Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “The Mighty Ducks”
HOCKEY FEVER! Do you have it? Probably not, as you are an educated man of letters — not to imply that educated men of letters are immune from enjoying the spectacle of dudes on skates pounding the shit out of each other… What was I talking about again?
Ah, yes. HOCKEY FEVER! As I write this, Frank, the NHL is deep into playoff season, and because I have a surprising amount of friends who are super-into hockey, I have also been following along casually. (I am a fan of sports, but only on a very low-key level — I can only consume content on the regular when it comes in half hour or one hour chunks.)
My point is — HOCKEY FEVER! If you and others reading this are not hockey fans, I feel bad for you son, but I have two suggestions that might help you get back on board with the game:
SUGGESTION 1: Go see a game live.
I think I’ve seen about three live hockey games in my life, but each time it was AWESOME. Hockey on TV is okay, but it’s a lot of watching dudes chase after a tiny disc and it can be easy to lose focus. LIVE, oh, it’s wonderful.
The primary reason is auditory, because modern technology just cannot capture the visceral bliss of hockey sounds — the grunts, the collisions, and most importantly the SWISH-SWISH of skate blades cutting across the ice. It’s simply a beautiful thing, live hockey. It’s poetry.
SUGGESTION 2: Watch The Mighty Ducks.
Frank, The Mighty Ducks is not poetry. It is not particularly beautiful. But it is a profoundly weird movie that has at its core a deep love of the sport it’s appropriated for a Bad News Bears-style romp, and even 20 years after its original release, it remains pretty watchable, in that 90s-era Disney fashion.
Though, let me say once more, this movie is WEIRD. Well, it doesn’t start off weird. The scenario playing out over the opening sequence is familiar to any hockey fan: THE BIG GAME is about to be decided by a penalty shot.
This is not the NHL, though — this is Pee-Wee hockey, and Lane Smith (a classic that guy from all the things who you, Frank, probably know best as Perry White from Lois and Clark) is coaching young Gordon through the moment that will decide THE BIG GAME.
Young Gordon’s shot hits the post, and he is crushed, and Perry White is super-disappointed, but now we’re in the future! Since blowing THE BIG GAME, young Gordon has grown up to become Emilio Estevez (well, in Emilio’s case, “growing up” is mostly figurative I APOLOGIZE THAT WAS MEAN OF ME) and is now a very lawyer-y lawyer, because the most important thing in life is winning — a lesson THE BIG GAME taught him all too well.
Is the name Gordon an homage to Wall Street? If so, vaguely well-played, movie. But Gordon’s boss, a dude named Ducksworth, isn’t impressed by Gordon’s winner-take-all attitude, and calls Gordon out on being a jerk in the courtroom.
Said accusation causes Gordon to get like alarmingly drunk — like, swigging booze from the bottle while also driving a sportscar drunk — and the judge and prosecutor he hasseled earlier are like HOO-HAH, VENGEANCE TIME! So Gordon loses his license, gets forced to take a leave of absence from his work, and has to do community service (let’s not bother caring about the fact that even if Gordon wasn’t an enemy of the court, two of those things are still the things that would happen to him).
And what community service has he been assigned? Why, coaching a Pee-Wee hockey team of disadvantaged youths, of course! Cruelest irony, because after having lost THE BIG GAME, Gordon hates hockey! And also youths!
The disadvantaged youths occupy an interesting place in the evolution of films made for children — while they’re not full-on Goonies-style hoodlums who are put in real danger, they’re also not santized Disney Channel drones. (We meet many of them in the midst of a prank where they feed a dog chili, harvest the dog’s chili poop, then put said chili poop in a handbag with a $1 bill sticking out and wait to see who picks it up off the street.) My point is, it’s very early 90s.
Gordon (who’s getting driven around in a limo because that’s what happens to fancy-pants lawyers who lose their driver’s licenses) is condescending and rude to the kids, who respond in kind–
And let’s just take a second here to bring up the fact that the state of (I think) Minnesota assigned someone who is technically a felon to spend a great deal of unsupervised time alone with children. I mean, really? It’s not like he’s a sex offender or anything, but the fact that anyone thought this was a good idea is just insane.
The first practice is a trainwreck, and then the first game of the currently unnamed Team District 5 is against — TWIST! — Perry White, Gordon’s old coach! That dick! His team consists of uber-coordinated uber-mini-mensches, and they humiliate the kids we have come to care for! Including young plucky Joshua Jackson!
That’s right, future Fringe charmer Joshua Jackson is one of the plucky youths in this film. He has a hot single mom! And because this is a totally natural thing for kids to do, Joshua’s totally into the idea of setting his mom and hockey coach up. And it kind of works…
…Well, only after Gordon realizes that he really does want to help these kids get good at hockey-ing, as opposed to his initial strategy of “let’s take a lot of dives and cheat like crazy,” which pisses off the team and makes Joshua Jackson especially sad!
Gordon realizes the error of his ways thanks to a sequence which reminds me of a bit from The Cutting Edge. Frank, you have a younger sister, I KNOW you’ve seen The Cutting Edge — which reminds me to get very rich, buy my own movie theater, and then screen The Mighty Ducks and The Cutting Edge as a double feature…
Sorry, my point is, Gordon reconnects with his love of skating in a scene where he basically “smells the ice,” ergo he reconnects with his love of hockey, and commits to helping the kids learn to play.
This takes a number of forms — first, training montages to improve their skills at skating and puck-handling, with unconventional methods including roller blades and raw eggs. (It’s really entertaining, Frank! Training montages are the best!)
Also, Gordon convinces his boss to donate the money needed to get the kids some real equipment. Because his boss’s last name is Ducksworth, Team District 5 becomes…
Oh, these heady early days of Disney synergy! Disney was still a couple of years away from buying its own professional hockey team and renaming it in honor of this film franchise, but that moment of film/sports/business crossover lurks in the shadows.
Gordon has to get his team on board with the duck concept, which he does with a very moving speech about ducks and their loyalty and cleanliness or whatever. It’s also thematically appropriate, given that their chief rivals are the Hawks.
(Ducksworth’s money leads to a shopping montage set to Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s “Good Vibrations,” by the way. Frank, it’s important you know this.)
The final step is to do a little recruiting: There’s a giant goon of a kid who wants to play but needs to learn how to skate, brother and sister figure skaters where the sister is tougher than most of the boys on the team, and finally a preppy kid who’s the star player of the Hawks, but thanks to a change in the zoning rules is technically a duck.
Gordon points this out in the name of fair play, but the preppy kid’s equally preppy father complains to Ducksworth, and Ducksworth tries to get Gordon to let it go and let the preppy kid continue to be a Hawk. Gordon refuses, literally quitting his job at the law firm over this. It is a very nice and noble decision! I am a bit worried that Gordon has sustained some brain damage over the course of his very short coaching career, though.
Now that the Ducks have real equipment, half-decent players, and an actual name, they start winning games! In fact (let’s just fast-forward a bit here) their unique skills get them all the way to the championship game against — you guessed it — the Hawks!
That’s right, it’s a new BIG GAME, against the team that Gordon let down as a kid! Perry White, by the way, has aged NOT AT ALL in the last 20 years.
And the Hawks play dirty, so dirty that they actually K.O. the preppy kid who used to be a Hawk but has since switched alliances. His own former friends do this to him! Hockey is a rough sport, Frank.
But the Ducks do a bunch of cool stuff, including the legendary flying V play that’s exactly how it sounds, and the game gets tied up just before the end, when Joshua Jackson gets a penalty shot that will win the game for the Ducks forever!
That’s right, we’re right back where we started — young boy with father issues being coached through one of the most tense moments of his young life. Frank, I’ve been forgetting to mention that when Gordon lost THE BIG GAME as a kid, it was right on the heels of his father’s death.
And so because his father died and he disappointed his coach in the same emotional moment, Gordon has a TON of father issues all tied up in the sport — father issues he now has an opportunity to pass onto Joshua Jackson!
But because he is not a jerk like Perry White, and has grown and changed as a person, he just tells Joshua Jackson to relax and have fun because it’s only a game. Which means that Joshua Jackson (despite up until this point having been a bit not-great at this whole hockey thing) nails the shot and wins THE BIG GAME! Big American party everybody disco dancing! Gordon kisses Joshua Jackson’s mom! Hooray!
There is the little matter of how Gordon doesn’t have a job anymore, but earlier in the movie we ran across some real professional hockey players (you can tell they’re real, because THEY ARE TERRIBLE AT ACTING), and one of them remembers Gordon from his Pee-Wee days, and is like, oh, hey, you could totally try out for the minors if you wanted to. So the movie ends with Gordon going off to seek his fortune as a professional hockey player — who knows what will happen next?
Well, we do, because D2: The Mighty Ducks exists. Short version, Gordon gets injured and then coaches the kids in the “Junior Goodwill” Games. That’s right, the Ducks go to the Olympics in the second movie. And then in the third movie, they go to prep school? I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to make sense.
But as far as sports movies go, the first Mighty Ducks remains a stupidly watchable film, and Emilio Estevez is really committed to his role, and HOCKEY FEVER, Frank! It’s never too late to catch it.