‘The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers' convincingly tilts the ice
The 10-episode series, starring Emilio Estevez, Lauren Graham and Brady Noon, began streaming on Disney+ last Friday.
He hates hockey and he doesn’t like kids. No matter, Gordon Bombay is back.
Bombay, founder and former coach of The Mighty Ducks, a youth hockey team, now runs a fledgling Twin Cities ice rink with a busted Zamboni and wants no part in Minnesota’s ultracompetitive youth hockey scene. But, ironically enough, that won’t stop Bombay from doling out sage wisdom to a group of middle-school players and a single mother who are in need of an intervention.
Played once again by Emilio Estevez, Bombay has reached peak curmudgeon status in “The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers,” the new Disney+ original series that began streaming March 26. Though Bombay has completely soured, once again, on both hockey and kids since the release of Disney’s The Mighty Ducks film trilogy from the 1990s, he develops a soft spot while eating leftover birthday cake for Alex Morrow, Lauren Graham’s character, and her 12-year-old-son named Evan Morrow, who is portrayed by Brady Noon.
With little help from his mother, Evan finds himself quickly cut from his Ducks’ team prior to the start of the new hockey season, leaving him on the outs with his middle-school friends. Alex, meanwhile, decides to re-inflate her son’s love for the sport by helping him put together a new youth team with other kids from his school that are more focused on having fun than becoming elite players. Easier said than done, given Evan has been living Ducks’ hockey and culture like a church missionary for years already.
Much of what’s in the show’s first episode works splendidly, especially how Bombay and Alex jell. They quickly find themselves sharing a key goal; for kids to simply be kids, and they aim to puncture a youth hockey scene that boasts players being churned out by hockey clubs that exist as factories catering to obsessed kids, who have dreams of one day skating in the National Hockey League, and their affluent parents that seem to have bottomless wallets.
Bombay, who is essentially a Mr. Miyagi for youth hockey players, instead of training karate students from the 1980s, hates that he’s devoted so much of his life and energy to the sport. He also seems to dislike that the Ducks have become what he initially taught his original group of kids to be against back in the first Ducks’ movie, when the team faced off against the Hawks, Bombay’s youth club from when he was a boy. There’s a now-famous movie quote from the “The Dark Knight” which states: "You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Following that logic, it seems the Ducks have not only gotten too big for their pads, they’ve become the villain since last being seen on the silver screen 25 years ago.
Though the three Mighty Ducks films from the ’90s were all at least partially filmed on location in Minnesota, not one scene was shot in the Land of 10,000 Lakes for this show’s 10-episode first season. A lack of tax rebates being available for production, and the COVID-19 pandemic, made it unfeasible. The series, however, has got plenty of University of Minnesota garb and spot-on acting which, in my opinion as resident of the Twin Cities area who is pretty dialed into the state’s hockey scene, captures much of the state’s culture and obsession for hockey rather well.
Television has been packed with reboots in recent years. Some are retreads, capitalizing on nostalgia to power a new iteration of a franchise with ratings and brand power. Others, like Peacock’s “Saved by the Bell” revival, have offered fresh and interesting takes that breathe life and new ideas into old properties. “The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers” fits the mold of the latter, as the original Ducks were a counter-culture team meant to undo the establishment, as represented by Bombay’s team from when he was a boy — the Hawks. Now, the Ducks are the problem and it’s up to Evan, his teammates, Alex, and Bombay to set things right.
From Steve Brill, screenwriter of The Mighty Ducks film trilogy, and developed with Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa, the first episode of “Game Changers” was directed by James Griffiths, who recently directed episodes of recently canceled ABC series “Stumptown.” Maxwell Simkins, whose character claims to have a body for podcasting instead of for playing hockey, Swayam Bhatia, Bella Higginbotham, Luke Islam and De’Jon Watts co-star.
What’s to become of Evan’s new team and will they be able to take the Ducks down a peg? Well, the second episode begins streaming this Friday. And, for a special treat, original cast members from the franchise’s film trilogy are set to appear in the sixth episode, which drops on April 30. In the meantime, sharpen those skates because it’s only a matter of time before Flying Vs and The Quack Attack spread through our pop culture lexicon again.