The Big W
by Admiral Fartmore
Book Assigner’s Note (Beau Dashington): Once again, the PSBC proves its relevance by returning to some ancient piece of shit from the 90s that no one cares about. Interesting fact: this movie has two sequels, but will this review as well?
If you’ve never seen The Mighty Ducks film, I highly recommend it. To quote the 1992 trailer: “From Walt Disney Pictures – a hotshot attorney who has never lost is forced to coach a hockey team that’s never won. He teaches them how to win, and they teach him that winning isn’t everything. Walt Disney Pictures presents Emilio Estevez and The Mighty Ducks! Rated PG: Parental Guidance suggested.” Suffice to say, it’s an epic tale that inspired children across Canada and in select portions of the United States.
My own introduction to the Bombay-verse came on a cool night in late October, 1992. It was the birthday party of a friend from kindergarten, and it was one hell of night: I got a goody bag at my friend’s house before the show, I got myself some popcorn and Pepsi at the theatre, and later that evening I got a viral lung infection that landed me in the children’s ward of the hospital for a week. For the next several days I laid in an oxygen tent, dreaming feverishly that I was on Coach Bombay’s Team. And now those fever dreams have returned in the form of Jordan Horowitz’ novelization of Disney’s hit film.
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that The Mighty Ducks movie has been analyzed to death: the Ducks had poor possession numbers and a ridiculously high shooting percentage. They always enter the zone offside during the Flying V. The triple deke is pointless if you are going to stop dead and wind up a big slap shot after completing the maneuver. Etcetera. But as far as I can see no one has really discussed the film’s accompanying novel. Probably because it is a forgettable pile of dog shit.
The plot is identical to that of the film. Gordon Bombay, a 30 year old hotshot lawyer, never recovered from losing one hockey game at age 10. He is obsessed with winning and is undefeated in the courtroom. But one day he gets busted for driving drunk-as-a-skunk and is forced to coach the ragtag District 5 youth hockey team. Bombay turns the team around, taking them all the way to the championships, teaching them teamwork and pride as well as learning a thing or two himself along the way. I won’t spoil it, but Bombay learns that there’s more to life than winning.
The novel features all the beloved members of the Ducks from the film. There’s Golderg, the loveable talentless goof. There’s Charlie Conway, Bombay’s intergenerational character foil and moral compass of the team. There’s Terry, the tough talker who represents District 5’s background and fights back against Bombay’s change at every turn. There’s Adam Banks, the outsider the Ducks must learn to accept. There’s Averman, the quick-talking comic relief. And there’s Connie, the girl.
2009 film District 9 notably took inspiration from the discrimination faced by the District 5 hockey team.
There are adults in the story too, including Bombay’s former coach Reilly, a psychotically competitive man who after 20 years has not aged a day still coaches the same youth hockey team. (We are really overdue for a fan theory that The Mighty Ducks is actually a story about Coach Reilly in some kind of purgatory.) And of course there’s also Hans, the wise old ice skate sharpener who serves as Bombay’s spiritual confidant and may or may not be a figment of his imagination. If the Mighty Ducks had been a movie about any other sport, Hans would have been black. But this is hockey, so we get a magical Scandinavian instead of a magical negro.
I haven’t read a film novelization before, so as far as the genre goes, I’m not sure where to place this book. For the most part, it is a word-for-word reproduction of the movie. There a couple minor details added (an additional early line about Gordon’s father dying at a young age), a few left out (no mention of Bombay’s sick custom license plate, “JUST WIN”), and a couple pointless changes: in the school scene, the chemistry teacher now asks the students to work on H2O rather than H2CO3 (‘it’s a goody!’) as in the film. H2C03 was first successfully created at NASA’s Goddard Space Centre in 1991, so that seems to be the original reference from the film. I guess Horowitz didn’t get the reference himself during transcription or thought it was just too fucking nerdy and changed it.
Otherwise, this book is complete dog shit. Clearly pumped out as quickly as possible to capitalize on the film’s unexpected success, it is RIDDLED with grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and poor word choice. It’s like reading one of my reviews. I’m going to be a little bit hard on Horowitz here, but he doesn’t deserve all the blame. Disney and the publisher didn’t care about quality at all, so he’s only going to work so hard on this thing. But regardless, here’s a few examples of the lazy mistakes that fill this thing:
What it was a box, Horowitz? What it was a box?! More THEN? I realize it might seem kind of petty to focus on this stuff, but each page has at least a dozen errors like this. He forgets to capitalize the beginning of sentences a lot of the time, as well. It’s weird. I don’t like nitpicking grammar, punctuation, and etc. too much, but the sloppiness really detracts from an otherwise epic tale of personal redemption and community building. It does a disservice to Coach Bombay’s legacy.
Nothing special here, I just find this line really condescending. It was their own special chant? The team is called the Ducks and they chant Quack. I understand that it’s their own special chant, Horowitz. A good author respects their audience. Who do you think you are writing for, children?
You couldn’t even get Bombay’s number right, Horowitz? You think Bombay scored 198 goals that season wearing number 11? Sometimes you just have to shake your head.
In addition to these mistakes, I was shocked to find an entire scene missing: Bombay’s solo date with Charley Conway’s mom. At first I thought they may have decided it was to risqué for children, but then I remembered they kept jokes about blue balls and circumcision. I’ve decided that instead Horowitz, who was probably working on pretty cheap contract, assumed that self-respecting grown man would ever read this book and so skipped this scene to save some time. The kids reading this ain’t gonna notice, right?
Well I did, Horowitz, and I’m a little peeved. Without this scene, the rest of the romance doesn’t make much sense. Sure, you still have the parts where Charlie Conway tries to convince Coach Bombay to bang his mom, awkwardly describing her as a woman with “many fine qualities that men find attractive.” But if I haven’t seen the film I’d have to assume that Charlie is playing chaperone to his mother and Bombay every date as they are never written alone together. It ruins the flow of one of the greatest coach-single mother relationships in cinematic history. I expect more from Horowitz, considering the guy that dominated the Disney-film-novelization genre from 1991 to 1994:
A small sample of Whorowitz’ impressive corpus.
All of this brings me to the single greatest crime committed in this book. There’s a line repeated about going for “the big W” several times throughout the story; it’s integral to Bombay’s character development from someone that only cares about winning to someone that learns to love, laugh, and take pride simply in your passion. Except Horowitz couldn’t be fucked to capitalize “W” after the first occurrence, and so Bombay ends up going for a little w the entire book.
Horowitz had had about twelve shots at the Big W in this book and he forgot to press shift every time.
It may seem like I’m being overly nitpicky in this review, but I really just want to illustrate how much of a lazy cashgrab this book was on behalf of Disney. I don’t actually blame Horowitz that much – job expectations were clearly low and he was probably pretty busy typing up a dozen other Disney movies at the time. Hell for all I know he sent this version along understanding with the that the publisher would touch it up and they never followed through. So I don’t really blame him. But I do wonder why his career seemingly died off just a year after writing this. In taking on all those seminal Disney films at once, did he fly too close too the sun? Was Jordan Horowitz just a short-term nom de plume? Or did Horowitz go into hiding in the late 90s, only to re-emerge in 2010 as a Hollywood producer? That would have placed him at about age 12 at the time of writing The Mighty Ducks, which actually sounds reasonable.
All that said, I enjoyed diving back into the story of the Minnesota Miracle man. The Mighty Ducks was an inspiration for children across Canada and in select portions of the United States. It inspired the real life Mighty Ducks hockey franchise. It even inspired this novel, even if didn’t seem to inspire any subsequent rounds of editing. All in all, I’m pleased it exists. Certainly hard to imagine a world where it doesn’t.
UPDATE: I originally had a note here stating that if the real-life Anaheim Ducks defeat the Edmonton Oilers in round 2, game 7 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I will do a review the novelization of the sequel – D2: The Mighty Ducks. Well, the Ducks won, so in honour of them exorcising their game 7 demons I will be taking on D2 next week. Bring it on, Iceland.