Building Entertainment: The films of the Walt Disney Studio. The Mighty Ducks

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: The Mighty Ducks

Year: 1992

Budget: $14 million

Box office: $50.8 million

Plot: Gordon Bombay is an arrogant but successful Minneapolis defense attorney. After his 30th successful case, he celebrates by going out drinking, but is arrested for drunk driving and sentenced to 500 hours of community service by coaching the local “District 5” Pee-Wee hockey team. Bombay has an unpleasant history with the sport: in 1973, he was the Hawks’ star player but, struggling with the loss of his father, he missed a penalty shot in the championship game, disappointing his hyper-competitive coach, Jack Reilly. The Hawks went on to lose in overtime, becoming one of their only championship defeats.

Bombay meets the District 5 team, and realizes the children have no practice facility, equipment, or ability. Their first game with Bombay at the helm is against the Hawks. Reilly is still the Hawks’ head coach and, despite a nearly unbroken championship streak, remains bitter about Gordon’s missed penalty shot. District 5 is soundly defeated as Reilly demands the Hawks run up the score. Bombay berates the team for not listening to him, and the players challenge his authority. For the next match, Bombay tries to teach his team how to dive and draw penalties, which results in another loss – this time to the Jets – angering the team further. Specifically one player Charlie Conway, who refused to fake an injury like Bombay instructed him to. Bombay visits his old mentor Hans, who owns a nearby sporting goods store and was in attendance at the game against the Hawks. While there, Bombay recalls that he quit playing hockey after losing his father four months before the championship game, and because Reilly blamed him for the loss due to the missed penalty shot. Hans encourages him to rekindle his childhood passion for the sport by skating in a frozen pond like he did when he was a kid. Realizing the error of his ways, he apologizes to Charlie and his mother at their home.

Bombay approaches his boss, Gerald Ducksworth, to sponsor the team, allowing them to purchase professional-grade equipment as opposed to the makeshift equipment they had, and give Bombay time to teach the players fundamentals. Renamed the Ducks – after Ducksworth – the team fights its next game against the Cardinals to a tie. They recruit three new players: Figure skating siblings Tommy and Tammy Duncan, and slap shot specialist and enforcer Fulton Reed. The potential of Charlie catches Bombay’s eye; he takes Charlie under his wing and teaches him some of the tactics he used playing with the Hawks.

Bombay learns that, due to redistricting, the Hawks’ star player Adam Banks lives in District Five and should be playing for the Ducks, and threatens Reilly into transferring Banks to the Ducks. After overhearing an out-of-context quote about the team, most of the players walk out (except Charlie and Fulton who form a strong friendship), resulting in a loss on forfeit to the Flames. The Ducks lose faith in Bombay and revert to their old habits except Charlie and Fulton.

Ducksworth makes a deal with Reilly for the Hawks to keep Banks, which Bombay, although initially tempted, refuses on the principles of fair play, which Ducksworth berated him about when he started his community service. Left with the choice of letting his team down or being fired from his job, he takes the latter.

Bombay manages to regain his players’ trust after they win a crucial match against the Huskies in order to qualify for the playoffs, and Banks – who decided to play with the Ducks rather than not play hockey at all – proves to be an asset though Jesse doesn’t trust him. The Ducks march through the playoffs with wins against the Hornets and the Cardinals, reaching the championship game against the Hawks. Reilly orders his team to injure Banks to force him out of the game; in spite of this, the Ducks manage to tie late in the final period, and Charlie is tripped by a Hawks player as time expires. In precisely the same situation Bombay faced at the film’s beginning, Charlie prepares for a game-deciding penalty shot. In stark contrast to Reilly – who told Bombay that if he missed, he was letting everyone down – Bombay tells Charlie to take his best shot and that he will believe in him no matter what. Inspired, Charlie fakes out the goalie with a “triple-deke” Bombay taught him and scores, winning the state championship.

The Ducks players and their families race onto the ice in jubilation, where Bombay thanks Hans for his belief in him and Hans tells Bombay he is proud of him. Later, Bombay boards a bus to a minor-league tryout, secured for him by the NHL’s Basil McRae of the Minnesota North Stars. Although daunted at the prospect of going up against younger players, he receives the same words of encouragement and advice from the Ducks he had given them, promising to return next season to defend their title.

Cast: M.C. Gainey returns as Lewis

Emilio Estevez as Gordon Bombay. Estevez appeared in The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire, The Outsiders, Repo Man, Mission: Impossible, Stakeout, Another Stakeout, Maximum Overdrive, Bobby (which he also wrote and directed), Young Guns and Young Guns II. Joss Ackland as Hans. Hs appeared in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Sicilian, Lethal Weapon 2, The Hunt for Red October, White Mischief, Passion of Mind, and Hogfather.

Lane Smith as Coach Jack Reilly. He is known for playing Perry White in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Nathan Bates in V, Mayor Bates in Red Dawn, Jim Trotter III in My Cousin Vinny and Richard Nixon in The Final Days, for which he received a Golden Globe award nomination. Josef Sommer as Mr. Gerald Ducksworth. He made his film debut in Dirty Harry (1971) and appeared in films such as The Stepford Wives, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Still of the Night, Silkwood, Witness, Target, Malice, Patch Adams, and X-Men: The Last Stand. He appeared as President Gerald Ford opposite Gena Rowlands in the TV movie The Betty Ford Story.

Joshua Jackson as Charlie Conway. He is known for his role as Pacey Witter in Dawson’s Creek, Peter Bishop in Fringe, Cole Lockhart in The Affair, Mickey Joseph in When They See Us, and Bill Richardson in Little Fires Everywhere. His best known films include Cruel Intentions, The Skulls, and Shutter. Elden Henson as Fulton Reed. He is best known for playing Foggy Nelson in Daredevil and the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Pollux in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and Part 2.

Marguerite Moreau as Connie Moreau. She is best known for her role as Jesse Reeves in Queen of the Damned and Katie in Wet Hot American Summer. She has also made appearances on the popular television series Smallville, Lost, Cupid, and The O.C. Jussie Smollett as Terry Hall. He portrayed musician Jamal Lyon in Empire. Smollett has also appeared in Alien: Covenant and Marshall.

Steven Brill as Frank Huddy. He is the screenwriter of the film. He directed and co-wrote Little Nicky and directed Mr. Deeds, Without A Paddle, Heavyweights, and Drillbit Taylor. George Coe as Judge. He played “M. Lindsey Woolsey” opposite Angela Lansbury in the original production of Mame; as “Owen O’Malley” in On The Twentieth Century, and creating the role of David in the original Broadway production of Company. Coe was an original member of the “Not Ready For Prime Time Players”, the original cast of Saturday Night Live.He was only credited as a cast member for the first show. He appeared in Kramer vs. Kramer, and Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. His various television appearances include Star Trek: The Next Generation, Murder, She Wrote, Bones, My Wicked, Wicked Ways: The Legend of Errol Flynn, Judging Amy, The King of Queens, Nip/Tuck, Grey’s Anatomy, Columbo, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Gilmore Girls, The Golden Girls, Wilfred, and The West Wing. He voiced the character of Woodhouse, the much-put-upon valet in the FX animated series Archer. He voiced the Autobot Wheeljack in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Coe provided voice acting for the video games The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Guild Wars 2.

Critical Reception:

  • Roger Ebert said the film was ‘sweet and innocent, and that at a certain level it might appeal to younger kids. I doubt if its ambitions reach much beyond that’, and gave it a 2 star rating.
  • Rita Kempley of The Washington Post described the film as ‘Steven Brill, who has a small role in the film, constructed the screenplay much as one would put together some of those particleboard bookcases from Ikea.’

Sequels:

  • D2: The Mighty Ducks Bombay decides to try out in the minor leagues and becomes the star player for the Minnehaha Waves, with an easy pathway to the NHL. After a career-ending knee injury, he is offered a chance to coach a team representing the United States in the Junior Goodwill Games. For this, he reunites his Ducks and they lose against Team Iceland in an embarrassing defeat. Team USA continues to suffer, until they come across a street hockey team who teaches them how to play like “the real Team USA”. Bombay realizes the most important thing is to have fun and after a change in attitude, the Ducks redeem themselves by working up the playoff ladder to meet Team Iceland in the finals. Team USA proves to be a match for Iceland, but the game ends in a tie, resulting in a shootout, which resulted in Team USA winning.
  • D3: The Mighty Ducks Charlie and his teammates are awarded scholarships to Eden Hall Academy, a prestigious Minnesota high school Bombay attended. Their arrival is met with hostility from the varsity team, as well as Bombay’s hand-picked successor, Ted Orion, whose emphasis on defensive two-way hockey irks Charlie. Not wanting to be on a team led by Orion, Charlie leaves the team, but rejoins as he learns the truth about Orion from Bombay. Charlie and Orion quickly bond in time for the JV-Varsity Showdown, and thanks in large part to the work of Charlie, the Ducks win on a shorthanded goal in the dying seconds of the game from unlikely goal scorer Greg Goldberg.
  • Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series It aired on the American Broadcasting Company for one season consisting of 26 episodes, from 1996-1997. The series takes place in a futuristic alternate anthropomorphic-universe, and follows the adventures of humanoid-duck superheroes.
  • The Mighty Ducks In January 2018, it was announced that a television series based on the original films was in the early stages of development at ABC Signature Studios as exclusive content for Disney+ streaming service. In February 2020, it was announced that Emilio Estevez will reprise his role as Coach Gordon Bombay in the series. The series was originally scheduled to begin production in February 2020, with principal photography taking place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In August 2020, it was announced that filming could officially begin after Disney TV Studios made a deal with British Columbia unions about testing the cast and crew members for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Legacy: Following the financial success of the first film, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim hockey team were founded in 1993, by The Walt Disney Company. The franchise was accepted by the NHL in December 1992, with an entrance fee of $50 million. Additionally, a brand-new arena, Anaheim Arena, was constructed for the team, located a short distance east of Disneyland.

An electronic, handheld LCD game titled, Mighty Ducks and based on the animated series of the same name, was released in 1996. The game was developed, created, and released by Tiger Electronics. At the now-defunct DisneyQuest locations, Mighty Ducks: Pinball Slam featured as one of the theme park attractions. Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort located at the Walt Disney World Resort, features a Mighty Ducks-themed section and swimming pool.

My take: There are worse films i suppose to build a franchise around. The kids are mostly good.

Available on Disney +?: Yes

Next Week: Huck Finn