When The Mighty Ducks (1992) ended, you had a nice, neat little bow placed on a classic underdog sports story. A band of misfit kids from Minneapolis-St. Paul and surrounding environs learn to become a team for a coach who learns that there is more to life than just winning. Since the film enjoyed a modicum of success, the folks over at Disney wanted to do a sequel. Technically speaking, it is hard to do a film franchise with young people. Growth spurts happen at different stages for everyone, making people who look one way when they are twelve appear quite different than when they are fourteen. You also have to factor in the parents of the child-actors. Some might not want to put their offspring through the grind of making a big-budget Hollywood production on a consistent basis. Finally, they filmed much of the original in Minnesota. In the winter. My dad once “lived” through a Minnesota winter. I put that in quotation marks because he spent an entire week in bed during those months because it got so cold. It will not shock any of you to know that we now live in Florida. At any rate, when you combine all these factors you get the head-scratcher that is D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994).
The opening credits of D2: The Mighty Ducks are interwoven with scenes of Gordon Bombay playing minor league hockey. This is a callback to the end of the previous film when he was boarding a bus to go play. Unfortunately, his career is cut short by cheap shot from an opposing player. He then travels back to Minneapolis without a clear direction. That is given to him when Don Tibbles (Michael Tucker) knocks on his door. He had heard about Gordon’s success with the peewee team (detailed in the previous movie) and wants the newly un-employed professional hockey player to coach the United States’ junior national team. Don also wants him to bring his team with him to represent the country. Finding his old stalwart from that group, Charlie Conway (Joshua Jackson), he is able to round-up most of the players, excepting those who could not make it into the film for the reasons discussed in the introduction. They then travel to Los Angeles where the Junior Goodwill Games are going to be held. Once there, they meet the rest of the cast of characters from around the country. There is an adjustment period as the veterans of the old squad come to terms with their new mates. While this goes on, Gordon becomes increasingly drawn into a corporate world that Don creates for him in order to sell the national team to the country. He appears on Wheaties boxes along with his team. He is given a fancy house in Malibu. He even starts dating one of the female coaches on the powerful team from Iceland. They are coached by a former National Hockey League (NHL) star named Wolf “The Dentist” Stansson (Carsten Norgaard). He got his nickname for knocking out the teeth of other skaters he went up against, and it speaks to the bruising style of hockey he coaches. His team represents the only legitimate challenge to Gordon’s kids. At the same time, Don is putting a great deal of pressure on Gordon to succeed, which causes him to change his approach to coaching to a much-less fun manner. This prompts a rebellion by his players. The only thing that revives them is a friendly game of street hockey against a group of kids from inner-city Los Angeles (yes, you read that correctly). Their scrimmages uncover a new player, Russ Tyler (Kenan Thompson), whose “knuckle puck” (which is anything but) proves a tricky shot to stop. Thus, going along with the rest of the silly logic of this film, he joins the team. The only missing piece to tie this film to its predecessor is a visit from the Norwegian magic-man, Jan (Jan Rubes), in order to remind Gordon of his love of the sport. Once this is accomplished, it is on to the inevitable final showdown with Iceland. As the game unfolds, it is still apparent that the Americans are undersized and physically overmatched. In response, they unleash the so-called “Bash Brothers,” Fulton Reed (Elden Henson) and Dean Portman (Aaron Lohr), to try and even the play. It results in a circus that annoys Gordon and has them still being on the losing end entering the third period. In the locker room, Gordon delivers one of those rousing sports speeches you come to expect from such films. Donning their new Ducks sweaters, they go out, tie the game, and win it in a shootout at the end when replacement goalie Julie “The Cat” Gaffney (Colombe Jacobsen-Derstine) stops the final shot. What a surprise, they triumph. Yay.
There are films like D2: The Mighty Ducks that I watch and think, “This was made by aliens from outer space.” So much of what Disney does is quality work. Yet, I guess because they have more money than they know what to do with, there are times when certain projects slip through the cracks, the result of some quack (pun intended) who managed to convince the Mouse to fork over some of its cash. I firmly believe this is how Smart House (1999) got made. In D2: The Mighty Ducks, you can watch just the end credits for evidence of it being made by someone not entirely familiar with reality, perhaps. The film has “ducks” in the title, and yet the last shot as the end credits begin to roll is of a flock of Canadian geese. Huh? More specifically, much of what happens on the ice during games is puzzling. For who knows what reason, they decided to add in cartoon-esque sound effects for much of the action. If you know this film at all, you might also point to the popularity of hockey in inner-city Los Angeles. On the surface, that is bizarre, and surprising to see in a film from this era. Yet, keep in mind that the greatest player to ever play the game, Wayne Gretzky (who also appears in the film), was playing for the Los Angeles Kings at this time. It was a highly publicized move that many people paid attention to when it happened, and it helped put hockey more on the minds of Americans. Where this breaks down somewhat is when you consider that there has only been one African American player in the NHL from Los Angeles. There have been plenty of African Americans in the NHL, and there is more entering the league every day, but the majority of them come from the hockey powerhouse that is our neighbors to the north.
I do not know what to say about D2: The Mighty Ducks from a faith perspective. It is not the underdog story of its predecessor, so I cannot totally say that it is a David and Goliath scenario. There is some vague notion of pride and winning the right way, but meh. It is not an objectionable movie on any moral grounds, except for the stereotypical ways certain ethnicities are portrayed. Its problem is that it is super-cheesy and has some inexplicably odd moments in it. Watch it if you want, I guess. Maybe it will entertain you with its silliness?