DuckTales is good (If you don’t believe me, watch it yourself). The series’ hour-long premiere expertly threads the needle of keeping all the beloved notes (literally) of a classic series while updating it for a modern audience of children and nostalgic adults. It’s got a fantastic voice cast, charming visual design, and a creative team committed to living up to the full legacy of Disney’s duck-based adventure stories.
But DuckTales wasn’t always so lucky, as I was reminded recently. I invite you to cast your mind back, back in time, to an era before Gravity Falls, Wander Over Yonder, Phineas and Ferb, Star vs. the Forces of Evil or any of Disney XD’s current crop of critically acclaimed cartoons.
It’s 1996, six years after the hit cartoon had gone off the air. It was a time when an animated teenage duck could unironically shout only the word “Extreme!” as an expression of excitement. It was a time when the Disney Channel was riding high on the success of Goof Troop and its successful theatrical spinoff, A Goofy Movie.
Enter Quack Pack (Working title: Duck Daze), a series about Donald Duck and his three cool teen nephews with tousled hair (feathers).
Duck-based media has always been pretty big for Disney, whether it involved the family of Donald Duck or not, but never more than in the ’90s. And A Goofy Movie had nearly taken the top spot at the box office in its opening weekend — not bad for a film based on a kids cartoon show on a premium channel that was opening against the original Bad Boys.
From that angle, Quack Pack made a lot of sense. Take another beloved Disney property and give it the edgy (but not too edgy, this is the Disney Channel) teen makeover.
From most other angles, it didn’t. Quack Pack wasn’t just a spiritual Goof Troop spinoff, it was deliberately made to call back to Donald Duck cartoon shorts instead of DuckTales — not exactly the most modern reference point for its audience. To that aim, it was placed in a world where duck characters jarringly coexisted with humans, just like the classic Donald shorts. It jettisoned much of the rich tapestry of Duckberg and the rest of the Disney character lineup — including Scrooge McDuck, Launchpad McQuack and longtime Donald Duck foils Chip ‘n’ Dale — and oriented episodes around its cast’s various and often surreal misadventures rather than DuckTales’ adventure story genre.
Quack Pack was left with Donald, a camera man for his paramour Daisy’s on-the-spot news team, raising three teenage versions of Huey, Dewey and Louie, who referred to him as “Uncle D.” In the first episode, for example, the boys gain superpowers and form a team known as the T-Squad (the less said about their theme song and character designs, the better) and wind up fighting Donald, who has also gained superpowers and become a supervillain known as the Duck of Doom.
Quack Pack wasn’t all bad ideas. Like our modern DuckTales reboot, it seized upon the idea of giving Huey, Dewey and Louie differentiated personalities. But, ultimately, it ran for only a single season, between Sept. 3 and Nov. 28, 1996.
So while you’re enjoying DuckTales on YouTube or other available outlets, just remember: A DuckTales follow up was not always such a no-brainer. And the ’90s were a very, very strange time.