So I decided to take a trip down memory lane (the 90's to be exact) and review one of my favorite childhood movie series, Disney's The Mighty Ducks. These movies defined a generation of kids and gave birth to terms like cake-eater (negative term for a rich kid), knuckle-puck (a hockey move of a flipped puck on its side and then shot straight into the net at break neck speed), the 'Flying V' (a skating technique), the slogan "Ducks Fly Together!" And the most important life lesson of never quacking at the principal.
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The Mighty Ducks (1992)
|The Mighty Ducks (1992)|
As a a child, Gordon Bombay's life consisted of two things, his dad and hockey of which had a great deal of talent. Then his father died and Gordon ends up failing his team in winning their championship game when he misses the penalty goal. From that moment on, Gordon put away all hopes of hockey, but memories of his lost father and failed dreams still haunt him.
Years later Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) is now a hot-shot lawyer who seems to have everything going for him, but when he's arrested for drunk driving, life takes a slight detour. That leads him to community service of coaching the worst pee-wee hockey team in Minneapolis. Although the kids have potential, no one has cared too much to train them and they only play hockey for lack of anything better to do with their time. At first meeting, the kids and Bombay develop an immediate dislike for one another and Gordon feels that there is no hope for them.
Then Gordon runs into two men who both had a significant influence in his life. His old coach, Jack Riley who still coaches the best pee-wee team and Hans, an elderly Norwegian immigrant who taught Gordon how to skate as a child. Meeting up with Jack triggers Gordon's memories of failure and loss of which he takes out on the kids. However, Han's kindly instruction begins to open up Gordon's once closed off spirit and encourages him to give the kids a chance. Gordon takes Han's advice and with a little sponsoring he turns the rag-tag underdog team that was once known as District 5 and turns them into the championship bound Mighty Ducks.
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D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994)
|D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994)|
Several years later Gordon is playing professional hockey, but a knee injury sends him back home to live with Han's brother, Jan. Unsure at what to do next, fate intervenes when he is asked to bring the Ducks back together and enter the Junior Goodwill Games in Las Angeles, California. Joined with several newcomers, the Ducks become Team U.S.A and begin to rise to the top of the Goodwill Games, becoming immediate favorites and seeming undefeatable. However, Gordon gets caught up in the fame and attention and leaves the kids on their own, which allow them ample opportunities to get into trouble.
Then the fiercely competitive Icelandic team catch up with them, putting strain on Gordon's ability as a coach and leader. After a humiliating defeat from Iceland, Gordon puts the kids through rigorous exercises, demeaning them when they don't do well and refusing to listen to reason. The kids soon begin to resent Gordon and question why they're even there, but they get a wake up call when they play with a street hockey team and end up gaining a needed team member.
Meanwhile, Gordon gets put in his place by the team tutor Michelle McKay who intervenes on the kid's behalf and instructs him to take a break. Then Jan comes to Las Angeles and, like his brother, gently reminds Gordon of why he started the Ducks and to remember his love of hockey. Gordon and the kids reunite, stronger than ever, and begin to to play as a team. However, the Iceland team do not give up and they will stop at nothing to defeat team U.S.A., but they soon find out that before they were Team U.S.A, they were Ducks first and Ducks don't always play nicely.
While the movie received poor ratings, it's my favorite as well as a consistent favorite among the fans. The movie was made to have an Olympic Games feeling to it and is probably the funniest of all the films, without the cheesiness of the first one.
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D3: The Mighty Ducks (1996)
|D3: The Mighty Ducks (1996)|
The kids are now teenagers and have all received scholarships to the prestigious Eden Hall Academy where they will play Junior Varsity hockey. All prospects seem bright, but Gordon drops the a-bomb when he tells the kids that he won't be their coach and takes a position at the Junior Goodwill Games. Gordon's replacement ends up being strict and overbearing coach Ted Orion. Orian was a former NHL champion who (like Gordon in the beginning) clashes with the kids, especially the team captain, Charlie Conway (Gordon's favorite).
This film focuses more on Charlie as the lead character and how he struggles to adjust to the snobby private school and dealing with the superior Varsity team that clearly don't want the former Ducks there. Charlie's major antagonism is directed toward Orion who he believes is trying to destroy everything that the Ducks had. Like Gordon, Charlies seeks advice from Hans, but unlike Gordon, he refuses to take it. The other Ducks, however, don't deter from their trouble-making and begin to cause friction within the school. After a final fall-out with the Varsity team and a humiliating reprimand from Coach Orion, Charlie quits hockey and leaves the school.
Tragedy strikes and Charlie is brought back to deal with the loss of an old friend. Angrier and more confused than ever, Charlie gets a surprise visit from Gordon who relays to him the importance of teamwork, true leadership and surprising secrets of Coach Orion's life. Charlie returns to the team with a deeper understanding of a real team player and greater respect for Coach Orion, who now sees the Ducks as a winning team who need their captain back. When the kid's scholarships are temporarily revoked by the school, Orion puts his own career on the line to keep them there, but unexpected help comes and the kids stay to show Eden Hall Academy how to play hockey like Ducks.
Like the second film, this one got poor reviews, but I still thought it was a great movie! The kids all grew up very well and it was great seeing how far Charlie had come from the shy boy in the beginning, to the confident teenager at the end. Also, how Gordon begins to take the position as the wise mentor and uses his life experience to teach and train the kids. The pranks between the Varsity and Junior Varsity teams are unforgettable and there was a great deal of humor that balanced out the stronger drama in this one.
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I believe that every generation has a movie franchise that have people look back in their childhood and think "Those movies were awesome!" That's how I've always felt about The Mighty Ducks. They're your quintessential feel good Disney sports films that were made to make you laugh at the realities of life. The kids were a bunch of underdogs that needed a push from an unlikely force to bring out their true talents. Gordon Bombay, himself, was always a great character to me and one of the reasons I loved the second one so much is how his own character development was stronger than that of the kids. These films are the absolute films of my childhood and no matter how old I get, I will always have a special place in my heart for the 'Ducks.'