “I wasn’t talking to you.”)
“One of the areas that we’ve really had fun exploring with this show is the difference between Donald & Scrooge’s parenting styles,” Matt enthused. “I mean, Donald – what with him being the world’s unluckiest duck and always having the worst possible things happen to him -- of course he’s going to be more protective of the nephews. He’s going to try and lock Huey, Louie & Dewey down and keep them away from danger because Donald knows danger. He knows all the things that can go wrong in life. Whereas Scrooge is much more in the camp of ‘I want these kids to explore & learn & grow through experience.’ And so there’s a natural conflict there. And it’s not just based on what’s happened in the past. This conflict stems from Donald & Scrooge’s personality types and what their expectations are out of life.”
“One of the things that we hit upon early on with Scrooge is that he’s a character who loves risk. That’s because Scrooge is supremely confident.” Francisco explained. “Scrooge knows that – even if he lost everything tomorrow – he could still roll up his sleeves, start shining shoes again and rebuild his fortune.”
“At least that was how Scrooge used to think before this version of DuckTales got underway. Now that Donald has re-entered his life and brought Huey, Dewey and Louie along with him, the real question then becomes: What happens when Scrooge finds the one thing that he’s now not willing to risk. And that’s his family,” Angones continued. “That raises the emotional stakes in this show a bit. Gives Scrooge an interesting kind of soft underbelly that this character didn’t have in the comics. Here’s this guy who’s wealthy & in charge & the very best at everything. So what happens when a character like that is suddenly beholden to somebody else? It just felt like there was some good juice there.”
And if you’d like to get a taste of this juice … This higher stakes / more emotionally complex DuckTales officially debuts this Saturday on Disney XD with a programming event that has the first two episodes of this reboot (i.e., “The Great Dime Chase!” and “Daytrip of Doom!”) being broadcast at 7 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m., 5 p.m., 8 p.m., and 10:30 p.m., ET/PT. Which should give you plenty of opportunity to see what Matt, Francisco and the rest of the team at Disney Television Animation have put together.
“It’s been an honor and a thrill to work on DuckTales,” Angones concluded, “Because the sorts of stories that we get to tell on this show aren’t found elsewhere in the Disney Universe. Tales of daring that lean heavily into the humor of things and stress adventure over action. And to just have the freedom to tell a story that might connect throughout a season of a show has been great.”
So does that mean that Della’s fate will eventually be revealed over the course of Season One of DuckTales on Disney XD? I’m afraid that you’re going to have to tune in to find out.