There haven't been many sports films about hockey, thus making Disney's Mighty Ducks, a well-made children adventure, a welcome addition. However, this is a formulaic picture that, while meant for children, actually focuses on one yuppie's struggle to redeem his soul.
Mildly entertaining but unexciting picture (whose title is unappetizing) will enjoy a short theatrical life before leaving stronger impact in videoland.
Emilio Estevez stars as Gordon Bombay, a highly accomplished lawyer who takes pride in never losing a case. However, arrogant and a bit obnoxious, he carelessly gets nailed on drunk driving charges. Estevez's stern boss works out a deal for him to do community service instead of suffering the humiliation of going to court.
Once Estevez meets the undisciplined, street-wise kids, whom he has to shape into a winning pee wee hockey team, Mighty Ducks becomes utterly predictable and mighty preachy too. Like Robin Williams in Hook, Estevez is a driven workaholic whose life is devoid of any joy, spontaneity or humanism. Through flashbacks, tale reveals that Gordon (played as a kid by Brock Pierce) had excelled at hockey until one traumatic experience, and that his father died at a crucial moment in his life. Estevez thus needs to reclaim his childhood, regain his humanity, and re-establish his self-worth. These tasks are fulfilled through his engrossing relationship with Charley (Joshua Jackson), a bright, fatherless kid who becomes his surrogate son.
Fearing to alienate the female contingency, male-dominated adventure also contains a contrived romance between Estevez and Casey (Heidi Kling), Charlie's tough but vulnerable mother.
Political correctness informs Mighty Ducks, from the careful composition of the hockey team (boys and girls, and the right number of black and Jewish kids) to pic's value system, stressing team work over aggressive individualism; concentration, not strength; and a business firm that serves, rather than exploits, its community.
Steven Brill's schematic script contains a few inspired one-liners, but not enough to distract attention from the plot's machinery. In its structure and tonality, Mighty Ducks bears strong resemblance to Touchstone's summer hit comedy, Sister Act, which was also formulaic but was at least funny on its own terms.
The immensely appealing Estevez effortlessly holds the whole film together, credibly balancing the crude and compassionate dimensions of his character. As his big boss, Ducksworth (after whom the team is named), great character actor Josef Sommer is underutilized, and the same applies to Lane Smith, as Estevez's former coach and now rival. Of the half a dozen kids, whose roles are not distinguishable enough to make individual impression, only Joshua Jackson gives a natural, endearing performance as Charlie.
Good production values make Mighty Ducks, an otherwise inoffensive genre item, more enjoyable. Helmer Stephen Herek gives familiar story a crisp look and swift tempo, keeping the episodes zipping right along, seldom allowing sanctimonious tale to linger too long or gags to get too tiresome. In pic's second part, the pace is accelerated by a skillful shorthand–impressive montages of hockey games.
Thomas Del Ruth's proficient lensing makes pic, which was shot in Minneapolis in the winter, look authentic as well as handsome. David Newman's score has an appropriately bouncy sweep to it; other pop tunes are also well integrated into the narrative.
Gordon Bombay……Emilio Estevez
Coach Reilly………..Lane Smith
Gerald Ducksworth….Josef Sommer
Charlie Conroy…..Joshua Jackson
Fulton Reed………Elden Ratliff
A Buena Vista release of a Walt Disney presentation, in association with Touchstone Pacific Partners I of an Avnet/Kerner production. Produced by Jordan Kerner and Jon Avnet. Co-producers, Lynn Morgan and Martin Huberty. Directed by Stephen Herek. Screenplay, Steven Brill. Camera (Technicolor, Panavision), Thomas Del Ruth; editors, Larry Bock and John F. Link; music, David Newman; production design, Randy Ser; art direction, Tony Fanning; set design, Jack Ballance; set decoration, Julie Kaye Fanton; costume design, Grania Preston; special effects supervisor, Paul Murphy; first assistant director, Douglas E. Wise; casting, Renee Rousselot.
MPAA Rating: PG.
Running time: 101 min.