2017 has been a pretty bleak year in many ways, but one of the brighter spots of it has been Disney XD’s much-hyped DuckTales reboot, which has gotten almost universal acclaim. With plenty of sharp humor and a bold animation style, the series is among the most entertaining cartoons currently on television (even if, yes, it is problematic that Disney has apparently been airing the episodes out of order).
Yet one aspect of it that hasn’t gotten much attention since its premiere is its opening titles. I’m not only talking about the song itself, which is a new cover of the 1987 original which is quite possibly one of the most celebrated TV themes of all time. No, I’m talking about the marriage between the song and the animation, which merge together to create a truly exhilarating action sequence which literally has the show’s heroes jumping in and out of the pages of the comics which inspired DuckTales in the first place.
The comic book imagery is fitting. When Mark Mueller sent in his audition tape for the first theme song back in the 1980’s, he was following Disney’s instructions that asked for lyrics which suggested “comic book action” (for more on this story, turn your eyes to this truly engaging read from Vanity Fair). But the original opening sequence consisted entirely of clips from the first 65 episodes of the series. The new one is far more ambitious, thriving off the anticipation of nostalgia from the viewer, creating something which feels simultaneously old school and fresh.
That nostalgia comes into play almost immediately, as the object that sets the entire sequence in motion is Scrooge losing his beloved Lucky Dime, which any viewer of the original cartoon will know was not only the source of his good luck (even if he would always claim it played no role in his success), but also what villain Magica DeSpell was always trying to steal from him. This results in Scrooge and the gang chasing after it, escaping from various enemies and going inside and outside comic book panels in order to do so.
The music here plays in line with everything. While the original opening had fairly consistent instrumentals from start to finish, the new one is playing to the strengths of the theme song’s now legendary reputation with its fans. The “duh-dum, duh-dum” of the music in itself suggests running (seriously, try moving your feet along with it. It’s a great workout song!), but the everything slows down before getting to the first exclamation of the title, as though its catching its breath before it gets to the payoff. When the “DuckTales!” is finally yelled out (along with the required “Woo-hoo!”), the sound track adds an exclamation point with the snapping of a giant crab’s claws, fulfilling the show’s promise of adventure while also subconsciously providing a jolt of exhilaration to the eardrums.
What follows from there is imagery that anyone familiar with the classic series will recognize, while still providing enough excitement to newcomers who have never even seen an episode of it. This is most evident as the song increases its intensity for the “D-d-d-danger lurks behind you” verse, which sees our heroes facing off against a living mummy (possibly a foe as associated with the franchise as any). As the action channels across several panels at once, it’s Webby who proves the most instrumental, using a grappling hook to ultimately help unravel and vanquish the creature.
Which brings us to what might be the most important aspect of the new theme song: it has a female vocalist. Of the nine episodes that have aired so far, it has been Webby, perhaps even more so than Scrooge McDuck himself, who has been most crucial to the tone of the series. If DuckTales has a “voice,” it may as well be Webby, whose enthusiasm and fanboy (fangirl?) obsession with Scrooge reflects not only herself, yet also the fandom for the original. If someone from the series is “singing” the song here, it is her spirit, nervously anticipating the danger to come while also loving every second of it.
Everything wraps up on an appropriately rousing note, with even more villains joining in on the pursuit before Scrooge inevitably disposes of all of them. It’s a blast of adrenaline which leaves me with a big grin on my face every time I watch it, as I suspect that many fans are sharing that smile with me, feeling like children again while still feeling like they aren’t being talked down to for loving an old cartoon show.
DuckTales airs at various times on Disney XD, while the original series (well, at least the first 70 or so episodes of it) is available on DVD.