This equation of family with adventure has been embedded in the DuckTales DNA from the beginning. In the original show’s two-hour 1987 pilot, “The Treasure of the Golden Suns,” Scrooge bonds with the boys over the course of a treasure-hunting expedition but, as in the new “Woo-oo!,” he is at first reclusive and reluctant. In both instances, the bodily risk of their adventures externalizes the emotional risk. (A curmudgeonly realist may wonder why no one has ever called CPS on Scrooge for child endangerment—but of course, this is beside the point.) In both the 20th-century and 21st-century DuckTales, physical vulnerability in the heroes becomes emblematic of the interpersonal vulnerability necessary for healthy relationships.
At the beginning of “Woo-oo!” the kids are convinced that their life with Uncle Donald is tedious—and indeed, it probably is. However, once we arrive at the episode’s climactic action sequence, we see the seemingly “boring” Donald willingly risk his life to save Dewey from his hubris. His actions demonstrate that, however dull he may seem, he is prepared to live out in deeds the vulnerability that he has already extended to the triplets from his heart.
In DuckTales, then, risk for the sake of relationship is rewarded in a way that risk for pure profit motive is not. The villainous Glomgold is more tentative than Scrooge and hires mercenaries to do the heavy lifting, but he still does journey to Atlantis himself. In the end, though, he is the dark reflection of Scrooge, a wealthy Scotsman (well, Scotsduck), yet always second place—precisely because he puts himself first. He ditches his hired guns—individuals, we learn, who have not known close family relationships—as soon as the opportunity arises, leaving them stranded (and reliant, ironically, on Scrooge’s generosity).
As with the first DuckTales, the definition of “family” in the reboot is somewhat loose. There are no traditional nuclear families to be seen, and the core relational unit includes many non-blood-relatives: Mrs. Beakley, Webby, Launchpad (and, reports suggest, many other returning subsidiary characters).
What remains most significant throughout, though, is the emphasis on love as a self-sacrificial quality that demands hazard. “Greater love has no one than this,” claims Jesus, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Shortly thereafter, he would serve as our example in backing up these words with action. In Christian thought, this love, directed toward the ultimate goal of God’s service, has been called the theological virtue of charity. No one but Christ has perfectly exemplified it, and the best Christians since him can only even approach his standard because of the work of divine grace in transforming their desires.
Yet in their own ways, even unbelievers can show a form of such love. It may not be charity, as it is directed toward the wrong end. But, as even Thomas Aquinas could acknowledge, those outside the faith can “do those good works for which the good of nature suffices.”
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. In a small, silly, cartoonish way, the characters of DuckTales have already begun to show shadows of the “greater love” that Jesus commends to his disciples. Manifestations of such a love are the real heart of the show, beyond clever bird puns or animation style—or even an amazing theme song.
And that’s just ducky for me.
Geoffrey Reiter is assistant professor of English at the Baptist College of Florida and associate editor for Christ and Pop Culture. He holds a BA in English from Nyack College and a PhD in English from Baylor University, along with an MA in church history from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.