My VHS copy of the original Mighty Ducks was recorded from the Disney Channel, and for a week one summer I watched it every day and (I kid you not) memorized every word of dialog. For that hour and forty-four minutes I wasn’t alone, I had a team to laugh with and a story to inspire me.
The movie had a couple of sequels before fading into memory. But now the Ducks are back in a new series on Disney+, so the question is: are they still mighty?
Thirty years later, they’re actually too mighty for their own good. All the successful parents want their kids wearing Ducks’ jerseys when they aren’t getting straight A’s and into Ivy League schools. The fun is gone. It’s all about winning. And not just on the ice. Just loving hockey isn’t good enough, and passionate but still-developing players (like the ones who were its heart back in the day) get booted.
Evan Morrow (Brady Noon) is such a player. After he fails to make the team, his enthusiastic if clueless mom Alex (Lauren Graham, basically playing Lorelai Gilmore again), decides to put together and coach a new team, the Don’t Bothers. Of course she’ll need help. But who operates the only available ice rink in town? The legendary Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez), coach of the original Ducks and now a cranky old man who says that he hates kids and hockey (Spoiler: he doesn’t really hate kids or hockey).
Unlike Cobra Kai, which is made for the adults who grew up watching The Karate Kid, Disney has designed Game Changers for the kids of those who grew up watching The Mighty Ducks. As such, it’s neither as rough around the edges nor does it marinate in nostalgia, though it has its moments. No, this is about the next generation.
Among others, the new team features Nick (Maxwell Simkins), a comedian with two moms; Lauren (Bella Higginbotham), who wears a cape and spends more time in her imagination than the real world, and Koob13 (Luke Islam), an obese gamer with preternaturally fast reflexes and poor interpersonal skills. Their world is tamer than that of their 90s counterparts, with its own set of challenges likely familiar to the target audience.
Unfortunately, the longer form of a weekly series waters down the adversity and urgency that made the old movie fly. Most of these characters just exist in a familiar, high-school-TV-drama world. Estevez, so far the only carryover from the films, provides the only spark. And, for the most part, Gordon Bombay just wants some stale dessert and a nap. The stakes here simply aren’t very high.
We know that suffering produces perseverance, which in turn produces character, and therefore hope (Rom. 5:3-4). Without something difficult to overcome, the characters are weak and there’s nothing inspiring about their stories.
Hopefully the series is building up to something more than it currently is. In the meantime, I’ve got a worn VHS tape to dig out. (Disney)