No, I don't think it would be cruel to pen them up if you have enough space in the pen per duck. You can also clip their primary flight feathers, too, but they won't be able to fly away from predators as effectively.
I let my mallards free range and not one has ever flown off. They fly around the yard, once even into the side of the house, but not away. The problem is hawks will take them even if you are 50 feet away. At night they need to be in a pen or they will be eaten by coyotes and owls and foxes, and ................etc....

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Mallards are very cheeky!!!! they poop like theres no tomorrow, they can never get enough food, love them though they lots of fun
Love my Mallards. They are very sweet and friendly. They do poop a lot, but then what ducks don't? My run is 6' high and they fly in and out of their pool and from one end to the other. They LOVE their pool. One in particular will sit in the darn thing all day, even if I had to crack the ice to open it up. We are opening up another area for them in the spring that will have 8' of height. We have a lot of predators, so unfortunately they can't free-range. You'll love them!

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