Before watching the movie:
I’m not exactly sure how I missed the Mighty Ducks phenomenon of the 90s. I knew it was a thing, but not only was I not interested (it’s a sports movie, and there aren’t any real ducks), it was never foisted upon me. I do recall noticing it (or one of the sequels) on a muted TV across the room once in the orthodontist’s office, but that’s it.
The spinoffs this movie had were ridiculous though. Two sequels is one thing, an in-name-only animated adaptation about superpowered hockey-playing cartoon ducks is another, and creating an actual NHL hockey team off the success of a movie is bizarre.
I didn’t intend to do two Disney movies concerning ducks in a row, it just happened. They’re so far apart in time and subject that I didn’t realize until I was set on this movie.
After watching the movie:
Nearly-undefeated lawyer Gordon Bombay grew up playing youth hockey under Coach Reilly’s “win at any cost” mentality and is driven by memories of letting down his team in the championship with a missed penalty goal in overtime. When he gets a DUI, his boss suspends him from the firm until he completes his community service sentence, and he’s forced to coach the poorest team in the town’s league. Stuck with them, he eventually manages to pull them together into a team that can hold their own on the ice through learning how to respect and encourage them, and talks his boss into sponsoring the team through the firm so they can have real uniforms, as well as a real team name. With a tournament sized so that only one team in the league will be excluded, the Ducks have a chance to go all the way. But in order to win the championship, they’ll have to get past Coach Reilly’s rich and dirty-playing Hawks.
There may not be a gimmick to the team’s success, like a lot of other family sports movies, but there are multiple members of the team who have unusual or above average abilities. Gordon recruits a figure skater and a guy with awe-inspiring shot power, as well as pointing out an all-around good player from another team should have been assigned to his district. Just about every member of the team gets an opportunity to show off their abilities in the championship, but most of them leave the game immediately after. The exceptions are fun to watch, but they somewhat undermine the “underdogs get good by learning teamwork and fair play” message.
There’s a subplot about Gordon becoming a father figure to one of his players and falling into a relationship with the boy’s single mother. I’m always skeptical of romance subplots, and this one seems natural, yet unjustified, or something. I can’t see what Gordon and Casey really have bringing them together aside from Charlie. They even discuss being careful about getting ahead of themselves for Charlie’s sake, and then go ahead with little more than their new relationship energy to base how serious they are upon.
I’m not sure if it’s just me, or if most of the kids blur together. A few stand out, mostly the ones who have something special about them, but basically except for Goldberg, I can’t point to the charm of the team coming from anyone specific. The entire team as a unit brings about the same amount of heart and charm that Gordon does. I can’t think of many movies about kid ensembles where the adult who brings them together is the most interesting character, but that’s true about this movie. I didn’t think it was down to Emilio Estevez when I was watching, but in retrospect, he does pull a lot of the weight of the movie.
I think I can’t say this is overall a standout favorite to me, but that’s probably because it’s just not my thing in general. As what it is, I can tell it’s a good one, but I’d rather have AirBud or Cool Runnings over this, and that’s my taste. For people whose taste runs more to straight underdog sports movies, this is almost certainly theirs.