Huey, Dewey and Louie have always had things pretty good. They are, after all, Disney characters. But they’ve never had it quite like this.
When “Duck Tales,” the long running syndicated adventure series Disney aired between 1987 and 1990, is revived on cable-network Disney XD on August 12, the troika of ducks – Donald Duck’s mischievous nephews who have been part of Disney lore since 1937 – they’ll have more personality than ever before. Huey is the first-born, by seconds, and as such is more responsible and reliable. Dewey is a typical middle child, always trying to get attention. And Louie, the last, is more comfortable flying – er, waddling – under the radar.
In years past, fans of the trio may have had a tougher time telling them apart. No longer. “We wanted to make sure it was more than ‘the red one,’ ‘the green one,’ ‘the blue one,’” said Matt Youngberg, executive producer of the new series.
Disney is, like many other kids’ media outlets, trying to mine its vast archives for characters and content that will please the current generation of video-watchers. Rather than go to tried-and-true programs that have part of the companies’ history since the 1960s and 1970s, big kids’ content purveyors are instead digging into stuff from the 80s, 90s and 2000s to tempt a new cadre of young parents and their progeny. At Viacom’s Nickelodoeon, executives have readied a TV movie based on the 1996 TV series “Hey Arnold!” Time Warner’s Cartoon Network has already launched a revival of the popular mid-2000s series “Ben 10.”
The task is in some ways harder than bringing a new original to market, said Marc Buhaj, senior vice president, programming and general manager of Disney XD. “You don’t get any points with your audience for producing a remake,” he said. “You’ve got that tricky thing of pleasing the fan base from yesteryear, but also delivering to today’s target audience.”
“Duck Tales” has a rich heritage. The series is based on the adventure comics of cartoonist Carl Barks, who created Duckberg, a veritable Winesberg, Ohio, of four-color fowl friends for kids during the 1940s., 1950s and 1960s. Barks set up many new foils for Disney’s popular Donald, including the billionaire Scrooge McDuck and the chicken inventor Gyro Gearloose. But his stories took the characters beyond the silver-screen slapstick of Mickey Mouse and “Steamboat Willie.” In his tales, the trio of nephews often wound up on multi-part adventures that had them fend off villains like The Beagle Boys.
TV’s“Duck Tales” brought much of that on-the-page history to life. The series showed Scrooge and his triplet grand-nephews on treasure hunts, or attempting to keep the elder duck’s riches from being purloined. Newer characters came to the fore, like Webby, granddaughter of the nanny Mrs. Beakley, or Launchpad McQuack, who would later be featured in the series “Darkwing Duck.”
To ensure the program beckoned both older fans and newer viewers, producers early on decided to play up the element of family appeal. “We approached it from a family-sitcom standpoint, one in which the patriarch is a combination of Indiana Jones and Tony Stark,” said Francisco Angones, the series’ co-producer and story editor. What’s more, Webby will be placed on more of an equal footing with the triplets.
And creators gave a decidedly bigger role to Donald Duck, who made only a slight appearance in the original.
Producers felt abandoning the quick-tempered character was wrong – particularly because they could cast him as a sort of single father who would be looking out for his nephews, even as his Uncle Scrooge tried to take them out for adventures. “It was too good of a family dynamic to pass up – this overprotective parent trying to keep his kids safe from this world-famous adventuring madman who swims in money and fights robots,” said Angones.
To get the word out, Disney has launched a range of digital promotions aimed to get fans playing with the ducks. An avatar creator related to the series has already launched on the Disney XD mobile app and the Disney LOL social-content site for kids. Viewers can take a selfie with their favorite Duckberg characters with “Duck Tales: Bill Me,” available on the Disney XD app. Donald is even slated to be integrated into the popular Angry Birds game.
Disney XD executives expect to complement the series with short-form content for social and digital venues. “I want to see active engagement with the characters in ‘Duck Tales’ on a daily basis,” said Buhaj, “and I think we want to see it happen with core kids, but also beyond.” Clearly, Disney will be listening to determine if the Duckberg clan can quack anew