The Mighty Ducks Writer Steven Brill Interview

The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers digs back into the nostalgia of the original franchise in the biggest way yet with today’s new episode, titled “Spirit of the Ducks.” When a gala is planned to celebrate the legacy of the peewee hockey team, some of the original teammates get back together with Coach Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez). But the reunion isn’t quite as chipper as you might expect, and that’s exactly how franchise writer Steven Brill likes it.

For the Mighty Ducks reunion episode of Game Changers, we sat down to talk with Steven Brill, the writer of all three original movies and executive producer/writer of the new Disney+ series (who also directs the reunion episode). In our conversation, find out about the development of Mighty Ducks 4 before Game Changers came along, who missed out on the reunion due to the coronavirus pandemic, staying true to the show’s dramatic roots, and some of the hopeful plans for the future of Game Changers, including the return of more original Mighty Ducks teammates. Oh, and did you know that a Mighty Ducks musical could be in the cards?

Before Game Changers came along, was there ever any movement on a fourth Mighty Ducks movie or anything like that?

Well, I’d always thought about it. I didn’t think we were done with the franchise after the third one because everything was pretty much intact. I thought for years and years about how to update it. Even as the kids got older, we wondered if we should play with the original Mighty Ducks and see them through their adult life and check in with them as 40-year olds. Would that be a tragedy? Because they’ve gotten older, maybe they can’t play?

Another idea I wanted was to turn it into a musical, a Broadway musical with songs. I thought a version of Mighty Ducks, maybe a little hybrid with D2, would be a really fun way to do the series. So that got me excited. Kids on ice. And gotta fly. And quack quack quack would be a great musical moment.

But because of streaming, the idea came to do a longer movie. Everyone says on streaming they’re doing long movies, but in our case, it really is. Because of streaming, we get to do this five-hour version of Mighty Ducks 4, and this is exactly what I think a fourth Ducks movie would be.

That’s good to hear, because it seems like Disney doesn’t really make movies like The Mighty Ducks anymore. Was there any challenge in convincing them that this would work for today’s audiences? 

That’s a good question. It’s just part of the way the movie industry has evolved. But over the past 10 years, when I started thinking about Mighty Ducks 4, it became more about Marvel and Pixar and bigger tentpole movies. The smaller sports movie just wasn’t something they were making because the culture had shifted away from making mid-level budget movies. I think the last one they tried was Million Dollar Arm with Jon Hamm or another one of those. They did fine, but not big enough. It seemed like the genre was being squeezed out from all movie studios, not just from Disney, in the theatrical arena.

So when streaming came along, it really felt like a savior. It wasn’t me having to pitch them. They saw the format as a way to explore the franchise, and I was really happy to get that five-hour stretch to do whatever we wanted as far as telling the story.

What is it about The Mighty Ducks that has allowed it to endure? It’s not the first slobs vs. snobs story we’ve seen, especially in sports, so what has made it so memorable after all this time?

I’ve thought about that, and I have stock answers, which I don’t know if they’re true or not. Because people really get hooked in. But I always thought, even before it was successful, that it was the idea of watching this team, which was a surrogate family essentially, and that connection people long for and want. Then the coach being the father figure, going through trials together. Ducks fly together and “The Flying V,” I thought that was part of the hook. The actual good-naturedness of it, and the actual emotion was the hook too, along with hockey, which I always thought would create an interesting dynamic and cinematic thing that would hit all the buttons. Between hockey and that emotion, I think that’s what carries it forward. But I could be wrong. It could be just the music, I don’t know. [laughs]

The score is definitely one of the more iconic themes to come out of these kind of movies. It’s instantly recognizable. 

Yeah, I love that. I didn’t know that, and then we kept using it more and more. I get really energized by the original score, which is something that a lot of TV shows don’t do. But that’s our streaming approach to making this like a movie. We scored it like a movie. We didn’t score it like an episodic TV show where they have commercials you have to get in and out of. We scored it lush and full-bodied, along with good needle drops from contemporary songs when appropriate. But I love that old school full score.

Can you talk about making “Spirit of the Ducks” episode a little more dramatic endeavor than some fans might be expecting? There’s definitely an upbeat side of the reunion, but it takes a darker turn. 

Yeah, I think that was just the way to go. It does turn into a celebration together, but I had to add some tension there because I think that makes sense for the characters. Bombay, because he retreated, there’s a level of disconnection between him and the other team. I thought that this would be a cool way to play it. Plus, me and [co-showrunner and executive producer ] Josh Goldsmith, we don’t argue, but we tease each other because he says the show’s a comedy, and I think it’s a drama. He thinks it’s a comedy with drama, and I think it’s a drama with comedy. So to my point, as a drama with comedy, it makes sense that we would do the episode this way.

Is there anybody you had hoped would be part of the reunion but couldn’t get on board for one reason or another, whether it was scheduling or complications from the pandemic? 

Yeah, we had restrictions. It was not great to not be able to get everybody that we wanted. Sometimes it was because, like Aaron Lohr [who played Dean Portman, one of the Bash Brothers], was a counselor at a facility, and he couldn’t leave for a month to do this quarantine in order to shoot for two weeks. A lot of these people have other lives. Mike Vitar [who played Luis Mendoza] is a firefighter, and even during COVID, it wasn’t possible. A lot of those people we couldn’t get. I would have made it a 40-person reunion. I would have gotten every single person from The Mighty Ducks, and we even set up the format so that anyone who was ever a Duck could be in the episode. There were restrictions, sadly. But that’s what season two is for, to touch base with everybody else. It probably would have gotten to unwieldy and we wouldn’t have gotten to spend as much time as we did with each character. So I think we got the right balance, but there’s definitely a lot more storylines and people I want to bring back.

So the plan is to bring back some of the other Mighty Ducks in a future season?

Yes! The mythology is the same. Joshua Jackson and [Emilio Estevez] have a really interesting backstory we have to explore. Many of these people still live in Minneapolis or St. Paul, and they should be part of the fabric of the show. As we go forward, they should be able to be there. One person works for the city, and one person is a substitute teacher, another drives a limo. There’s all sorts of characters I’d love to keep on tap and also re-introduce.

You mentioned the relationship between Charlie and Gordon, can you give us any hint as to the kind of complications that exist between them at this point in their lives? Is that something we’ll learn about this season or is it being saved for another season?

I’m saving it, because if we’re able to do it, I always thought that Charlie/Josh should come back in a real way, where we get to spend time with him. Not just a cameo or an episode, which would be fun. And Kenan [Thompson], to a certain degree, when we talked to him, we said, “We’d love to be able to use you in a real way and have you come in and not just be a cameo but come in and actually do some storylines.” So that’s the hope for the future for sure. I think Kenan’s Russ Tyler character went off to be on Saturday Night Live, strangely enough, and that’s what Kenan did, so when Russ comes back, he could be a guy who was on Saturday Night Live. That makes perfect sense.

I’m sure you know about the unfortunate situation with Shaun Weiss (Greg Goldberg), and I was wondering if there was any hope of getting him to come back now that he’s getting on the right track again.  

Yeah, 100%. The door is open. I’m so happy that he’s in recovery and seems to be doing well, and it’s important to reintroduce him and get him back when he is physically and technically ready to come. I can’t wait. It would be great. He’s Goldberg. No matter what, he’s Goldberg.

How much has a series like Cobra Kai influenced Game Changers? Do you have multiple season arcs planned so you know where these characters are heading to continue the legacy of The Mighty Ducks?

It’s funny, Cobra Kai is a great show, but I developed the ideas for this show, similarly with the Ducks being the bad guys, and then I saw Cobra Kai made a move like that in their own franchise with great success. And that made me happy. That seemed to work and the audience didn’t totally rebel, so we had parallel thinking on that line. But then when we became a real show, I stopped watching Cobra Kai because I don’t want to be influenced by anything they do. But they seem to be doing great. I actually don’t know how they arc out their seasons, but I think Josh, [co-showrunner and executive producer Cathy Yuspa] and I have a few cards up our sleeve for which way we wanna go for the next season, and then the season after that, I sort of think of it like the movies. The whole team sort of moves into another adventure together. They could stay in Minneapolis and just be more rooted in the stories there. We gotta figure that out, but eventually, they should go to Europe and play. In like season four, they should go to Europe. When it opens up, we should definitely go to Europe and play in an international tournament.

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The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers is available to stream on Disney+, and “Spirit of the Ducks” is out today. Be sure to check out our interview with all the returning Mighty Ducks over here.