By David Ford
From “The Godfather,” “Toy Story,” “Star Wars,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “Back to the Future,” to “Big Momma’s House,” American audiences have been spoiled with examples of world-class film trilogies, none of which, however, are as iconic or tell such an obscure plotline quite like “The Mighty Ducks.”
The First Film
First released on Oct. 2, 1992, Disney’s “The Mighty Ducks” captivated audiences with its underdog story of a hockey team overcoming all odds to achieve the final prize — to win their local, Minnesota peewee league. It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the Ducks, formerly known as “District 5.”
Their head coach, Gordon Bombay, played beautifully by Emilio Estevez, begins coaching the team as part of a community service plea deal for drunk driving. He makes it blatantly clear that he hates kids. This simple character background raises moral questions.
Throughout the trilogy, Bombay is given special recognition as a master hockey player, the young Wayne Gretzky. According to the team’s mentor and personal friend, Hans, he notes Bombay scored 198 goals during the 1972 peewee season.
As shown in the first film, the league plays only 14 league games. The 198 goals meant Bombay averaged 14 goals of game.
The problem, however, is that Bombay can’t coach. When he first takes over as the Ducks head coach, he encourages the team to essentially cheat.
Granted, the team was complete garbage when Bombay arrived; they were defeated by Bombay’s old team, the Hawks, by quite a lot.
Later in the film, Bombay essentially bribed the league commission to put one of the Hawks top players, Adam Banks, on the Ducks team. Beside the point, Banks was an absolute beast in the rink.
In classic Disney fashion, the Ducks improve steadily and later defeat the Hawks in their league championship. The players somehow rallied around Bombay and took home the trophy.
Despite moments of poor coaching, the film truly gave Bombay the opportunity to develop. He took that opportunity and shined.
The Second Film
“D2: The Mighty Ducks” features the vast majority of the Ducks squad returning. Without any sort of tryouts, the Ducks are selected to represent the entire United States in the Junior Goodwill Games (fictional form of Olympic hockey). A few additional members are added, but how they were added isn’t explained.
How does a local Minnesota peewee hockey team suddenly get chosen to represent Team USA?
Later in the film, team captain Charlie Conway gets injured. Somehow this results in Kenan Thompson’s character, Russ Tyler, getting picked up in a Los Angeles playground halfway through the tournament and contributing an important role to the Ducks.
During this film, the Ducks had to forgo their traditional name and uniform; the team had to adopt the U.S. brand entirely, which makes perfect sense.
Early on, the U.S. easily defeats Trinidad and Tobago (not sure why they had a hockey team) and Italy in order to play Iceland, the world powerhouse. In real life, however, Iceland sucks.
Since the sequel only released two years later (March 25, 1994), the Ducks didn’t age much. The most baffling thing came on the Icelandic side — their entire team consisted of grown men playing in a junior hockey tournament.
In typical Disney fashion, again, the team sheds the USA jerseys in order to adopt the Ducks brand yet again. It’s an emotional moment for sure; they also defeat Iceland. Essentially, the entire film depicts a fictionalized account of the United States’ iconic upset of the Soviet Union in 1980.
Between the first and second films, the NHL announced the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim as an expansion team. Did any other film trilogies inspire the creation of a professional sports organization? I didn’t think so.
The Third Film
Released on Oct. 6, 1996, “D3: The Mighty Ducks” starts off with the majority of the Ducks from the first two films securing scholarships to represent the junior varsity team at an elite level private school, Eden Hall Academy. The school just chooses to give scholarships to the entire Ducks roster. No other players from any other team across the country gets chosen.
When the team first arrives, Bombay leaves as head coach. Furthermore, a few players from the previous films disappear without any further mention.
Dean Portman, a player introduced in the second film, reappears to accept his scholarship in the middle of their final game. I’m not sure if it was a legal move under high school standards, but it was sweet.
Since Bombay left, the team had to play actual, fundamental hockey under established coach Ted Orion.
The team didn’t like him at first; a few players even quit, but decided to return. Personally, I’d run through a brick wall for Orion.
Despite a tough demeanor, Orion stood by his players. He threatened to resign if the players’ scholarships were revoked.
Unlike Bombay, Orion actually was an elite coach. In the final game against the varsity team, Orion accepted the Ducks brand and inspired his team to overcome being a less talented roster.
In one of the most emotional moments in the trilogy, the series’ comic relief, goalie Greg Goldberg, slaps the puck in during the closing seconds to give the Ducks a 1-0 victory against the varsity Warriors.
I’m not ashamed to admit “The Mighty Ducks” trilogy might be my all-time favorite, despite its absurd plotline. The films are rich with character study and development. It’s difficult not to get emotional as the films progress.
In the end, Bombay has two championships on his resume as Ducks, or Team USA, or whatever’s head coach. However, it was Coach Orion that drove home some of the insightful comments on teamwork and coaching.
Despite its critical failure (21 percent on Rotten Tomatoes was the highest point in the trilogy), the films serve as an example of masterful sports storytelling.