Extended Thoughts on ‘D2: The Mighty Ducks’
D2: The Mighty Ducks
Directed by Sam Weisman
Written by Steven Brill
Starring Emilio Estevez and Kathryn Erbe
Making a good sports movie can be a difficult prospect, no matter what sport’s in the spotlight. Not everyone seeing your movie is an aficionado of the game. For every great baseball movie, someone may be in the audience and completely lost by whatever minutia is being presented to them. The same goes for basketball, football, and hockey movies. What’s more, if a filmmaker targets their sports movie specifically to die-hard fans of the game, they may find themselves at a bit of a loss when the movie sails over most people’s heads. I don’t deny that it’s potentially more difficult to target a movie about something so narrowly focused to a wide audience. But it’s something filmmakers should try.
This goes double for family movies. Maybe I’m too idealistic about this, but a great family movie isn’t just for kids. It’s for everyone. One of the many reasons why I do the Mousterpiece Cinema podcast on a weekly basis is because I love Disney movies now as much as I did when I was a kid. Part of that is because it’s nice to be reminded of the great parts of one’s childhood, but part of it is that some Disney movies hold up as much now—if not work better now—as they did when I was a kid. So many family films, whether they’re from Walt Disney Pictures or any other movie studio, however, aim squarely at the kiddie audience, as opposed to the parents who are dragged along. A few others—more now than back in the 1990s or earlier—aim more toward those parents and ignore the kids. Finding the balance is harder than we might think.
Let’s also be clear: I’m not shocked that the majority of Disney movies are targeted first (or only) at kids. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be let down when the people behind those movies don’t try harder to entertain everyone in the theater or at home, as opposed to the youngest members of the audience. I suppose it should come as no surprise that the first of two sequels to The Mighty Ducks, called D2: The Mighty Ducks (and would someone please tell me why they didn’t just call it The Mighty Ducks 2?), appeals mostly to children. I say “mostly,” because if you’ve listened to the podcast, you know that my co-host, Michael Ryan, found plenty to enjoy with D2. As, however, I argue on the podcast, the biggest reason why Michael loves the movie so much (or why I think he loves it, mind you) is all the details about hockey. I’m a casual fan of the sport, so while I recognized Wayne Gretzky in his quick and inexplicable cameo, I don’t know about the origins of knucklepuck, brought to life here by one of the team’s new players.
Credit where it’s due, of course: for getting (seemingly; again, I’m not the expert on the sport) these minor details correct, from referencing knucklepuck to older Olympic games, I commend this movie. But the best Disney movies–nay, the best movies, family or otherwise–are universal. You and I may struggle to compare ourselves initially to the lead characters of, say, The Dark Knight or The Shawshank Redemption or There Will Be Blood, because we haven’t been oil barons, gone to prison, or been rich superheroes, but we can find similar enough traits in those heroes and the supporting characters in their respective stories to latch onto. That’s really not the case in D2, despite a few half-hearted attempts by screenwriter Steven Brill and director Sam Weisman to project some kind of challenge for lead character Gordon Bombay to overcome. The idea that Bombay, returning to coach the Ducks plus a few new players at a Junior Goodwill Games after a career-ending injury in the minor leagues, would be lured to the dark side of fame isn’t a bad idea, but the movie never fully commits to it. When Gordon has a Come to Jesus moment midway through the film, staring out into the abyss on the top of a patio at a swanky LA party, it has no dramatic power because Gordon’s barely been convinced to ditch the team he’s coaching.
The other glaring problem with the movie is that it, more so than its predecessor, is quite dated. Movies from the mid-1990s don’t have this problem automatically, to be fair. Some movies hold up as well today as they did when they were released, whether they’re for kids, adults, or everyone. But partly because it’s keyed into the mentality of the mid-1990s, a mentality that wouldn’t definitively occur now, D2 sticks out like a sore thumb more often than not. Most of the scenes set in Los Angeles, outside of the training and hockey games themselves, are nearly parodies of what the 1990s were like. And the gags that are meant to make us laugh…well, I was laughing, but not for the right reasons. I think it’s safe to say that I enjoyed most of the humor in this movie ironically, but even if I got a kick out of watching boys drool over models without a larger punchline (and in a kids’ movie), that doesn’t mean the humor succeeded.
Unlike the original film, D2 goes all in with the goofy humor. There are cartoonish, exaggerated special effects; there are pranks; and there’s wacky music. Weisman–who would go on to make a far wackier and far funnier Disney live-action movie a few years later in the form of George of the Jungle–doesn’t back away from silliness. The problem is that the silliness doesn’t serve any purpose aside from placating bored children before they yank on their parents’ shirt sleeves and ask, “When is the hockey going to come back?” I know that plenty of people–my wife and Michael included–still find a lot to love in this series, and this film specifically. I’m not sure what it is, unless you’re either a hockey buff (Michael clearly is) or you just watched the movie at the right point in your life for it to stick in your mental nostalgia bank forever (that would be where my wife falls). Though I saw the film as a child, I remembered nothing of it and found that my memory didn’t play a trick on me by hiding a hidden gem.
D2: The Mighty Ducks does not rank with some of the more unwatchable films I’ve written or talked about on the podcast, though at points, it comes close. In terms of having some legitimately silly and unnecessarily outrageous scenes, it’s up there with Pete’s Dragon and Herbie Rides Again. Perhaps the biggest issue of all, one I didn’t really go into on the podcast but that should be brought up here, is that there’s very little dynamism among the cast. Yes, each of the kids has a wacky character trait (and it’s just the one, and barely that many), but that doesn’t make any of them breakout characters. While Estevez seems to enjoy himself, he never feels completely comfortable as Bombay here. It’s almost as if–and considering this film had a very quick turnaround after the original made a lot of money at the box office–he was unhappy to return to the role but had to do it simply to meet the terms of his contract. (I know little of the third film, having never seen it, but I notice that he’s in the movie in a supporting role. Very interesting.)
In some ways, that’s the trouble with D2: The Mighty Ducks. It doesn’t feel necessary. Sure, it’s not as shoehorned in as Herbie Rides Again, a movie that clearly only existed to make money. But there’s barely any concept here. “We need to capitalize on this franchise RIGHT NOW.” I can hear Michael Eisner saying this, echoing through the halls of Walt Disney Pictures. Capitalizing on a past success makes sense in business. But there’s little qualitative value to this movie, as much as I wish I could say otherwise. Maybe if I loved hockey as much as Michael does, I’d see more to this sequel.