‘The Mighty Ducks’ is perhaps the greatest sports movie of all time. There, I said it. It’s funnier than most contemporaries, in a cheery way; it’s honest; it’s about a sport no American really liked until the 1980s; and it’s a true underdog tale. Most importantly, it was not supposed to be a movie that you liked. However, decades after one of the most infamous sports trilogies was produced, ‘The Mighty Ducks’ still holds up; in legitimacy to the sport of hockey, and sincerity of the acting. Casting mainly pre-teens who could either skate but not act, or act but not skate was a terrific gamble, which after weeks of bootcamp training for both sides, paid off brilliantly with a wildly successful cult classic – if you can call it that. But the thing that makes ‘The Mighty Ducks’ so fantastic is that the story behind its production is as much a rags to riches endeavor as the film itself.
Written by Steve Brill – an avid hockey fan who was unemployable and living in a dumpy flat – the original script was ripe with dark, adult comedy which is hinted at in the finished product at times, with Gordan Bombay’s DUI and the romantic relationship between Bombay and Charlie’s mom. While most of the greasy stuff had to be cut out after Disney bought the script, it’s funny how a “kid’s movie” remained enjoyable for the sane adult as well; easier said than done. Then there was director, Peter Berg who went on to do ‘Friday Night Lights’, another great sports film. Peter was unemployed at the time too and spent most of his free time at a local skate rink with Steve, where you could skate all day for only four bucks. Then, they sell the spec script, get cleared and have one of the all time top trilogies in film history – up there with ‘The Godfather’, ‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘Indiana Jones’ (it’s better to pretend there wasn’t a fourth film), and the first ‘Star Wars’ trilogy.
If it’s so great, then why don’t you tell me what ‘The Mighty Ducks’ is all about anyways, you ask? It’s about hockey of course! A hotshot lawyer with a drinking problem, Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) gets forced to do community service after a DUI and ends up coaching the local District 5 peewee hockey squad. A former peewee legend himself, Bombay must whip a group of rabble-rousers into shape, teaching them not only the game of hockey but life lessons on determination and self respect. The Ducks, led by great child actors Joshua Jackson (Dawson’s Creek), Shaun Weiss (Heavyweights), Elden Henson (Mockingjay) and Marguerite Moreau (Wet Hot American Summer), turn their season around and rack up the wins in the competitive league, all culminating in a final showdown versus the icy, undefeated Hawks.
One amazing feature about ‘The Mighty Ducks’ was the social ramifications it bestowed upon the Los Angeles and Minneapolis communities. Whilst it wildly popularised the sport of youth hockey all over Minnesota – where it’s filmed – ‘The Mighty Ducks’ was also responsible for a greater achievement. It’s a rare feat for a movie studio – in this instance Disney – to spark the formation a professional sports team like this film did with the Anaheim Ducks hockey squad in the NHL. Imagine if the ‘Harry Potter’ series had led to the formation of a soccer club called the London Wizards, with a broom-riding, bespectacled boy as the logo; wouldn’t that be a kick? Well that’s literally what ‘The Might Ducks’ accomplished for the first time, becoming so popular it spawned not only a professional sports franchise, but two stellar sequels and an animated TV series as well.
After grossing $50 million domestically, ‘The Mighty Ducks’ became a must own VHS for most American 90’s kids. In fact, it was one I watched easily a hundred times as a youth. The quasi-offspring of ‘The Bad News Bears’ – an old baseball flick of a similar ilk – ‘The Mighty Ducks’ left a lasting legacy by exposing millions of children to hockey in a manner unlike any other film I can recollect.
While panned by most serious film critics, sometimes, having such a large cultural impact on youth culture and being beloved by children everywhere is as much a win as critical acclaim. Now, go out there, grab your street puck gear, and remember the good ole days with that magical feeling of how movies captivate and inspire like ‘The Mighty Ducks’ once did.
DIRECTOR: STEPHEN HEREK
STARRING: EMILIO ESTEVEZ, JOSS ACKLAND, LANE SMITH