It’s pretty much business-as-usual at this point for the corporate machines at Disney to unearth and repackage pretty much every single entertainment property under their ownership for a new generation. But for me, The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers is a pretty high stakes affair.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance this franchise had on me as a young boy with a burgeoning love for both hockey and movies. I will be a Ducks fan until the day I die. Seriously, just play Queen’s “We Are the Champions” at my funeral and engrave “Quack, Quack, Quack” on my tombstone and all will be right. But amidst all the rumours that have persisted throughout the years of a continuation of the saga that ended far too abruptly with the prep-school shenanigans of D3: The Mighty Ducks (not counting, of course, the subsequent short-lived animated series which introduced us to a distant planet called Puckworld and its population of humanoid hockey-obsessed ducks), I have only felt trepidation. What exactly would the Mighty Ducks look like in this day and age, so far removed from the scrappiness of their 1992 debut?
Well, as a team, it turns out they now look a lot like the Hawks, the villainous pee-wee team of the first film who just want one thing – to Win! Win! Win! Win! Win! The Ducks have now taken over as the elite club in the Minnesota area, the first step on the way to college scholarships and beyond. Only the kids with the most talent and, more importantly, financial support can survive. Which is why young Evan (Brady Noon of Good Boys) is unceremoniously cut from the roster at the series’ start.
With his harried working single mom, Alex (the always reliable Lauren Graham), struggling to keep up with the duties of being an uber-committed hockey parent, Evan’s progress has fallen only ever so slightly behind, causing the snide Coach T (Dylan Playfair, giving off big Gunnar Stahl energy) to frankly tell him, “If you’re not amazing at this age, don’t bother”. But with his mom’s encouragement, Evan endeavours to set up a new team to compete, aiming to attract everyone who’s been told they’re not good enough.
From here, Game Changers follows the same playbook that most modern reboots do, more or less copying the story beats of the original in a way that makes it “hipper” for younger viewers. Evan goes on a recruitment spree for the team, ending up with a lovably diverse crew of kids used to being labelled as misfits. The next challenge is overcoming the fact that very few of them even know how to skate properly, let alone play hockey, resulting in embarrassingly lopsided defeats in their first couple of games, particularly against the mercenary bullying Ducks team. But by relying on their plucky spirit, Evan’s team, cheekily named the Don’t Bothers, will nevertheless learn important life lessons about pride, teamwork and the importance of having fun.
Wait, where’s Coach Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez, or as A Night at the Roxbury’s Butabi brothers would say, “the Mighty Duck man himself!”) among all this? Turns out he’s now the owner/manager of the Ice Palace, a glorious old school rink used mainly for children’s birthday parties that becomes stand-in coach Alex’s last resort when searching for a home arena for the Don’t Bothers.
Sadly and shockingly, he’s no longer the Minnesota Miracle Man that he once was, disavowing hockey completely and hiding from the world after cutting ties with the Ducks organization when they became everything he had always fought against. Running the rink out of an obligation to old friend and mentor Jan (R.I.P.), Gordon allows the Don’t Bothers to move in. Despite the pleading of Evan and Alex, he absolutely refuses to lend any coaching advice. But we all know that Bombay’s heart can’t possibly stay cold forever. And his passion for the game can only be muted for so long.
Estevez snugly fits back into this role like a (hockey) glove, bridging the decades-long time gap with ease. He’s back in that sarcastic-asshole mode that he mined to such great comedic effect in the original film, regarding everything and everyone around him with disdain because of his own life’s disappointments. Trudging around with trays of leftover birthday cake constantly in hand, he’s able to ring legitimate laughs out of even the stalest jokes thrown his way.
Considering that original series creator and long-time collaborator Steve Brill is back captaining this reboot as well, the trust between the two is evident from the first moment Bombay appears onscreen. And even though he’s still in his leave-me-alone jerk phase through the show’s first three episodes (which was all that was made available for review), he still has warm chemistry with both Noon and Graham, echoing the enduring relationship with Joshua Jackson’s Charlie Conway and Heidi Kling’s Casey from the original trilogy.The show’s first season is slated to run for ten episodes. Which, to be honest, seems a little long for what’s essentially just a remake of the first movie. There’s no doubt you can feel the padding in the first three episodes. And the original film’s streetwise grit and edginess has been pretty much scrubbed clean. It would be nice to see some cameos from the original Ducks members at some point (a quick look at the IMDb page shows that a few of the former actors are credited – alas, Jackson is not one of them). Or failing that, at least from some real NHL players. Nothing brings me joy quite like watching professional athletes give it their best shot in front of the camera, something that the original trilogy was chock full of.
Yet despite all of my reservations, I must admit that this new iteration of The Mighty Ducks still often brought a smile to my face, especially whenever the iconic theme chimes in. The new kids may not be the same as the original group I grew up with. But they’re certainly not without their charms. And the show does well to expand on the team diversity aspect that was a progressive hallmark of the original series (minus some typically un-PC ‘90s moments). Game Changers champions a world where anyone, regardless of gender or race, can seriously play hockey, something that is unfortunately still not very true of the real world.
In the end, it all comes back to Emilio. And it’s truly heartwarming to see the former Hollywood superstar strap on the skates once again. He may have been one of the signature members of the Brat Pack. But to me, Estevez will always be Gordon Bombay. Though at one point he contemptuously viewed the part as the reason his dramatic acting career stalled, it has nevertheless remained his defining role, the perfect combination of his acerbic wit and big Disney-fied emotions. If nothing else, I’m eager to see where his story goes, and how much larger the myth of Gordon Bombay (who, let’s not forget, once scored 198 goals in a single season as a young player) can grow.
- Rated: TV-PG
- Genre: Comedy, Family, Sports
- Release Date: 3/26/2021
- Directed by: James Griffiths, Jay Karas, Michael Spiller
- Starring: Brady Noon, Dylan Playfair, Emilio Estevez, Lauren Graham, Maxwell Simkins, Swayam Bhatia
- Produced by: Arielle Boisvert, Damir Konjicija, Dario Konjicija, Shawn Williamson
- Written by: Cathy Yuspa, Jake Goldsmith, Steven Brill
- Studio: ABC, Disney