“The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers” doesn’t make any bones about it—it’s a series-version of the teen hockey movies, which came out in the ‘90s but are accessible as anything else on streaming service Disney+. The one facet that seems different here, in its light family comedy focusing on underdogs on ice, is the reason the game is played. It’s not about winning but having fun, and the series seems to think that repeating much of the same feel is enough. For some viewers it will be.
In this version, the Mighty Ducks are jerks—they’re a powerful elite who play hockey to win only, and are coached like having fun would be a distraction. In modern TV speak, they’re “Cobra Kai” on the ice, but the flattering comparisons to that nostalgia juggernaut end here. The Minnesota team has become famous since the ‘90s, but now they’re like the Iceland team in “D2: The Mighty Ducks,” a bunch of bullies on fast skates. And the hockey parents are intense too, about snack schedules and helping with practices, leaving a hard-working but scattered mom like Alex (Lauren Graham) on the outside. When her son Evan (Brady Noon) gets cut from the team, she yells at the coach about the parting words he gave her son: “Don’t bother.”
Alex encourages Evan to start his own team, that she will end up coaching because no one else will. Neighborhood kid and spunky podcaster Nick (Maxwell Simkins) enters the fold—even though he has no gear—and that’s two. A team comes together in ways that are slightly funny and then meant to be Inspiring, like when Evan makes a big speech in a packed cafeteria. New recruits from different high school cliques stand up in a triumphant moment; sneering bullies mock them. But it’s the formation of a team, a rag-tag group of kooky kids. They call themselves the “Don’t Bothers.” When they start to practice, they barely have any gear, or know how to shoot.
The series builds to include Emilio Estevez, the “Mighty Ducks” man himself, who plays the revered Coach Gordon Bombay and is probably the biggest part of the special “Mighty Ducks” brand. As the owner of the Ice Palace, the dilapidated rink where the Don’t Bothers practice, he’s kind of a grouchy guru to Alex and Evan—Estevez has sharp banter with Graham in some scenes. Evan also sneaks away to rant to Bombay, as part of a growing plot line about Evan growing out of Alex’s ways of coaching (she even gives them participations trophies before the first game).
But what’s prominent in these episodes is that Bombay says he hates hockey, and is bitter about not having anything to show for what he did with the Ducks. It creates a tedious conflict, for a series that is lacking in them, in which we are waiting for him to eventually embrace hockey again and to get a sunnier demeanor. The forces that make him bitter are only sketched out, even when he gives a full monologue about his past. Might as well get to it if he’s going to serve the same purpose.
In the first three episodes, “The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers” really just goes over the same types of beats—of getting a grab-bag of kids to work together, and a coach who is underestimated. Everyone is eager to prove themselves on the team, but this show is not. One of the significant subplots is a throwaway crush that Nick has on Winnie (Em Haine), the young woman who dispenses hot cocoa at the Ice Palace. It doesn’t mean that much, and it’s only slightly funny, but the series spends time on it perhaps because there’s only so much hockey footage that can fill up the run-time.
The title then, is a bit of a stretch. Our designated underdogs are not yelling “Quack!” as a team-inspired type of cheer (at least so far); it’s all about the Don’t Bothers. And for the subtitle, that’s also some wishful thinking—this series isn’t much of a game changer, not does it engender any promise that it will try to future episodes. Instead it seems ready to give viewers more and updated “Mighty Ducks” action; the nostalgia here is not in building, but passing on the brand’s family-friendly sports comedy to a new generation. “Game Changers” just shrugs that if the Mighty Ducks’ strategy worked for three movies, it’ll simply work here.
Three episodes screened for review. Available on Disney+ on March 26.