Disney+ gives the kid’s hockey-team comedy series the Cobra Kai treatment, to heartwarming and rewarding results.
It’s been 25 years since we last saw coach Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) and his ragtag hockey team came out victorious in D3: The Mighty Ducks. But when they return in the Disney+ spinoff series The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, things are a little different. For instance, Bombay isn’t the same man he was; he now hates hockey and kids.
In fact, in the ice skate arena that he owns, Ice Palace, the words “No Hockey Allowed” are stamped on every corner of the place. The Ducks aren’t much different either: once an underdog group of ragtag kids trying to have fun with hockey, the team is now filled with ambitious youths with micromanaging parents and a cutthroat coach.
One of the kids in the present-day Ducks is the 12-year-old Evan Marrow (Brady Noon), who, when we saw him in the first episode, just got kicked out of the team, as his coach (Dylan Playfair) thinks that he’s not skilled enough to be a professional hockey player. Offended by the sudden decision, Evan’s mom, Alex (Lauren Graham), decides to take things into her own hands. This means creating a new hockey team, which she names the Don’t Bothers.
The first episode of the season largely follows Alex and Evan as they try to get the team running before registration closes two days. To no one’s surprise, things aren’t as easy as they imagine: No one, with the exception of Evan’s podcaster neighbor, Nick (Maxwell Simkins), wants to join the Don’t Bothers. But also finding a new coach and a free ice skate arena also proves to be challenging — that is, until Alex stumbles upon Ice Palace, along with the now-embittered Bombay, whom she implores to take on the mantle of coach for this new batch of rink-happy misfits.
Though it’s still not entirely clear why Bombay doesn’t want to do anything with Hockey any more — at least in the first three episodes provided for review — the show sprinkles a few hints that it’s mostly because the present-day Ducks now prioritizes competition over fun — a sentiment he shares with Alex.
In that sense, The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, co-created by Steven Brill (who wrote the original film), Josh Goldsmith, and Cathy Yuspa, attempts to take a hit on what kid sports are like today in the real world; where fun is taken out of the equation, with the primary concerns of the coach and the parents are less about having fun and more about resume-building. The show might not delve into these issues as deeply as it could have, but it doesn’t necessarily need to; it’s solid enough without being too complex as it is.
It’s nearly impossible to not root for these underdogs.
What the show lacks in depth and originality, it makes up for in enjoyment. Evan and the Don’t Bothers are charming screen presences, worthy successors to the hard-scrabble kids of the original films. It’s nearly impossible to not root for these underdogs. The writing is never too cheesy. The jokes mostly land. And the performances from the kid actors are uniformly great, especially Simkins, whose perfect comedic timing often steals the show from the other cast.
Where it stands out the most, however, is in the adult performers. Graham manages to do a lot with thin materials, giving real emotions and humor to Alex. Her chemistry with Estevez sparks up any scenes they share together. Also, the fact that each episode is only 30ish-minutes long makes the show all the easier to enjoy.
The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, in the end, may not fire in all the cylinders the same way that Cobra Kai does — another spinoff from a beloved classic franchise — especially in terms of depth. But it’s still nonetheless a fun, escapist, binge-able show filled with warmth and humor that a whole family can enjoy together on a Friday night.
The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers hits the rink on Disney+ March 26th.