Will the puck stop here? Not a chance. "They named a pro team after us," notes one of the Mighty Ducks, just in case you've forgotten. Which wouldn't be easy.
The first 10 minutes of "D3: The Mighty Ducks" is a recap/regurgitation of the previous "Mighty Ducks" movies, with all the emotional asceticism of an NBC Olympic moment. The rest is a self-reverential salute to Ducks. Did someone say Ducks?
With a Disney franchise that now includes three features and an Anaheim-based NHL squad, the biggest problem facing the makers of "D3" is how to revert to sports-movie formula and make their little winners underdogs again. This they accomplish by packing them off to prep school: Eden Hall, alias Hell, an in-breeding ground for vicious elitists, the directors of which want the Ducks for their publicity value. Whom they're trying to impress is unclear, especially since they immediately outlaw the name "Ducks," but this is their story and they're sticking to it.
Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez), who founded the team and in "D2" took his players to victory at the Junior Goodwill Games, makes a brief appearance but does not follow the team to Eden Hall. This sets up the tried-and-true betrayal scenario and adjustment crisis, in which a presumably malevolent new coach named Orion (Jeffrey Nordling) butts heads with Charlie (Joshua Jackson), the piquing Ducks' captain. It's almost refreshing how Charlie turns out to be the jerk rather than Orion, a former pro player with a secret. And how Charlie becomes something else is part of the moral magnificence of "D3."
But the major conflict is between the freshman Ducks-cum-Eden Hall Warriors, and their varsity antagonists, who say things like "You don't belong here" and "You're not Warrior material." It's just brutal. Hostilities include fire ants being loosed in bed sheets, horse-manure sandwiches and the Ducks being stuck with a restaurant tab. The torture never stops.
The Ducks, of course, are sublimely multiethnic and gender-balanced. The upper-class Warriors, on the other hand, are white males with a collective IQ of 15. Now, we know it's tough to find enemies in a post-communist world, but "D3" is even lazier about it than "D2," which demonized Iceland. Give us, as they say, a break.
Director Robert Lieberman is up to some mischief at the beginning of the film, putting his Ducks through some Chuck Jones-inspired pratfalls and accompanying them with Three Stooges-style sound effects (a player hits the boards, you hear "Booiiiinnngg!"). He settles down, though, the same way the Mighty Ducks have skated into a groove that goes nowhere but the box office.
* MPAA rating: PG, for some hockey rough-housing and mild language. Times guidelines: harmless, if relentlessly predictable, family fun.
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'D3: The Mighty Ducks'
Joshua Jackson: Charlie
Jeffrey Nordling: Coach Orion
Heidi Kling: Casey
Christopher Orr: Rick
Michael Cudlitz: Cole
Emilio Estevez: Gordon Bombay
A Walt Disney Pictures production, released by Buena Vista. Director Robert Lieberman. Producers Jordan Kerner, Jon Avnet. Screenplay Steven Brill, Jim Burnstein. Cinematographer David Hennings. Editor Patrick Lussier, Colleen Halsey. Costumes Kimberly A. Tillman. Music J.A.C. Redford. Production design Stephen Storer. Art director Harry Darrow. Set decorator Robin Peyton. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.