Matt Youngberg and Francisco Angones Rewrite History in the new DuckTales Reboot (with the help of friends David Tennant and Lin-Manual Miranda)
Matt Youngberg and Francisco Angones have been fans of DuckTales ever since the 1987 original and were “terrified of screwing up” the reboot.
MATT: We love “DuckTales” so much that the only thing we want is to present a “DuckTales” to a new audience that gives the audience the same feeling that we had. And hopefully that in 30 years, they’ll be coming around and creating the next version of “DuckTales,” and loving it as much as we love the original.
DuckTales follows Donald’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie on crazy adventures. It’s a duck-blur really. They might solve a mystery or rewrite history, but as we saw in our sneak peek of the new pilot episode it’s all 100% fun and exciting. And it’s not only the writers who got excited – it’s also the new cast of A-listers like David Tennant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and SNL alumni Bobby Moynihan and Beck Bennett.
MATT: David Tennant seemed to be the natural choice for this [Scrooge McDuck]. We really wanted to find somebody who was legitimately Scottish. We thought that was really important in this iteration. But someone who had the character to bring this icon alive. And David is an amazing actor. He’s morphed into this role in an incredible way. Because, when you think David Tennant, you think young and kind of vibrant and all of these things, and Scrooge you think of as old and miserly.
But as you can see in our version, he is miserly and old, but he has a youthful energy to him, adventuring has kept him young. I think David has really balanced the feeling of an old character who has a ton of life left in him.
FRANK: Yeah, he’s you can say he’s the Willy Wonka of adventure.
One thing they both needed to remember was that this isn’t 1987 anymore. Times have changed, technology has changed. Donald Duck has a cell phone. He also opens the episode wearing a towel around his waist, which is funny because he doesn’t wear pants.
MATT: I think our, our approach to that was to just present a world, like Frank was saying, present a world that kids understand and know, but without beating you over the head with it. Like, we didn’t want the characteristic of Louie to be, ‘I have an iPad.’ You know? That’s not his character trait.
FRANK: But if Louie is trying to break into a room, he’s gonna do the same thing that every kid would do, pull out a YouTube! video and look up how to do it.
MATT YOUNGBERG: The characteristics of the characters kinda tell us how they would live in this world. For example, if you watch that, yeah, Donald has like an iPhone type phone. And then Scrooge has a full gold flip-phone, because he hasn’t upgraded in 30 years.
While the characters have been a bit modernized with tech and new clothing, Matt and Frank wanted to make sure that DuckTales still had a hand-drawn feel. They wanted it to look and feel like a comic book or newspaper without it being blatant “in your face” panels, so they layered the show in artist ink, pulp, and texture to enhance that feel. They never wanted a life-like CG look, they wanted authenticity.
MATT: We looked at the comic books that inspired “DuckTales,” that were made by Carl Barks and other artists. And we wanted to be able to kind of harken back to the roots a little bit more. And so, we developed this style, not only in the having it be traditionally animated by hand. But also in creating a style for the world that looked like it was inked by an artist brush so that like it looks like comic book pages come to life a little bit. So, it was really important for us to kind of pay homage to where it came from and make it. And that also to me helps kind of ground it a little bit, and make it feel more tangible and real.
I think if it was CG, it would feel a little bit more artificial, and it would be hard to connect with because you’ve got this world of crazy weird ducks. If you think about it, “DuckTales” doesn’t make any sense. It’s about ducks that go on adventures. But presenting it like a comic strip that you automatically buy into.
FRANK: And one of the things we said is that “DuckTales” and Carl Barks, they’re all pulp adventure stories. And one of the cool things that Matt and our art director Sean Jimenez did, is they wanted to actually put pulp in it. So, if you pause and look very closely, everything has this layer of actual newspaper pulp underneath it to make it feel like you are watching a 1930s adventure serial. It’s really cool.
MATT: It was important that even though it’s hand drawn, but everything nowadays, even when you’re doing it hand drawn, you’re doing it on a computer. So, we wanted to find a way to bridge that digital divide a little bit to make it feel like it was warmer and more inviting than something that was really flat and graphic and digital. So, we put in that pulp, that layer of pulp. And the lines on the characters are a little bit more sketchy. So those things all help it feel that way.
Now I did talk a bit about how Lin-Manuel Miranda got attached to DuckTales in my previous post about it, but I wanted to share with you, word for word, on exactly how Frank Angones got Lin to be Gizmoduck/Fenton Crackshell-Cabrera. You might need tissues…
FRANK: I’m Cuban. I grew up in Miami. So, when I grew up, I was a comic book nerd, and we only had one Latino superhero, his name was Vibe. He had breakdance superpowers, and he was a member of a street gang. And every time I saw Latino representation, even to this day in movies, there’s not a lot of Latino superhero representation, and I wanna be able to give my kids a Latino superhero.
I was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if the main superhero of DuckTales was Latino?’ Not just a token side superhero. This is our Peter Parker meets Tony Stark/Ironman. As we looked at adapting the character, we looked at the original traits, he always had another idea. He was always fast talking. He was always putting together a scheme. He was very earnest and I was like, ‘This is Lin-Manuel Miranda, and we’ll never get him.’
I had the good fortune to write that episode, and I wrote it as if it was Lin. I was like, ‘Even if we can’t get Lin, there is a Lin-ness about this adaptation of this character.’ And we sent him the script, and I sent him a letter telling him why this was important to me, and I’d been a huge fan of his.
MATT: He said he cried, right?
FRANK: He said, uh, yes. Ben (Schwartz) said he cried. Yeah. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Ben Schwartz and Lin are pretty tight.
MATT: And Lin is a huge fan of the original series. The thing we’re finding that with a lot of the actors around our age is that they’re also huge fans. And, then you have this earnest letter that makes him cry.
FRANk: You guys, I’ve never worked harder on anything that I did on that letter.
MATT: On that letter?
FRANK: That was a whole lot of work.
MATT: It was an amazing chance to get him.
FRANK: And he’s awesome. And he’s so excited to do it. I can’t wait for you guys to see his interpretation of the character.
MATT: The first thing he did when he came into the record was to sing the moon theme from the videogame.
FRANK DuckTales video game used to be his ringtone. And so, he started signing that.
MATT: Before we started recording, he just started. He said that should show how much he loved it.
FRANK: And then we played the very first episode recording, ‘cause obviously we have a huge cast, we have to record everybody separately. When we got him into record, we usually feed him a line that’s already been recorded, so that they know the context and whatever, and they could play off of it.
And so, we played him a David [Tennant] line, and he stops, and we’re recording. And he was in London at the time shooting Mary Poppins. Uh. And we recorded him and felt that the feed went dead, or that he hadn’t heard it. We’re like, ‘Lin, are you okay?’ And he just goes, ‘That’s Scrooge McDuck.’ And he started to freak out. It’s like, ‘Okay, we’re in a good place.’
MATT: His enthusiasm is palpable. That person you see out there being enthusiastic about everything, that’s genuine.
FRANK: That is not an act.
MATT:: That’s who he is.
FRANK: It’s great to hear him say, ‘Blabbering Blatherskite.’