Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers – Series premiere review

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It’s almost 30 years since the favorite Minnesota youth hockey team first skated in our hearts with their compelling underdog story that’s deeply relatable, fun and heartwarming. Now, Disney + is hoping to recapture all of that ’90s’ good feeling’ with its updated version of the franchise, titled The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers. At the series premiere, co-creators Steven Brill, Josh Goldsmith, and Cathy Yuspa manage to successfully balance the show’s cheesy charm with real moments of tenderness and heart. The first episode does a solid job of explaining its legacy through exposure that isn’t too long. Throughout all three ’90s films, The Mighty Ducks were the rising team who had to prove they deserved to compete with the best young hockey players the world had to offer. Step forward a few decades to the Game Changers series premiere, and the Ducks are now a hockey powerhouse, winning 10 state championships in a row.

This intriguing twist of the franchise’s narrative offers a unique take on the Ducks, who are now (at least in the first episode) seen as the oppressors, with a win-at-all-cost mentality. Most of the story is told through the lens of Evan Morrow of Brady Noon who, after being cut off by the Ducks, decides to put together a misfits squad with the help of his mother, Alex (played by Parenthood and Gilmore Girls’ Lauren Graham). While the overall story isn’t entirely original, it differs enough from the original movies that it’s worth watching.

And like its big-screen predecessors, The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers has a vibrant cast of kids with refreshing personalities. One of my favorites from the premiere is Luke Islam’s Koob. He’s a homebody who would rather stay in his family’s basement playing video games than go out and chat with people. However, he is also blessed with super-fast reflexes which make him an ideal goalkeeper for the team. There’s also De-Jon Watts’ Sam, an aspiring daredevil who likes to take risks but doesn’t like following the rules.The first fulfills its purpose properly by allowing the viewer to familiarize themselves with the world and its characters as Evan builds his team, but we don’t get much hockey in his 38 minutes. This is by no means a deciding factor, especially since there are still nine episodes left for many action-packed Ice Capades to feast on. If anything, the series premiere plays it all a bit too safe with its proven outsider formula.

Gordon Bombay, former returning Mighty Ducks (played again by Emilio Estevez), is more of a supporting character in the first episode, playing the owner of a decrepit hockey rink. Bombay has no interest in coaching Evan’s team, but we don’t yet know why. Estevez is (as always) solid in his portrayal of the former pro hockey player, but I really wanted him to be more cranky and callous (like Mark Hamill’s Luke in The Last Jedi). Still, I can’t wait to see how his relationship with Alex (Evan’s mom) evolves over the season. Are they going to pursue something romantic or just be friends? Time will tell us.

While the characters are fun to watch, the show still feels like it’s stuck in the ’90s. Where Netflix’s Excellent Cobra Kai reboot found a way to bring their 35-year-old story to the present by discussing the complex adult family dynamics and redemption of a seemingly failed high school bully, Game Changers never really feel like there is. He really had something on the line. His sweetness and innocence are deftly pulling the chords, but the series lacks a much-needed tension (for now) to make the Game Changers stand out from similar underdog stories.

Disney + Spotlight: April 2021

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