I have an unpopular opinion to share: D3: The Mighty Ducks (1996) is better than D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994). No, D3 is not as good as the first Mighty Ducks movie from 1992, and yes, it does recycle a lot of the same elements from its two predecessors. But instead of trying to raise the stakes by putting the Ducks in an even bigger tournament, D3 shifts the focus to perhaps the greatest challenge in everyone’s life: growing up.
Think about it for a moment.
Everyone has a favorite time from their childhood. But then we all reach a point where we realize that the world around us is changing, we are getting older, and that things will never be the same, no matter how hard we wish otherwise.
We all struggle with that change to some extent, and everyone deals with that change differently.
D3: The Mighty Ducks isn’t so much a sports film as it is a coming-of-age film. It is about learning to let go of the things that we found comfort in during our youth and taking on the unknown.
In D3, the Ducks are awarded scholarships to Eden Hall Academy, a prestigious prep school and Coach Gordon Bombay’s alma mater. Almost the entire team from D2 is back. original Ducks Charlie Conway, Reed Fulton, Les Averman, Connie Moreau, Guy Germaine, Greg Goldberg and Adam Banks; plus newer Ducks Lou Mendoza, Dwayne Robertson, Ken Wu, Julie “the Cat” Gaffney and Russ Tyler.
Fulton laments that his fellow “Bash Brother” Dean Portman isn’t coming along, though no one says anything about Jessie Hall or why he’s not joining them.
Much to the Ducks disappointment, and particularly for team captain Charlie Conway, Bombay won’t be their coach anymore, as he accepted the Director of Player Personnel role for USA’s Junior Hockey Program.
Now the Ducks are being coached by Ted Orion, a former NHL player and the junior varsity coach at Eden Hall. Orion is a no-nonsense coach. “This isn’t the pee wees,” Orion tells the Ducks. “Your little Duck tricks are not going to work at this level.”
And he’s right. The Ducks were used to playing run-and-gun hockey that focused on offense and outscoring their opponents. But high school hockey is an entirely different game. Orion mandates that they learn to play two-way hockey and become complete players. He also wants them to focus on their studies, and threatens to bench any player who does not maintain a B-average in school, even though they only need to maintain a C-average to be eligible to play. Since the the Ducks are now playing for Eden Hall, Coach Orion also insists that they wear Eden Hall Warriors uniforms.
None of this is unreasonable. If you want to get better at a sport, you learn to play a complete game. If you play for a team, you wear that team’s uniform. And any coach that cares as much about his player’s success off the ice as much as on the ice is a great coach.
But Charlie resists Orion’s direction. He does not want to play defensive hockey — even after the team blows a nine-goal lead in their first game. Much of Charlie’s identity is wrapped up in being the Ducks’ team captain, and he gets indignant when he isn’t automatically made team captain of the Eden Hall Junior Varsity team.
Making it harder on the Ducks — now known as the Eden Hall Junior Varsity Warriors — is that Adam Banks, their star player, is promoted to the Varsity team as a freshmen.
Even worse, the Eden Hall Varsity hockey team is a bunch of bullies that resent that a group of mostly-poor kids like the Ducks get full-ride athletic scholarships to their prestigious school. Much of the first half of D3 involves the JV and Varsity teams pranking each other, with everything from fire ants to horse manure. Then, the two teams meet in an unsanctioned scrimmage, where none of their “Duck tricks” work for the JV team. They gets thoroughly trounced by the Varsity squad, Charlie takes out Banks, then both teams get into a bench-clearing brawl that gets broken up by Coach Orion. And boy, is he pissed!
After barking at the Varsity players to get off the ice, Orion chastises the Junior Varsity players and orders them to take off the Ducks jerseys that they were wearing in the scrimmage.
“The Ducks are dead,” Coach Orion says.
“You’re breaking up the best thing any of us ever had,” Charlie responds.
“Well, it’s time to grow up,” retorts Orion.
Charlie quits the team. He visits the hockey pro shop to seek advice from Hans.
Wait, Hans? What happened to Jan?
If you recall, Hans was absent in D2 and replaced by his brother Jan. Now, Jan is gone and Hans is back, with no mention on the whereabouts of his brother. (Maybe Hans fired Jan for closing the pro shop for “the first time in 10 years” so he could fly to Anaheim and watch the Ducks play in the Junior Goodwill games in D2?) I guess it really does not matter, except there is an important part in D3 that Jan really should have been present for.
Also back in D3 is Charlie’s mom, Casey Conway. There is no mention if she is still married, or if she still has any feelings for Bombay, but she tells Charlie what he needs to hear: “I think the only thing that needs to change around here is your attitude.”
That is great parental advice. Charlie’s attitude needs to change, and him learning to do that is the crux of D3. While he comes off as a whiny little kid in this film, it is easy to understand why if you take a step back and look. Charlie never knew his own father, and didn’t like his stepfather. Bombay was the closest Charlie had to a father, but he’s out of the picture now. The sense of pride he had of being a Duck is gone. The Ducks’ jersey that he wears throughout the film serves as a metaphorical security blanket, but he’s not allowed to wear that, either. And try as he might, Charlie cannot stand up to the Varsity team because the players are bigger and more experienced, and his “Duck tricks” like the “Flying V” and “Triple Deke” — which worked for him well in the past — don’t help him now.
Charlie’s story arc makes D3 a decent film. Unfortunately, there’s enough stupidity that keeps it from being great. Cartoon sound effects like the ones that you would hear in The Flintstones or Scooby-Doo are added in. For example, a “screeching” sound effect is heard when three Varsity players, running after Charlie, stop in their tracks when they see the school’s dean. Later, when Averman is knocked out by a viscous body check, he stands up and hears birds tweeting. There is also an annoying kid who looks like Macaulay Culkin that provides play-by-play for practically every game in the movie. Really, does a JV-Varsity game really need an announcer to tell us that this game is like “David vs. Goliath” — the same metaphor that was overused ad nauseum in D2?
Here are a few random observations I have about D3:
Moose Sighting: During practice, Connie Moreau wears a Minnesota Moose jersey, which was a minor-league team from 1994 to 1996. By the time D3 came out in October 1996, the Moose had relocated and were now the Manitoba Moose.
Bear Sighting: Goaltender Julie “The Cat” Gaffney wears a University of Maine Black Bears jersey during Ducks’ practice. She is from Bangor, Maine, so it makes sense that she would wear the jersey of the state’s powerhouse collegiate team. Also, Paul Kariya, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks real-life star player at the time, used to play for the University of Maine.
Duck Sighting: Speaking of whom, Paul Kariya makes a cameo appearance in D3: The Mighty Ducks, offering some color commentary about the showdown game between the JV and the Varsity teams.
Name Game: When trying to impress his classmate Linda, Charlie asks “You’ve never heard of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks? They named a pro team after us.”
No Longer “North” Stars: Dwayne Robertson, who hails from Austin, Texas, corrects his Ducks’ teammates when they talk about the North Stars, stating that they are now the Dallas Stars. He also wears a Dallas Stars jersey during practice. Later in the film, we learn that Coach Orion used to play for the North Stars, but quit when the team relocated to Dallas.
Haven’t We Seen Her Before? Claudia Wilkens, who played the no-nonsense Principal in the original Mighty Ducks film also plays no-nonsense Eden Hall teacher Mrs. Madigan in D3. The two characters look and act the same, so maybe they are the same person? The Principal is never given a name; just “Principal” in the credits. And my high school Earth Science teacher used to be the school principal, but realized that he missed teaching, so he stepped down and returned to the classroom. Maybe Mrs. Madigan felt the same way? Plus, I’m sure a teacher at Eden Hall Academy has a much better salary than a principal at a District 5 public school.
From Referee to Coach: Jack White, the skills coach who trained the child actors to play hockey for all three Ducks movies, appears in the first two Ducks films as a referee. In D3, he plays Coach Wilson, the coach of the Eden Hall Warriors Varsity team.
Goldberg on D: Greg Goldberg sucks as a goalie. In the first Ducks film, he was amusing as a chubby, chatty goalie who was afraid of the puck, and fit the trope of the goalie being out-of-shape and a poor skater. Goldberg had no business being the goalie for USA in the Junior Goodwill Games in D2, but actually thrives as a defenseman in D3. Being a short, fat kid, Goldberg is an absolute wrecking ball out there.
No Broken Bones: In the film’s obligatory Rollerblading scene, Goldberg loses control and Charlie chases after him to help. But how the hell did they fall 20 feet and land on their skates without breaking their shins, knees or ankles? Kids — don’t try this at home!
D3 is not perfect and some of it is kind of dumb, but it is a watchable film, even for adults. Just like the first movie was about Bombay’s evolution as a person and learning to let go of his “win-at-all-costs” mentality, D3 is about Charlie learning to let go and grow up. It’s a sometimes-difficult lesson, but one we all must learn. D3: The Mighty Ducks is a satisfying end to The Mighty Ducks trilogy.
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk. ■