Darkwing Duck and the Slow Building of the Disney Afternoon Universe

The producers behind the new DuckTales give us an in-depth look at how they brought Darkwing Duck into their world and what his inclusion represents for the future.

Darkwing Duck Disney Afternoon Universe
Photo: Disney

This DuckTales article contains spoilers for the recent Darkwing Duck special.

The people behind the new DuckTales are massive fans of Darkwing Dark. You can’t deny it after the recent big “crossover” episode aired on Disney, which finally brought Darkwing and his extended cast fully into the story of DuckTales. It featured a deeply compelling story about Darkwing, Gosalyn, and Launchpad, furthered DuckTales‘ current story arc, AND tons of references, big and small, to Darkwing and the Disney Afternoon.

Putting together an episode like that is not easy so we had to sit down with DuckTales Co-Executive Producer Frank Angones and Executive Producer Matt Youngberg to discuss the genesis of the episode, how they adapted Darkwing’s tone to DuckTales, and what this all means for the future of the “Disney Afternoon Universe.”

Den of Geek: Would you say that all of the new DuckTales has been leading to this Darkwing Duck episode? It feels like everything that you’ve done, all these episodes, has led to this moment.

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Matt Youngberg: We’ve always joked that DuckTales was Frank’s long game for Darkwing Duck. It was very early on that I knew that as much as Frank loved DuckTales, he loved Darkwing Duck. There’s a different level of love. We always knew Darkwing was going to be an important part of the series. That was established in the first season. It was important to be able to combine it with DuckTales in a way that was very natural and that came through Launchpad. 

Frank Angones: Everyone else is an incidental character building to this exact moment. You’ll never see the McDuck family again. It’s just this for the rest of the season. (laughs) No, no. Here’s the thing, DuckTales is a crown jewel. It’s a crown jewel of Disney Television Animation. It’s a crown jewel for Disney Scrooge and Carl Barks. Practically invented the adventure genre for the next 100 years. In season three we started talking a lot about legacy. Part of the legacy of DuckTales is the Disney Afternoon. That was the one that cracked it. Without DuckTales, you don’t get Darkwing and Rescue Rangers and Tailspin and Bonkers and all these other things. The idea of paying homage to that legacy by having these Disney Afternoon characters become more and more prevalent (in the new DuckTales.)

Also, just as we’ve gone through the season, we’ve been asking the question, who are you going to be from now on? What’s your next thing? As the family’s been adventuring together, they’re trying to figure it out, all the characters. We saw that with Lena. We saw that with Gyro. We saw that with Huey, we’ll see that with other characters coming up. 

This was the natural evolution. We always introduced Darkwing within the context of Launchpad and Launchpad was introduced as a huge fan of Darkwing Duck as a kid. Then he got to meet the actor playing Darkwing Duck and then he got to meet a different actor playing Darkwing Duck and went through all this meta nonsense. We could only do Darkwing at this point in time, as the evolution (of) Darkwing Duck is very much a part of Launchpad’s legacy as a character. It’s essentially him starting his own adventure family. That was really exciting. It was both a shockingly difficult and shockingly easy episode to write.

Frank, I remember you posting on Twitter way back when Darkwing first showed up in DuckTales about how you’ve had ideas how to combine Darkwing and DuckTales since you were a kid. Was this alternate reality plot part of that idea?

Frank: Yes and no. Here’s the thing, DuckTales was grounded in golden age pulp adventure type stuff, right? Darkwing was always grounded in silver age superheroes and the multiverse is a huge part of that, right? Within just the original Darkwing Duck show, there was the regular universe and the Negaverse and Darkwing had 20 different origin stories, depending on how Tad (Stones) was feeling that day. It became interesting to me as we were talking about the core story that I had, as we do with all things in DuckTales, is we want it to build these characters as three-dimensional characters based off of the things that we knew about them. Part of the thing that we knew about Darkwing was that he was an egomaniac. We were like, well, why is he an egomaniac? It’s like, oh, he was an actor. That made sense. 

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I always said that the story of Darkwing Duck as a show is a story of a father, a daughter, and a Launchpad. It’s that family, it’s that trio. To explore in the last (DuckTales) episode that introduced Drake and his reasoning for wanting to become Darkwing is selfish. He wants to be the superhero that he was as a kid and have that legacy and so much of it as caught up in the catchphrases and the motorcycle with his face on it and all that kind of stuff. Then the question was okay, but who is this really for? That’s where we introduced the idea of Gosalyn.

This is the story of a girl who, it seems like she’s just out for herself and she’s learning how to trust other people. It’s the story of a girl becoming a hero and a hero becoming a dad and it speaks to what Darkwing’s legacy is going to be and also what Launchpad’s legacy is going to be.

Gosalyn in DuckTales

You mentioned how this episode was both shockingly easy to put together but also hard in a lot of other ways. It’s an episode that could have so easily devolved into only references, or just becomes a Darkwing episode guest starring Dewey. What was the balancing act of making sure that this is still 2017 DuckTales, but also, we’re bringing in all these Darkwing elements as well?

Matt: I think a big key for that was setting it as our mid-season tentpole for DuckTales. That made it really clear that it needed to be a DuckTales episode because from this two-parter we really set up the rest of the season. That doesn’t mean that Darkwing and Gosalyn are the main reason for the second part of the season, it’s still DuckTales from here on out. They’ll pop up, but it had to be a DuckTales episode first, that was the main thing. Even if Darkwing and Gosalyn get more screen time, the reason for the existence of this episode needed to carry the story arc that we’d been working on for the first part of the season and then kind of give it that change up that pushes the narrative for the second part of the season. That was the main driver of the episode.

Frank: It makes sense within the larger context of the narrative of the season, not just in terms of legacy, but also in terms of all of these Disney Afternoon characters who keep popping up and forming this Disney Afternoon Universe that we’re trying to cultivate. Part of the challenge of it, on top of trying to do justice to the original Darkwing show and ‘Darkly Dawns the Duck,’ which is the single greatest written episode of Disney Television Afternoon content ever, is the challenge of making it a part of DuckTales and making Darkwing a character in DuckTales. Tonally DuckTales and Darkwing are actually very different, right? Darkwing is so slap sticky, fourth wall breaking, but still grounded and the thing they share is that notion of comedy at heart. We don’t do a ton of cartoon slapstick on DuckTales.

We do a lot with Donald because that’s part of his DNA. So we had to figure out what is cartoon slapstick and what are these stories within a DuckTales context? Matt was the one who stumbled upon, oh, he’s Jackie Chan. He gets punched and he gets two punches for every one he throws. He’s always overwhelmed and he’ll take a lot of pain, but he’ll keep fighting. You love to see him get hurt, but you want to see him win. That became a big part of, not just how do we introduce the narrative of Darkwing and those characters within the context of our show and to the larger Disney Afternoon Universe as a whole, but also how do we adjust the tone of that show to fit within the tone of our show, was a really interesting challenge.

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DuckTales airs Mondays at 7 p.m. ET on Disney XD.