I suppose I should come right out and admit that I'm more than a little biased in my treatment of certain nostalgic material. Objectivity is a nice idea, but let's be real here: anyone growing up in Minnesota in the 1990s who even knew a person who played hockey was predisposed to fall in love with The Mighty Ducks. As a proud ex-Minneapolitan, I not only loved the movie for its hometown roots but also because my family drove daily past the arenas where the movie was filmed and if I squinted hard enough I can even see some former Pee Wee Hockey League-affiliated friends as cheering crowd extras. It wasn't exactly a tough sell for me.
Regardless of my personal inclination to adore this movie unapologetically, I still assumed that loving this movie was nothing short of a universal kid phenomenon. It had heart, stellar sports movie cliches, quacking, and even a scrappy female player who later went to star in one of my favorite movies*. Maybe I just love hockey enough to be blinded by the subject matter, but I was reasonably certain that this film was beloved by all. Call me naive, but I was shocked to learn that the film hold an 8% positive rating on aggregate movie review site Rotten Tomatoes. I know kids movies can be a little cheesy, but eight percent? Has my entire movie-loving life been a lie? I don't know what to believe anymore.
Maybe the real issue is that these adults just are so darn critical. Yes, as a currently critical adult I realize this likely veers me into hypocritical territory, but as a child I pretty much took everything released on TV or VHS as media gospel until I caught a few episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and realized these things were mockable. The Mighty Ducks, though, lived in a time before over-analyzing and before my friends and I held discerning opinions on quality of entertainment sources. We loved hockey, we loved a young Joshua Jackson, and dammit we loved ourselves some Mighty Ducks and that was that.
The original did seem to have a bit of that magic dust glow haloing its premise, at least to children. Yes, it's a hackneyed and oft repeated tale of a group of ragtag kids who just can't catch a break who finally find the inspiring hope they so desperately crave in the hands of a rough-round-the-edges coach. That description could fit a hundred kids sports movies, but it doesn't detract all that much from their heartwarmingness and general adorability. We may see now that these themes were perhaps not the most original, but they did continually reaffirm our beliefs that even if we were completely terrible at something, some kindly adult might come along and change our lives into those of winners.
On the other side of the fence, I imagine all of my sport coaches throughout the year rewound these inspirational locker room moments again and again, seeking cheesy motivational fodder. Who can argue with that level of cinematic results? If only we could have mustered up the corresponding heartening theme music. Then it would have been in the bag.
The familiar rehashed story focuses on Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez), the most bad-assed named attorney in the Minneapolis area facing drunk driving charges. See, we even start with a message. Don't drink and drive, kids, or you'll have to live out your unfulfilled dreams of leading a group of peewee hockey misfits to a much-deserved victory. Bombay is predictably sentenced to community service coaching a kid's hockey league, forcing him to revisit his own traumatic childhood hockey memories in which he blew the big game for his team. Scarring stuff.
Of course, Bombay is further dismayed to find himself saddled with an untalented motley crew of hockey misfits. There's not a shred of mutual respect between the players and their new coach, with the two sides getting off to an abysmal start. There's a clear hatred brewing between coach and team, and it doesn't look particularly pretty.
Many of Bombay's early coaching efforts are at best misguided, leading both the team and their parents to berate his coaching style and personal character alike. As is apt to happen in these types of Disney films, Bombay coincidentally is reunited with an old mentor, Hans, who seems to be in the right place at the right time at every turn to encourage the budding coach's past passion for the sport.
In typical lawyerly fashion, Bombay solicits funding from his boss, Mr. Ducksworth. Get it? Ducksworth, Ducks? I hope a screenwriter's guild award went to that guy. With financial backing, the team is able to acquire a lot of the equipment and practice space they so sorely needed, and it looks like we're heading in the right direction.
There are the requisite misunderstandings in which the team gets pretty angry over something they misoverheard Bombay say and most players choose to boycott a game, forcing a forfeit. To make things worse, Bombay is coming to the end of serving out his community service sentence only to find that Ducksworth and Co. all seem hell bent on manipulating the peewee hockey system in some sort of corrupt ploy that would never matter in real life. Ducksworth goes so far as to fire Bombay, which is of course the only logical next step in this ever-growing distance between the world of peewee hockey and reality.
Our kids are still scuffling over their mixed loyalties to each other versus the coach, ending in a quacking incident that lands them all in detention. Bombay comes to visit their detention classroom, offers some much-needed pep and encouragement, giving them a major boost of team pride.
The semi-corrupt league disputes over star player Adam (who should be zoned as a Ducks player but played for the anonymously evil rivals the Hawks) are resolved as Adam finally joins the Ducks, adding to their burgeoning confidence. The Ducks make the playoffs, win a couple more games, and all seems to be falling into place as expected in a rah-rah sports movie.
As expected, the Ducks face off against the Hawks in their championship game, setting the stage for a last minute not-so-surprising victory. Instead of chastising and berating the boys like his coach had, Bombay encourages them and they take the game per expected. It's still sweet though. All the while the romantic storyline between Bombay and a player's parent seems to be flourishing. On top of all this feel-goodness, the kids offer their encouragement for Bombay's own fledgling minor league hockey career, and while a tad over the top it still manages to warm your heart at least as much as a shot of good whiskey.
Just ignore that half of this clip is the closing credits. You're granted full permission to skip that part.
It may not be the perfect movie, but there's a reason some movie tropes are replayed time and time again. It isn't a new tale to adult moviegoers, but through the fresh virgin eyes of children it manages to renew itself as affective for a new generation. When we later saw the baseball, football, and basketball versions of this movie we were well prepared for the requisite shots of inspiration. Not to mention the two sequels, the animated series, and an actual NHL team under the Ducks namesake. Learning about sportsmanship and franchise milking management in one fell swoop. Not bad.
*Wet Hot American Summer, in case you were wondering, starring our pal Marguerite Moreau. If any of you caught the Wet Hot references in this post, congratulations. You're awesome.