Donald Duck is still one of the most popular characters around. Weekly comics starring him are published in several European countries; in Italy, he's been a superhero for decades (something IDW Publishing captured with their Duck Avenger comics). And in Sweden, he's even the namesake of a joke political party.
So it's weird that the original 1980s DuckTales, despite being based on the Donald-starring comic books and strips created by Carl Barks, Al Taliaferro and many others, never had Donald around. The pilot, "The Treasure of the Golden Suns," showed him leaving the nephews with Scrooge to enlist in the Navy; thereafter, he mainly appeared in cameos throughout the first season and disappeared thereafter.
As Tad Stones (story editor on the OG DuckTales and the creator of Darkwing Duck) put it when interviewed by the Disney fansite MousePlanet, Disney higher-ups put the kibosh on Donald appearing out of fear of overexposure and cheapening the character (as DuckTales was Disney's second foray into TV animation and the first with their own characters). But, Stones acknowledged, there was also the unavoidable fact that while Donald could have lengthy monologues in the comics, he just couldn't on screen with his trademark voice.
The new DuckTales airing on Disney Channel acknowledged those concerns but has kept Donald a part of the cast and part of the action, much to the show's benefit.
As the show revealed during its first and second season, Donald (Tony Anselmo) and his twin sister Della (Paget Brewster) were Scrooge McDuck's partners in adventuring. But when the trio realized they'd been just about everywhere on Earth, Della -- who by then had laid the then-unhatched triplets -- decided that space was the next step. Scrooge built her a rocket named "The Spear of Selene" as a surprise, which Della found out about. Taking it for a test ride, she was lost in a cosmic storm.
Heartbroken, Donald cut off all contact with Scrooge and raised Huey, Dewey and Louie all by himself, being as overly protective as possible to ensure they'd never get hurt. One day, desperately needing a babysitter to watch the boys so he could make a job interview, Donald wound up contacting Scrooge again. By the end of the show's first episode, available for free on YouTube, Donald had reconciled with Scrooge and he and the boys had moved into McDuck Manor, with his houseboat going in the pool.
Donald joined the boys and Scrooge on several adventures, from dealing with a spirit of fortune that'd imprisoned his irritating, irritatingly lucky cousin Gladstone Gander (Paul F. Tompkins) to taking charge and saving Scrooge from the evil Magica DeSpell (Catherine Tate).
For his decade of single parenting and constantly being put in danger for his family, as well as the fact that he'd been prescribed a hammock due to stress molting, Scrooge and the others sent Donald on a much-needed month-long cruise. But while waiting for the bus to the port, Donald saw Della's rocket ship (which she'd repaired after a decade stranded on the moon) and ran to meet it as it crashed. Not finding Della, who'd been thrown clear of the crash, Donald accidentally activated the rocket ship and it took him back to the moon and was held captive by the invasion-planning Moonlanders.
One thing's for certain: you can never count a cranky duck out.
DuckTales returns in September.