Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

DuckTales’ series finale brings the family back together for one last epic adventure

Illustration for article titled DuckTales’ series finale brings the family back together for one last epic adventure
Image: Disney ABC Press Site (Other)

I’ve mentioned this before, but I just can’t, in a million years, understand the “no mine cart chases” mantra that ostensibly has driven DuckTales’ story engine for the past three seasons. It makes sense in the broadest sense–generally, do what you can to avoid overused cliches in typical animated adventure shows–but it always struck me as inherently limiting and, well, strange. It’s an approach that certainly brought some amazing episodes and moments to this reboot: the first season, in particular, had some incredibly exciting, unexpected third acts. But it also hindered the show in a lot of smaller, shakier ways: third acts depending on not a single character noticing a entire town of people having no feet is absurd, even if the episode is otherwise great. (Mine cart chases aren’t even that common, and I’ve watched a ton of cartoons. It also feels like a weird slight against the original show’s best animated sequence, but that’s a discussion for another day.) DuckTales’ inclination to be about adventuring over just engaging in it has been its Achilles’ heel, often distracting it from being the show it could be.

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This is not to say that “The Last Adventure!” is bad or anything. In fact, it’s great! It’s beautiful and slick and twisty-turny and emotional in all the ways this iteration of the show has been successful at. In some ways, it’s actually too much, but it’s never quite overwhelming to the point that it’s grating. It’s wonderfully paced (save for perhaps the middle, where it cross-cuts between intense moments of action and revelations in an awkward, “stay tuned for the reveal!” kind of way, but uses a fun page-turning swipe transition throughout) and impressively animated. The fight scenes themselves are worth it alone, and I would argue are worthy of being compared to some of the best fight sequences in animation ever. It also, like showrunners Frank Angones and Matt Youngberg say, weaves in the many threads, characters, and plot points that have been set up across all three seasons. If you are deeply engaged in those details, in the great question of What Is This All Building Towards, then you will be satisfied.

Yet how many people were really asking that question? DuckTales is not really mystery/puzzle box show, and Bradford’s ultimate plan feels like it never quite congeals. It all centers around a multi-year, multi-layered plan to rid the world of chaos and insanity and adventure, and Bradford believes the catalyst of all of it is the McDuck (extended, loose) family, and specifically, Scrooge himself. And to get at him, it all begins with one Webbigail Vanderquack. It makes sense, in a way. Webby has always been the character through which we learn all about this entire family, the girl who never quite fit in but learned to be herself and embrace the sheer scope of her family connections and personalities. In celebrating her birthday, the entire Duck clan (not all of them, as a few of the characters present seem to disappear) stage a surprise spy craft infiltration mission through Funso’s Fun Zone, much to the delight of Webby–a great gag in and of itself. The mission is to take down F.O.W.L. once and for all, but instead, they find a bigger shocker: two young girls floating in test tubes.

If you know your Duck comics and Ducks history, you’d probably recognize them, recognize the issue in their discover, and then put two and two together (I’ll get into the details of this in a bit). But for now, the entire Duck clan returns home with said twins and debate what’s going on and what to do next. This is the first part where things get shaky, as they bring in Huey to deliberate (it was his plan to infiltrate F.O.W.L. after all) but they leave out the other kids. Why? They actively played a part in the initial infiltration, and I get why they may not be engaged in the minutiae of planning, but the implication here is that they’re on a need-to-know basis for safety/protection reasons. It doesn’t make sense to do this so suddenly, and I think the show recognizes this as a bad idea, but it never quite follows through in acknowledging it. (Later in the episode, Louie and the kids easily convince Scrooge to come along on the mission, which, yeah, the kids have proven themselves constantly in death-defying ways. The “sanctity and safety of the kids” thing at this point feels like narrative feet dragging.)

It’s also strange because “The Last Adventure” is forced to be both a Webby story and a Huey story. It’s a Huey story in that the past two seasons ended with a singular focus on a triplet, so it follows that it would (try to) provide Huey with his own spotlight. It’s also a Webby story in that May and June are clones of Webby, and Mrs. Beakley past actions and lies deeply affect Webby’s behavior and understanding of herself. (Between this episode and “Escape From The ImpossiBin!”, in which Beakley almost kills Webby just to prove a point, she’s coming off as a pretty terrible character). Huey is tempted by Bradford, who lies and pretends to be simply cataloguing the artifacts that Isabella Finch was searching for, so Huey can goad Webby to acquiesce for his needs. That all falls apart, and Huey’s story kind of get lost, but it does lead to a nice collective moment with the triplets bonding. Love to see those three together, even if Huey never gets the precise focus he needs. Webby goes through the ringer though. She bonds with May and June only to be betrayed by them, then (in a really great twist) pretends to be one to infiltrate the halls of nu-F.O.W.L./Library of Alexandria to find out what the heck is going on. She finds out Mrs. Beakley was lying about her parents and upbringing. She discovers she’s a clone and therefor a daughter to Scrooge herself. It’s a lot, and a slightly rushed ending doesn’t neglect how great Webby, and by extension, Kate Micucci, manages so many emotional plates.

The full play-by-play of the story is too much to recap. Basically Bradford wants to wipe out the McDuck family (and apparently all the characters within the McDuck orbit) from existence, and planned several years of deviousness to make it happen. He forces Scrooge to sign the Papyrus of Binding to be a regular old person instead of his adventurous self, after a chaotic and crazy set of events. Bradford doesn’t consider himself a villain but a businessman, despite growing into multiple forms of demonic villainy to make this plan work. In the end, he loses the Sword of Swanstantine and reverts back to his regular self, and also fails to make the Binding stick because while the terms forced Scrooge to stop adventures and be a family man, it failed to acknowledge that family is adventure. (Even metaphorically, that’s a stretch, and Bradford even says as much, but it still somehow works.) The episode is one hundred percent committed to the events, being more sincere about the connective power of adventuring and figuring things out as a family–the familial sentiment is uttered so many times that even The Fast and The Furious franchise would tell them to take it down a notch. It’s a better sentiment than being heavily analytical and self-aware about it though, making the episode land right in the sweet spot of the best of series finales.

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So, does new DuckTales work as a whole? Yeah, of course. It’s fun, funny, smart, emotional, exciting, well-animated, and filled with sharp, well-considered characters (give or take a Mark Beaks, who notably doesn’t show up anywhere in this episode). Will it be as memorable or significant as the original show? Harder to say. I think this show is a good example of how a “characters over plot” mentality can falter in the long run, and how great characters can’t quite prop up complicated, disparaging storytelling. Characters will be memorialized here, but I can’t say for sure any of the episodes as a whole will be. But issues aside, DuckTales was a fun adventure while it lasted, a grab-bag of self-aware, nostalgic fan service across a wide swarth of comics, movies, cartoons, and shorts. It never quite came together for any length of time, and it solved some great mysteries, but will it rewrite history? I Dew not think so.


Stray observations

  • Was Don Karnage revealed to be in F.O.W.L. before? I don’t remember that. In fact, while I think the series finale is a great core send-off for the show, I also think it expects more from its audience than they’re probably willing to give. I forgot basically what all the artifacts do, for example, but they re-explain some of them (The Sword of Swanstantine) better than others (The Stone of What Was).
  • There’s a subplot with Della and Donald, in which Donald wants to vacation with Daisy away from the family and all the adventures. The implication is that it’s an extended/permanent vacation. It’s a bit undercooked, especially since Daisy completely disappears from the story, but Donald and Della sell it so well. The two, even in the end, are by far the best characters of this show, and deserve spin-off animated shorts after this. (I was a bit confused why Donald wanted to bring May and June, specifically, with him on his and Daisy’s vacation in the end though. It’s not like they connected in any way.)
  • Speaking of which, I don’t know how I feel about the “Webby is actually April” concept, the third triplet of the female set. I think they get away with it because the April, May, and June characters are probably unfamiliar to US audiences, but it also feels a bit like a cop-out. I think it also gets smothered up by the OTHER reveal that Webby is a clone/daughter of Scrooge himself. It’s a lot, and also there’s no time for either Scrooge, Webby, or Mrs. Beakley to stew on this.
  • While re-doing Steelbeak as a meathead brawler type who failed upward in the F.O.W.L. ranks works, it’s weird to see him as that good of a fighter. He makes himself smarter during the fight but he doesn’t fight smarter, he just becomes more of a brawler. It seems odd.
  • Also, I found it weird that this fight involved Launchpad so heavily. It sort of feels like the episode wanted to provide Launchpad with a Moment, to perhaps fix his lack of uses in the show as a whole? Launchpad was used just enough through out the show though, and I never thought he needed a significant amount of time to come into his own or whatever.
  • Phantom Blot’s weapon shatters and Gene, the genie from “Quack Pack!” escapes, and apparently hauls tail. He never shows up again, and it’s unclear how or what he was doing in that weapon in the first place.
  • Bradford is ridiculed by the formerly possessed Magica, Glomgold, and Ma Beagle as a (non)villain, although he came closest to stopping Scrooge more than those three ever did. Magica turns him into a crow to keep in revenge for capturing them. (I’m not sure what those cages were made out of that NONE of the various powerful characters could break out of them, but the episode didn’t want you to think about that.)
  • I sort of feel like there was a missed opportunity to really mix it up with the various villains and pit them all against Scrooge. I was surprised that Magica, Glomgold, and Ma just... left at the end. Scrooge and the family were at their most vulnerable! Episode was over though.
  • (One more thing–the previous episode, “The Life And Crimes Of Scrooge McDuck!”, was frustrating in a lot of ways, particularly during a week of how bad TV is at employing justice, forgiveness, consequences, and accountability.)
  • And that’s it for DuckTales! Thank you all for following and reading my recaps and drop-ins! I enjoyed the show for what it was but I don’t think it ever really won me over except for the “Della on the Moon” arc. But it’s a visually exciting show that had a clear point of view, and even if I wasn’t always on board with that point of view, it’s worth respecting. There’s a ton of stuff I missed, so please feel free to bring them up in the comments!
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Contributor, The A.V. Club, with a clear preference for all things cartoons; check out his main blog at http://www.totalmediabridge.com.