Earlier this month, I learned it was the 28th anniversary of The Mighty Ducks being released in theaters. That was when it hit me: I had never seen the film. Granted, I wasn’t even a one-year-old when the third film came out, but I love Disney and hockey, so I thought it only made sense to start watching the trilogy. (Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the movie yet, unless it’s just me who still hadn’t seen it.)
The Mighty Ducks was released in 1992, shortly after The Walt Disney Company founded The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. During this time, Michael Eisner was the CEO at Disney and has been credited with saving the company by building up the entertainment portion of the company. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were built a new arena, not far from Disneyland. Moreover, Ducks merchandise was available at all Disney stores and theme parks, with there even being a themed section and pool at Disney’s All Star Movies Resort.
The opening credits switch between the names of the cast and a flashback of who we learn to be the main character, Gordon Bombay (played by Emilio Estevez). The flashback depicts him at the 1973 Pee-Wee State Championships as his Hawks coach gives him one of the most discouraging speeches of all time. He refers to the team’s possible disappointment and how proud his recently deceased father would be, just as young Bombay is expected to make the game deciding penalty shot. No pressure. He takes the shot and hits the goal post, leading to present day, where Bombay is now a strategic attorney in Minnesota, with a 30-1 case record. He rejects free hockey tickets and is obsessed with winning, a quality instilled in him by his pee-wee hockey coach and the unconscious desire to not fail again. That night, he’s arrested for drinking while driving. Yikes.
It becomes apparent, if it already wasn’t, that this would be the redemption tale of Gordon Bombay, following the typical Disney formula - that of a “bildungsroman” - where the hero begins their true journey at their lowest point. Instead of losing everything, his boss is able to cut a deal for him: he’s put on probation with a leave of absence and is expected to perform 500 hours of community service by coaching the District 5 pee-wee hockey team. Ironically, he says that “kids are barely human”, but it’s his emotional trauma from that last hockey game he played that totally changed the trajectory of his life.
The audience is then introduced to the children of the team, who run away from the trouble they create through back alleys and play hockey on the makeshift rink in the local park. Still rejecting his past and this punishment, Gordon pulls up in a limo and law attire. The scene ends with all the characters not liking each other.
Gordon’s first game as coach is against his old team and his old coach who doesn’t know how to give a pep talk, Coach Riley. The kids arrive in a slew of mismatched uniforms and secondhand equipment. To top it off, their goalie, Goldberg, is afraid to be hit by the puck. It goes without saying, they know they’re going to lose before the game even starts. Embarrassed by the kids, Gordon decides to teach them to embellish in order to draw penalties. When Charlie (played by a young Joshua Jackson) refuses to cheat, it doesn’t sit well with our main character. It takes a late-night visit to old Hans, Gordon’s mentor and “spirit guide” so to speak, and the owner of the ice hockey store that Gordon went to as a kid, to remind Gordon of his passion for hockey. We also learn that Gordon scored 198 goals during his last season in just 14 games...So, he averaged 14 goals a game...Moving on.
Bombay: I'm proud to be a Duck, and I'd be proud to fly with any one of you. So how about it? Who's a Duck? #MightyDucks— Mighty Ducks (@EdenHallDucks) October 28, 2020
After apologies are made, Gordon decides to actually take this coaching gig seriously and talks the head of his law firm, Mr. Ducksworth, into sponsoring the District 5 team. He gives them a new identity and a clean slate by giving them a name to make them feel like a real team - the Ducks. The kids are excited, finally having actual hockey gear and an experienced coach. Additionally, Gordon acquires some more talent for the team with three more local kids and the top Hawks player, Adam Banks, by providing legal documentation that Banks lives in District 5. Two of the kids later overhear and misinterpret Gordon’s conversation with Coach Riley, which creates more conflict and further tests the characters’ morals. There’s a parallel moment in the movie when Gordon’s job is on the line over this new legality he highlighted to the league and when the team starts fighting with each other at school. Gordon quacks at his boss - no, really, he quacks - and loses his job. The kids quack at their principal, earning detention. This is the turning point for Gordon and his team, their quacking symbolizing their unity as they come together again and make the playoffs.
Then, they run into the Minnesota North Stars, in the movie real life NHLer Basil McRae remembers Gordon from their pee-wee days, and the Ducks get to privately skate on their rink. After, they get to see the North Stars play against the Hartford Whalers, probably the most dated scene of the movie. Gordon goes on a date with Charlie’s mother. Not sure why this was necessary to the film other than to show a different side to Gordon and make him the father figure Charlie lacks, just as Gordon himself misses.
The playoffs begin with the Ducks not surprisingly making the State Finals against the Hawks. Because, after an hour, they’re good now.
The final showdown begins with the Ducks not passing well and lacking defensively, goalie Goldberg coming too far out of the net and creating scoring opportunities for the Hawks. Coach Riley basically tells the kids to injure Banks no matter what the cost in order to get him out of the game because the guy cannot have his ego bruised by Gordon any further. What a role model. Just as Banks takes the shot, another Hawk cross-checks him into the net where Banks scores, but also collides with the goalie and the goal post. In a series of gimmicks, Banks is taken off the ice, Fulton scores on the power play, Tammy distracts the Hawks with her fast figure-skating spinning, and the Ducks are suddenly only down by one. Just then, one of the Hawks puts a hit on Tammy and Fulton decides to flip the player over the bench, earning him a game misconduct and the Ducks are down another player.
The “Flying V” play where the team comes down the ice in a v-shaped formation, like birds, leads to a scoring opportunity and the game’s tied. Just as the buzzer sounds off, the Hawks get a penalty, awarding the Ducks a penalty shot. I would’ve bet good money at the beginning of the whole movie it would end in a penalty shot just as it began. Gordon chooses Charlie to take the big shot, giving him the reassuring and encouraging speech he could’ve used from Coach Riley back in ‘73. Charlie makes his way out to the puck, the frame slowing down as he skates closer to net, and does his “Triple Deke”. He shoots, he scores the winning goal!
As the team celebrates on the ice, Gordon thanks Hans and he kisses Charlie’s mother. The hero’s journey is now complete. He’s redeemed himself in the eyes of everyone around him. The movie comes to a close with the team giving Gordon advice and saying their goodbyes as he leaves to try out for minor league hockey. But, just as the bus is about to pull away, he says they have a title to defend next season. This was their way of letting the audience know there’d be a sequel.
It’s definitely a good movie to watch with kids for the themes of good versus bad, fear of failure, morality, overcoming, beating the odds, and redemption. I can also see why it became a sort of cult classic. There are definitely humorous moments and I did find myself rooting for the Ducks - No, I did not quack. I liked the inclusion of girls on the team. If I had watched this when I was younger, I know it would’ve been a movie I would’ve watched repeatedly and been a staple in my childhood. The film does a good job at showing the struggles that children in low-income communities face with hockey being a very costly sport to play. This teaches children that coming from different communities and financial backgrounds shouldn’t divide anyone, as seen through the eventual acceptance of Banks by his new teammates.
As an adult, I was a little bored with the lack of surprise in it. I wanted more from the storyline and I wanted to see more realistic situations. There were continuity errors in the plot and in certain shots of the film. I see it as a film that was solely made to really promote a new hockey franchise. But now, I’m invested in the storyline. What happens in D2:The Mighty Ducks?