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Disney+ Show Gets Close to Great


Even for non-sports fans, it’s easy to hook into a story about sports. A good sports movie or TV show has built-in drama, clear winners and losers, and more likely than not a likable underdog protagonist we want to see triumph. To use a baseball metaphor, these projects can feel like a softball pitch, though not every pitch necessarily leads to a home run, and why am I using baseball metaphors here when I’m trying to write about a hockey show? I don’t know. The point is, The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers is a new entry in this genre and a largely successful one, one that relies on both the recognition attached to its name as well as some classic tropes to deliver a relatively compelling continuation of the franchise beloved by an older generation.

Game Changers reintroduces Emilio Estevez as Gordon Bombay, who we find not exactly living his best life as a down-on-his-luck hockey-hating ice rink owner. (One consistent character trait — when things go wrong in his life, Gordon blames hockey.) But the real star of the show is Lauren Graham as Alex, a single mom who needs Gordon’s help, because she and her son Evan (Brady Moon) want to start a new hockey team after Evan gets cut by those jerks the Mighty Ducks.

That’s right — the biggest twist of Game Changers is that, as revealed in the trailer, the series begins with the Mighty Ducks team being pretty mighty at this whole hockey-playing thing, but not so mighty when it comes to sportsmanship. They’re the bad guys, is what I’m saying, and it’s admittedly a bold move, almost on par with starting an X-Files revival by revealing that Mulder and Scully are now aliens. (And honestly, that would have been better than what we got with the actual X-Files revival, so maybe Game Changers executive producers Steven Brill, Josh Goldsmith, and Cathy Yuspa are onto something here.)

Image via Disney+

The problem with being a revival of a popular franchise is that comparisons to the original are inevitable, and in the case of Game Changers that means acknowledging that in the nearly 30 years between now and the 1992 film, the Disney brand has become a lot more sanitized. In case it’s been a while since you’ve seen the first movie, allow me to remind you that we first meet our plucky gang of underdogs as they orchestrate an elaborate prank involving an abandoned woman’s purse and a load of fresh dog poop, and the reason Gordon Bombay starts coaching this team of plucky underdogs is that he’s doing community service after a drunk driving arrest.

RELATED: ‘Mighty Ducks’ Original Cast Returning for an Episode of Disney+ Reboot

On the modern-day Disney scale, though, Game Changers isn’t painfully wholesome, and while the new cast of tweens may not have the same edge as those who came before, they still offer up a lot of charm and find their metaphorical footing on the ice pretty quickly. Only Evan has any direct analog in the original films, while the rest of the cast represents an eclectic mix of personas.

This includes decent inclusion across the board, and remember that “weird girl” in junior high? (Or, um, remember being her?) There’s at least one in every school — that one girl with oddball hobbies who eats lunch in the library and never quite fits in — and beyond Tina Belcher from Bob’s Burgers, characters of her type are vastly underrepresented in pop culture. So thank you, Game Changers, for letting Lauren (Bella Higginbotham) be weird and proud.

Image via Disney+

Also, Letterkenny fans will be delighted to see Dylan Playfair (what a name) back on the ice in a new context — honestly, for some viewers, especially in Canada, he’s probably a bigger draw than Estevez.

The dialogue is sharp and the production values are solid, if not particularly flashy (much like the films which proceeded it). And while there’s not a lot to update when it comes to telling a classic sports narrative, the issues tackled by the show do feel appropriately modern, thanks to Alex’s passion for reclaiming the idea that youth sports aren’t just a line item on a college resume — they’re meant to be fun.

It’s an ethos baked into the show as a whole, making it pleasant if non-essential viewing. (Non-essential, that is, until Joshua Jackson laces up his skates for a cameo — and while Jackson is not confirmed to reappear, a number of the other grown-up Ducks will be coming by eventually.) Game Changers isn’t epic enough to serve as a tentpole series for Disney+, but it is the sort of solid entry that helps establish the service as not just the house that Baby Yoda built, but rather the home of good clean fun, for parents and kids alike.

Grade: B+

The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers premieres Friday, March 26 on Disney+.

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