Stars Lauren Graham, Brady Noon, Maxwell Simkins, Swayam Bhatia, Julee Cerda, Luke Islam, Bella Higginbotham, Taegen Burns, Kiefer O’Reilly, De’Jon Watts, Emilio Estevez.
Nearly 30 years after the first Mighty Ducks movie, “The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers” perfectly captures the spirit of the original films, which is to say it’s a bit cheesy, a touch sentimental, and a whole lot of fun.
For those not up on their Ducks history, the team traces its origins to the first film in 1992, when hotshot attorney Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) is nabbed for a DUI and forced into community service coaching a ragtag group of misfits in a Minnesota peewee ice hockey league. That core group of kids then becomes Team U.S.A. in the 1994 sequel, before heading off to high school together in the 1996 third movie, embracing the motto “Ducks Fly Together.”
Picking up 25 years later, the Ducks have become a powerhouse of Minnesota youth hockey, embodying the winning-is-everything attitude that the original team always fought against.
When one of the Ducks players, Evan Morrow (Brady Noon), is cut from the team for not being able to train in the offseason with private coaches and devoting all of his free time to improving at hockey for the sake of the team, his mother, Alex (Lauren Graham), decides to start a new hockey team for all the other kids who don’t quite fit in, under the motto “Putting Fun First.” They call themselves the Don’t Bothers, after being told by the Ducks coach that they shouldn’t even try to compete.
In need of a home arena for the Don’t Bothers, Alex happens across the Ice Palace, a run down rink managed by Bombay himself, who has fallen on hard times the past few decades after bending some recruiting rules while serving as a college coach at some point. Gordon claims to be sick of hockey and kids, and only lets the Don’t Bothers use the rink because he needs their stipend to stay in business. Soon enough, however, Alex and the team help Gordon rediscover the passion for the game that he hasn’t known since he was the Ducks’ coach so many years ago, and he helps them prepare for the inevitable final showdown with the Mighty Ducks.
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The show’s first season, consisting of 10 episodes, brings in a number of memorable characters who, like most characters in the franchise, have plenty of quirks that translate into unconventional hockey skills.
The storylines are about one what might expect from a show like this. The new team has to recruit players and learn how to play together. When they start to win, Alex lets it go to her head as she starts to adopt the same training tactics they wanted to get away from. And Gordon gets a visit from some of the original Ducks players to both tickle fans’ nostalgia bones and remind everyone what they’re playing for — the spirit of the Ducks.
The show is filled with callbacks to the original films — some overt, some more subtle — which should please longtime fans without confusing new viewers. Though, really, it’s not too hard to check out the trilogy before diving into the show. The movies are on Disney+ too.
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Among the best gags related to the movies: the Hawks, the bad guy powerhouse team from the original film, is now the worst team in the league prior to the Don’t Bothers joining. And the music makes liberal use of the classic Mighty Ducks theme. And, like the movies, the show kind of fudges the semantics and rules of youth leagues for the sake of the story. For example, teams are seemingly allowed to poach players from rival teams, which in most leagues is called tampering and is illegal.
But the show also makes references to past events that raise a few questions by not quite matching what was in the films, such as Bombay’s hockey career after the first film. Also, references to the “original” Ducks include players who weren’t in the first movie but were introduced in the sequels.
However, these are minor quibbles easily glossed over with a bit of head canon if the show doesn’t want to address them, and certainly shouldn’t take away from enjoyment of this series.