Welcome to Sport on the Silver Screen. In this series, I will be looking back over sports movies that I have recently watched/re-watched and giving my thoughts on them. Getting into the Schmoedown and starting to follow a number of the personalities from the show has given me a much greater appreciation of movies and seen me starting to watch more.
Being a fan of both movies and sports, I have taken the chance to start highlighting the sheer volume of sports movies out there. For each movie I will be giving some details about the movie and then a quick review, including a section giving a sports fan’s perspective of the action’s realism.
This series has been heavily influenced by Ben Bateman and Andrew Ghai of Action Industries, and as such I will be borrowing a couple of sections that they used in their old show Action Movie Anatomy: Fist-pump moment and favourite line. Be aware, there will be spoilers, but I will try to keep them to a minimum.
Today I will be starting a trip down memory lane by looking at the first film in one of my favourite movie series as a child: The Mighty Ducks
Directed by Stephen Herek
Music by David Newman
Released in 1992
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Joss Ackland, Lane Smith, Heidi Kling, Joshua Jackson
Synopsis: Hotshot Minneapolis lawyer Gordon Bombay (Estevez) is arrested for drink diving and forced to undertake 500 hours of community service coaching the struggling local “District 5” Pee Wee ice hockey team. Though there is initially no love lost between him and the team, they slowly remind him of the love he once had for the game and he looks to turn around their fortunes on the ice.
As much as I loved this trilogy of movies, I can’ remember having watched the original that many times, as for some reason I only had the sequels on VHS (ageing myself here!) as a kid. So it was really fun watching this one again as, though I remember the brad strokes, I don’t remember the detail anywhere near as well.
As a kid, these were just fun sports movies, but watching this now as an adult – and someone who played at my local rugby club as a kid and later in life went back to help coach there – there is actually a really poignant story here, and I would go as far as to suggest any adult who wants to coach children’s sport should watch this movie. Bombay starts the movie as a lawyer who is not afraid to play dirty to ensure that he wins his cases, and that is the same mentality that he initially brings to the team. It is clear that as a child he loved the game, but a bad moment in a match and the reaction of his “winning is everything” coach made him fall out of love with the game. But as time goes on, we see Bombay getting that love of the game back and helping the kids improve so that they start winning, but also ensuring that the focus is on them enjoying playing the game rather than having to win. It’s a hard balance for a coach to manage, and watching this should be a good reminder for coaches watching to ensure that all the team is having fun, and that the stars of the team are treated just the same as the weakest of players.
Estevez does a great job as Gordon Bombay, showing that change in mentality over time and going from an arrogant jerk at the beginning of the movie to an inspirational coach by the end, but the real standout to me was Joshua Jackson as Charlie Conway, who is far from the best player on the team, but is the heart and soul of the movie, someone who is there because he loves the game – refusing to cheat when Bombay tells him to and being the first to welcome Banks to the team – and while his mother does have a romantic storyline with Bombay, it feels more like the true romance is Gordon falling back in love with the game as Charlie reminds him of what he was like at that age. The rest of the kids do a great job – finding child actors is always a risk but they do well on the whole – but Lane Smith also does a great job as the main antagonist of the movie, Coach Reilly, who was Bombay’s old coach and still coach of the rival team the Hawks.
One final thing to mention in this section is the score, and this really stands out to me in the matches, but especially the matches against the rival team, where we get some extended action. There are 2 obvious themes, one for the Ducks and one for their rivals, and they are meshed together throughout the games does such a great job of adding feeling tot he action, especially with how the theme for the rivals – who are generally bigger and stronger – feels ore overbearing than that of the Ducks.
So I’m not going to be able to go into much detail at all as Ice Hockey is not a sport that I’ve ever really been able to invest any significant time in. However the movie does a good job of not going into detail about the rules, so that as long as you can understand the basics that each team is trying to put the puck in their opponent’s net more often than the other, you’re completely fine.
Of course, I highly doubt that many of the goals we see the Ducks score would ever be seen in an actual game, as the Ducks often rely on gimmicks – like using a figure skater spinning next to the goal to create space to receive the puck and score. I did appreciate though the “Statue of Liberty” play using Fulton Reed’s powerful slapshot as a dummy for a team play, much as the play in American football sees the quarterback faking a pass to disguise the running back rushing with the ball.
While the Ducks rely on these fun gimmicks, we also see the Hawks allowed to get away with a lot that would probably be penalised in the game and the Ducks getting penalised for much less, and this just helps to set up even more how incredible and against the odds their victory will be.
Ever heard of the NHL team the Anaheim Ducks? Well they were founded in 1993 by the Walt Disney Company, going under the name The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, which was inspired by this movie. The name was changed to the Anaheim Ducks following Disney’s sale of the franchise, however they still pay homage to their founding on occasions with their kits and the appearance of their mascot.
My fist-pump moment comes halfway though the championship game against the Hawks, immediately following Adam Banks being stretchered off the ice after one of the players did as Coach Reilly had instructed and took him out of the game. After checking on Banks, Bombay takes a detour back to his team via the Hawks, where he looks his old coach in the eye and states:
“To think I wasted all those years worrying about what you thought. You’re going down, Reilly”
The music has remained soft through this moment as it mourns Banks’ being forced out of the game, but on this proclamation it builds up. This is Bombay’s big moment. Throughout the film we have seen him affected by his tie as a Hawk under Reilly, which made him fall out of love with the game. We have seen him try to copy the Hawks early on, then play dirty by having the team cheat to try winning at all costs, but as the movie has gone on, the Ducks brought his love of the game back, leading to him getting fired for making sure Banks couldn’t play for the Hawks for fair play reasons and he even found that the new District lines would make him a Duck rather than a Hawk.
But it is in this moment that he finally sees just how far Reilly will go to win that he is finally able to fully break away from his Hawks past and be his own man, the man the Ducks need him to be.
Having spent so much of my life in teams, both as a player and a coach of junior rugby, and also with the Pistol Shrimps, there was a line from Bombay that rally stood out to me:
“A team isn’t a bunch of kids out to win. A team is something you belong to, something you feel, something you have to earn.”
This really stood out to me as you get out of being in a team what you put in. A team is a family in itself, a group that has your back when you need help. Winning isn’t everything, but instead it is about the time you spend together and the memories you make along the way.
What did you think of this movie? Let me know in the comments. Until next time!