Everyone loves an underdog. From Rocky to The Bad News Bears, Hollywood has been capitalizing on our love for the little guy, pitting our hopeless heroes against seemingly invincible opponents. With most other major sports already having an underdog story on the big screen, Disney turned to hockey for 1992’s The Mighty Ducks.
Self-absorbed lawyer Gordon Bombay is haunted by memories of blowing the final shot in the peewee hockey championships. When Gordon gets hit with a DUI conviction, his boss, Mr. Ducksworth, orders him to take a leave of absence from the firm to coach a peewee hockey team. The ragtag band represents a cross-section of cultures and character types (the overweight kid, the skate princess, the tough kid, etc.), and Gordon doesn’t like a single one of them.
The coach’s attitude begins to change when his team suffers a hard loss to the rival Hawks, a team still coached by Gordon’s cruel ex-mentor, Coach Riley. Gordon gets the team a new sponsor (Mr. Ducksworth), new uniforms, and a new name—The Mighty Ducks. After whipping the guys and gals into top game shape, Gordon puts the Ducks on the path to the championships… and a rematch with Riley and the Hawks.
This fairly low-budget sports comedy was a surprise hit for Disney, and they decided to ride the wave and found an NHL hockey team named, aptly enough, the Mighty Ducks. Disney was awarded the franchise in December 1992, and the team began play in the fall of 1993 in Anaheim California.
With the Duck’s popularity still high, Disney went back to the well with a sequel to the first movie called D2: The Mighty Ducks which was released in 1994.
The sequel sent Disney’s underdogs into battle on the world stage, and with the U.S.S.R. down for the count at this point in history, this “Miracle On Ice” would have to happen against another European opponent. Enter Iceland.
After injuring his knee in his pro hockey comeback, Mighty Ducks coach Gordon Bombay gets an offer from sportswear executive Tibbles. The exec’s company wants Gordon to return to coaching, heading up the USA’s Junior Goodwill Games squad. Bombay reassembles his scattered flock and recruits an ethnic cross-section of new players—Julie, Dwayne, Luis, Portman, Ken, and south central L.A. native Russ.
Gordon and the Ducks get sucked into the commercial hype of superstardom but are rocked back to their senses after a brutal loss to the black-suited Icelanders. After keepin’ it real with a street hockey match back in Russ’ hood, the Ducks regroup for a finals rematch with those Nordic bad boys.
The film was another financial success, so Disney added another movie to the growing franchise with D3: The Mighty Ducks in 1996. This time, Disney sent its roster of junior hockey players back to school for a chance to prove that teamwork and determination always triumph over rich snobbery.
Coming off their medal-winning performance at the Junior Goodwill Games, the Ducks win scholarships to fancy prep school, Eden Hall. Gordon Bombay, who coached the Ducks to all of their previous victories, turns the reins over to hard-nosed new coach Ted Orion. But that’s the least of the Ducks’ problems.
Eden Hall has a proud tradition of hockey champions, and all of them were white and male. The rainbow coalition of quackers doesn’t sit well with Dean Buckley or with the school’s varsity team, the Warriors. After dealing with warring pranks, bigotry, and high school romance, the Ducks are forced to defend their scholarships on the ice, facing off against the fearsome Warriors.
The Star of the first two films, Emilio Estevez, made brief appearances at the beginning and end of the film as Gordon, leaving the Ducks themselves as the stars of this feature. As with the earlier films, Disney got plenty of mileage in for the company-owned NHL franchise, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. So with the success of the movies and their professional hockey team, the next logical step was to add an animated series to the Duck universe.
Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series brought the franchise to Saturday mornings, but the animated hockey team wasn’t exactly like the slap-shooting youngsters in the films.
Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series saw the hockey team as a group of half-human/half-duck misfits with super-powered weapons. Beamed down to Earth from the planet Puckworld via a vortex, the ice-loving youngsters set up shop at an abandoned hockey rink in Anaheim, California. Led by team captain Wildwing (voiced by Beverly Hills 90210’s Ian Ziering), their main purpose was to save the world from the evil plottings of the sinister Dragonas, but that didn’t stop them from clocking some serious time on the ice.
Disney’s Might Ducks became a dynasty all their own in the ’90s, and the impression they left helped bring them back to prominence in 2021 with the launch of an all-new series on Disney+ called The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers. Those Mighty Ducks were exactly that in the ’90s…game changers.