Why 'D3: The Mighty Ducks' falls well short of the bar set by the original

J.J. Regan
NBC Sports Washington

With live sports on pause and most people stuck at home due to the coronavirus, hockey fans have to find other ways to pass the time. Watching a good hockey movie can certainly help, but the fact is some of us haven't seen the "classic" hockey movies since we were kids.

So how good are they really? Do they actually hold up? With nothing but time on our hands, let's find out.

Every Friday during the pause, I'll have a hockey movie review in which I will watch a movie the night before, take notes and provide those notes and a grade for each movie just to see how good they really are.

You can check out the past reviews here:

"Happy Gilmore"
"The Mighty Ducks"
"D2: The Mighty Ducks"

This week's movie: "D3: The Mighty Ducks"

The third chapter of the Mighty Ducks trilogy takes the Ducks to high school. The team has received scholarships to the prestigious Eden Hall Academy to play on the freshman hockey team. Emilio Estevez reprises his role as Gordan Bombay yet again, but he is not the main character and has a very small role in the movie. Instead, the focus moves to Charlie Conway. He and the team have to navigate a new school in which they feel they do not belong, a bullying varsity team and a new coach.

My perception of this movie has changed a lot over the years. I saw it when I was little and thought coach Ted Orion, played by Jeffrey Nordling, was a big meanie and I completely understood why there was so much tension between him and Charlie. As soon as I learned anything about hockey, I flipped, thought Charlie was a brat and disliked this movie because I thought it was vilifying the coach for wanting to do things like play defense. Upon watching it again, it's slightly more nuanced than that.

Charlie is a brat, but he is told he is a brat by almost everyone throughout the movie. Orion isn't really vilified at all, it just takes a while for Charlie to understand where he's coming from and that's the point. The revelation I had watching it is that this movie is really a coming of age movie disguised as a Mighty Ducks movie. There's actually not that much hockey in it. There are a few practices, then we see one game, one dawn "scrimmage" with the varsity, then the climactic varsity showdown. That's it and that's because hockey is not so much the focus as it was in previous movies. This time the focus is Charlie.

Having said that, Charlie's still a brat and I'll have much more to say on that in the notes.

Here are my notes from watching:

  • I hate stereotypes in movies. To me, it's a signal by the writer that the writing is not good enough to show us who these characters are so it leans on easily recognizable and overused tropes. It's lazy writing. In this case, it is the snobby prep school kids and the bully jocks. I can excuse the snobby stereotype somewhat because, as we saw from the first movie, rich kids vs. poor kids is a  major theme throughout the trilogy. Characterizing the varsity team as the big, dumb, arrogant jocks, however, makes no sense considering the Ducks are there on athletic scholarships. They're the jocks too.

  • Charlie has issues and I thought so in the second movie too. They are playing for Team USA and Charlie is upset they can't be the USA Ducks or wear their Duck colors instead of red, white and blue. At the start of this movie, Bombay tells Charlie he is not going to be their coach because he has been offered an incredible opportunity where he is essentially in charge of pee-wee hockey worldwide. Charlie's initial response to this? "Well, don't go." Bombay tells him he can't pass up this opportunity and tells him he knows what he's going through. Charlie responds, "No, you don't understand. You obviously don't have a clue." He says this to the guy who's dad died when he was a kid, who has mentored him through pee-wee, helped him get on the national team, coached them to a gold medal and has gotten him a scholarship to this school. Within the first five minutes of the movie, you already know that Charlie is a real piece of work.

  • I think this movie is assuming we have seen the first two when it comes to Charlie. If you have, you can cut Charlie a little bit of slack. His dad left when he was young so maybe there are some abandonment issues here. Hockey and Bombay are really all he had growing up. If you are coming into his movie without watching the other two, then Charlie will just come off like the biggest brat in the world. Also, let's say Bombay did want to coach them. There's no guarantee the school would even hire him.

  • Here is a list of the most egregious things Charlie says in this movie: To Bombay, "But you can dump us, right? You're dumping us in some stupid school." Saying to his new coach the first time he meets him, "You've got to be kidding me, right? I mean, you're the rookie here. We've all been together for four years." To the girl he is supposedly flirting with, "You're just like the rest of those snobs." To his coach, "A washed-up pro who has to show off to a bunch of kids." To Bombay about Orion, "You left us with a real jerk." Then Charlie learns Orion walked away from the NHL to be with his handicapped daughter. Charlie's the real jerk!

  • Why would Eden Hall give the entire team a scholarship? I had the same problem with the second movie too. OK, so the Ducks won the state championship. Why would they take the entire team and make them Team USA? And at least in that one, they added a handful of players to bolster the roster. In this movie, they are giving the full team a scholarship and...that's it. That's the team. No one else is added, there are no tryouts, no nothing. I guess you have to have the team back together for the story's sake, but still. For a school that takes hockey as seriously as Eden Hall, they don't really do much vetting. This also has the added problem of giving varsity a valid beef with the Ducks. In the first interaction between the Ducks and varsity, one of the varsity players says his little brother lost his spot on the freshman team because of them. You know what? That's a valid reason to not like the Ducks. 

  • Eden Hall has won 10 consecutive state championships.

  • I knew as soon as we saw the ant farm in the dean's office and it would come up at some point in the movie. I was right.

  • Abraham from the walking dead is a player on varsity.

  • Charlie's first impression of coach Orion is that he doesn't like him because he won't let them just lasso each other for practice and he wants them to play defense? Grow. Up.

  • Greg Goldberg has been a terrible goalie for the entire trilogy. Thank you, thank you for finally addressing this and naming Julie Gaffney the starter. The fact that she barely played in the second movie was garbage.

  • Charlie goes to complain to Hans about Orion. "He doesn't exactly seem like he's open to new learning experiences." Hans replies, "The question is, are you?" Later in the movie, Hans says, "You're not a little boy anymore. Please stop acting this way."Thank you, Hans.

  • Orion's speech on confidence is great and just goes over the head of teenage angsty Charlie. Seriously, he is the fifth Harry Potter movie level of bratty.

  • Any argument the Ducks may have had about not needing or wanting to play team defense goes out the window in their first game when they give up a 9-0 lead in the third period. Nine goals in one period. They have horrible puck management in the defensive zone and Charlie is a puck hog. Do they come back to the locker room and say, Orion was right! No, Charlien pretty much blames everyone else.

  • The scene in the locker room after the tie is an important one because it shows that Charlie is the one being selfish and his teammates know it and come after him for it.

  • Now on the third Mightly Ducks movie, we can see the formula. The team plays hockey, the main character gets distracted, the main character gets a pep talk, learns a lesson, gets focused and the team has success. Really, when you think about it, the Hawks, Team Iceland and varsity are all secondary villains to the personal issues the characters face.

  • David Shelby plays the dean and boy does he butcher one of the most important scenes of the movie. While the team is on the bus waiting to leave for an away game, the dean comes on the bus. He plays it very and buddy-buddy...while telling them that the school is withdrawing their scholarships. He does this while smiling. There is not a single ounce of understanding the severity of what he is telling those kids at all.

  • The team is going to lose its scholarship for not performing up to the standards of the school. Bombay is brought in by the team as legal counsel and says scholarships are binding and that he will sue the school if they are revoke ...but I'm pretty sure he's wrong. I believe most scholarships are good for one year and can be revoked by the school so I'm not sure that threatening would have done much good. Then again, I don't know why that decision would need to be made in the middle of the hockey season rather than at the end of the school year.

  • The climactic game the movie builds up to is an exhibition game between the freshman team and varsity. After the Ducks get to keep their scholarships, there is some trash talking back and forth. During this, varsity says the Ducks can have Adam Banks back. Banks was promoted to varsity since he's the Ducks' best player. They also say if the Ducks win, they will change their name from Warriors to Ducks. I would have loved it if the coach were there. "Hey guys, I couldn't help but overhear. No, I'm not giving up Banks just because you are trash-talking each other. He's really good. Also, let me check with the dean, hey dean? Are we going to change our team name based on this exhibition?" "What?! Heck no!" "Yeah, that's what I thought. No, we're not doing that." Neither of those things would be allowed to happen. The name change is set up once in five seconds of dialog when there is a petition to change the team name Otherwise, it's not brought up again. Then suddenly this exhibition game is all about changing the team name.

  • In practicing for varsity, Orion says they get a lot of garbage goals (goals in front of the net) so he decides they are going to clean up the garbage. He then dumps a trash can on the ice. As a metaphor, I get it, but then they start drilling with the trash. That drill is, in a word, garbage.

  • Seriously, they need to get over the "Ducks." I get that this is a movie franchise, but it's ridiculous. In the second movie they give up their USA jerseys for Duck jerseys in the gold medal game and in this exhibition game, they wear their Ducks jerseys instead of the school's. You know, that school that is giving them scholarships and that they play for? That's the one! They're not Ducks anymore! Accept it!

  • No referee in this entire trilogy understands what interference is because it happens all game, every game and is never called.

  • It wouldn't be a Mighty Ducks movie without making light of a concussion. This time it's Averman. He takes a big hit, you hear the birds tweeting, he's carried to the bench and says, "It's so pretty out there." What does Orion tell him to do? Sit on the bench. He doesn't even leave the game.

  • Of course Portman shows up after the first two periods, he has randomly signed his scholarship and has decided he's going to play. No, stop. You haven't been in this entire movie, why suddenly insert him just for the third period? He gets a penalty, starts throwing his gear into the crowd and stripping in the box. You're not "Slap Shot." Stop. And what if varsity had scored on the power play? He would be screwed because he doesn't have his gear.

  • The Ducks are trying to kill a two-man advantage and suddenly the coach who has preached defense through the entire movie is advocating going for the shorthanded goal.

Final Grade: C

This movie is really asking you to see it in the context of the trilogy. If you don't, Charlie might be enough to ruin this movie for you. He's that bad. Though not as childish or as devoid of any real message as D2 was, really this movie tries to disguise easy rich kid stereotypes as a continuation of the rich vs. poor commentary that we saw in the first movie. It doesn't really stick. Instead of focusing on what a scholarship to this prestigious school may mean to these kids who, from the original team, came from the poor district of Minneapolis, it instead focuses on Charlie and his teenage angst. Because of that, whatever message this movie may have had gets lost in a shallow, made for kids coming-of-age movie with some hockey thrown in.


Why 'D3: The Mighty Ducks' falls well short of the bar set by the original originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

What to Read Next