Retro Review: ‘The Mighty Ducks’

When it comes to feel-good sports films, Disney has got it down. From Cool Running to Remember the Titans to Miracle, the House of Mouse knows how to get an audience on their feet cheering for a cinematic sporting event. In 1992, they produced one such film, the Mighty Ducks, which became a surprise hit and launched two sequels, a science fiction cartoon series, and even a real NHL team named for them. Despite all the success which fol its release, people may have forgotten what an enjoyable grounded flick the original flick was.

While everyone loves the slickly produced sequels, for me there is a spark in the original film of an amoral lawyer given the thankless task of turning an inner city group of kids into a hockey team. As a jaded adult who’s hockey dreams were dashed years ago, Coach Gordon Bombay struggles to connect with his team of misfits. But when he starts to be honest with them and care about them he and his Ducks truly bond.

What is bound to take anyone aback who has not seen this film in a while is that Gordon Bombay is not just “Disney” mean to the kids under his care, rather he is a downright jerk. His relationship with the kids on the team evolves in a very believable and realistic way, it is not always smooth sailing. But ultimately he finds a way to utilize their individual strengths to the benefit of the Ducks as whole. Watching it now as an adult I appreciate his character arc far more now than I did as a kid. It no doubt helped the performance of Emilio Estevez that the child actors he worked with were funny and downright likable. Granted not all of them remained likable or charming in real life, but they are easy to root for onscreen.

Directing a fast paced sport can not be an easy task, luckily Stephen Herek does so in a smart way. During the scenes of actual play the camera remains moving at a brisk pace, but never loses track of what the focus of the scene is. This smooth and kinetic style keeps the viewer sucked into the action. So muchso that in the climactic game when their rival Hawks pull their dirty tactics you take it personally.

This is one of those flicks which appeals to the undergdogs in all of us as all good sports movies should. This may be one of those lowkey examples of a movie which gets better with age. Revisiting this flick one may be surprised by how down-to-earth the tone is as well as the lack of Disney-isms which pervaded the sequels.