Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Worth a Watch: Mighty Ducks: Game Changers

Evan Morrow in Mighty Ducks: Game Changers

"What you’ve said has moved me, I will be your wall."
-- Koob, Mighty Ducks: Game Changers

Predictable, formulaic stories are the staple of commercially successful shows. Most of the time, it makes for movies and series that catch enough viewers to make a profit, but don't teach lessons or explore new ground. They're generally throwaway media - produced to make a quick buck. Occasionally, however, a smart writer and director use the framework a formulaic main story provides to give space for the exploration deeper themes.

The original Mighty Ducks movie (and its sequels) was formulaic. They all follow the same kids' sports movie formula: In each one, an adult starts with a big head or gets a big head, the players start bad or get bad, and then something happens where everyone learns a lesson or two, things get better, they win the important games and finally beat the big, bad other team. Predictable, clean, and, often, boring for adults who want nuance and complex themes. It would have been easy for Disney at the time to make a quick buck, leave the story simple, and move on. However, the willingness of the writer and director of the original The Mighty Ducks movie to address serious issues turned what could have been a forgettable movie into a memorable one.

The high-level formulaic nature of the original movie allowed space for the exploration of serious themes such as divorce and aborted dreams, navigation and formation of friendships, disappointment, and the possibility of redemption. As a kid, it not only entertained me, it spoke to me in ways that other forms of media couldn't. It was one of my favorite movies. I must have watched it twenty times or more. 

Charlie and Coach Bombay in "The Mighty Ducks"

I still watch The Mighty Ducks occasionally. I identify with Charlie, the main character in the show. I want the same kind of courage Charlie had as he faced up to his coach and refused to cheat. I wish I had had as a kid the same kind of close relationship with a trusted adult that Charlie had with his coach. I enjoy watching Charlie enjoy that relationship. I love watching Coach Bombay learn some lessons about service and character. I identify with him as he addresses his childhood pain and how it has affected his life.

I love films and shows that explore things I struggled with as a preteen and teenager. They help me feel less alone, and give me a way to learn lessons now about relationships that I failed to learn then. I hunger for shows like that.

Disney+'s new series "Mighty Ducks: Game Changers" fits the bill. It is still formulaic - Gordon Bombay again hates hockey, there's a team of kids that really don't know how to play, and the team starts winning as lessons are learned by the adults and the kids. That formulaic nature again allows for the exploration of many serious themes.

Gordon Bombay in Mighty Ducks: Game Changers

There is something for everyone. Middle schoolers will find common ground with Evan Morrow, the main character, as he navigates rejection, breaks and rebuilds trust, and takes his first steps in directing his own life as he enters adolescense. Adults will enjoy watching Gordon Bombay reconnect with his love of mentoring youth (and adults). They will identify with Alex Morrow, Evan's mother and the team's coach, as she tries to raise her son with the constraints of an aborted career and an absent father. The show doesn't shy away from difficult family situations and how they affect the kids and the adults.

Nick Ganz and Evan Morrow, practicing on a frozen pond

I won't get into more details for fear of spoiling the show, but if you have time it is definitely worth giving the show a chance. 

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