I like Scooby Doo. Let me start off by saying that. The series first blossomed in the latest sixties and early seventies with the animated series Scooby Doo, Where Are You!, and has always retained some level of mainstream popularity since then. It’s really impressive, if you think about it. Although you can look at other series’ like Tom & Jerry and recognize and appreciate them, Scooby Doo is a series I feel is always on the cusp of relevancy. Even when the series goes cold for a while, it always feels like it is only a matter of time until it is back on our television screens again.
Maybe that is the longevity of a truly novel concept, or maybe it is through how the series has been nourished and maintained since its inception. I watched a lot of the original animated series on Cartoon Network, I watched A Pup Named Scooby Doo, and I was along for the direct-to-video features like Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase (I even played the Game Boy and PlayStation game adaptations) and Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders. Even now, the series remains prolific on direct-to-video with two, sometimes three, feature-lengths films a year.
I can’t say I have enjoyed it a lot since then, mind you. I have gotten older and the content I seek out has become stringent. As much as I may enjoy Scooby Doo and their adventures, I am not really interesting in seeing them hangout with KISS or WWE Superstars, or Batman, or anything else like that. It’s a lot of fun for the younger crowd, but I am not really interested in the series beyond the occasional pow wow.
The live-action series of Scooby Doo films have received a mixed reception to say the least. Critically speaking, they were ripped into smithereens, but I have noticed a lot of moviegoers like myself remember them more fondly than that. This is bolstered in part by charming performances like Matthew Lillard‘s portrayal of Shaggy Rogers, and other colorful character in-general. I re-watched both films recently and although they are not without fumbles and things that could have been improved on in major ways, they were fun and enjoyable films. That’s all I realistically wanted out of the Scoob! film.
In a perfect world, I think I would want a film like Monster House back in 2006, a film that blends horror and comedy. Obviously, Scooby Doo is for a younger-audience but I think it would work wonderfully if it were approached like how they’ve done the Goosebumps film, if possible, however, hopefully being more effective and skillful.
Scoob! is a 2020 American computer-animated mystery comedy film produced by Warner Animation Group and directed by Tony Cervone from a screenplay written by Adam Sztykiel, Jack Donaldson, Derek Elliot, and Matt Lieberman, with a story by Lieberman, Eyal Podell, and Jonathon E. Stewart, respectively. The fumble I have made though early on is one others have made as well. This is not a mystery comedy film. This is actually, more accurately, a superhero comedy film.
Like Trolls World Tour, because of Covid-19, Scoob! made the decision to forego a theatrical release in-favor of a direct-to-video release.
The cast comprises itself of names like Will Forte, Gina Rodriguez, Zac Efron, and Amanda Seyfried for our main-cast of characters, with others like Mark Wahlberg, Jason Isaacs, Kiersey Clemons, Ken Jeong, and Tracy Morgan portrays other Hanna-Barbera characters.
There is already a lot to unpack here: (1) the cast is talented and I didn’t want to criticize them merely on the basis that they aren’t the tried and true cast of voice-actors previously involved with the Scooby Doo series. Aside from Frank Welker‘s portrayal as Scooby, that is. That said, they don’t add a lot of identity or personality to them. It isn’t their fault, not necessarily, and, for a lot of it, the original cast would not changed things very dramatically. However, I do think the portrayal of Shaggy Rogers would have been considerably improved with Matthew Lillard reprising the character instead of Will Forte. This is a new imagining of the characters, and thus, my criticism isn’t so much that he doesn’t sound how I imagine Shaggy Rogers, but more so, the character is not presented with the same level of personality.
(2) The film is intended to be the first installment in a series of films set within a Hanna-Barbera shared cinematic universe. That’s why you will find yourself seeing characters like Dick Dastardly, Blue Falcon, and Dynomutt. This is a unique, but strange idea, and it actually creates a certain level of novelty to the film. This will depend a lot on how much you actually know of Hanna-Barbera and their established character. For me, I would have recognized The Jetsons, Tom & Jerry, or The Flintstones, (which you will some references to) but I was lost or only vaguely familiar for most of them. If you’re a fan, this celebration of the series will mean more, but, at the same time, realize that the targeted demographic is likely completely lost.
Scoob! has a story that is deceptively simple. I say “deceptively simple” as a euphemism in saying that it is kind of a mess. Initially presented as an origin story for Shaggy Rogers and Scooby Doo, our cast of characters find themselves recruited by Blue Falcon, or, rather, the son of the original, now retired, Blue Falcon, to help prevent Dick Dastardly from opening the Underworld and unleashing the multi-headed dog Cerberus.
The animation is decent and the humor pays a lot of homages to the classic comedy seen in the original series. The humor can feel frenetic and too undisciplined to ever hit the mark the way it should. At times, story beats and characters can even feel glossy and workman-like, from the rushed ham-fist story conflict between Shaggy and Scooby to the highly-produced cover of the classic Scooby Doo theme-song. It feels like the research is there and its faithful, but the final product still feels rushed and disorderly.
The inclusion of the Hanna Barbera characters hurts this film a lot in my opinion. This is not merely because they are not relevant, and they aren’t. But, because this wasn’t the way to make them relevant again. Scooby Doo is the most popular of the series’ in the modern-era, but is by no means a juggernaut whose goodwill can shoulder them all. The film wedges everyone it can into its narrative, and it becomes sensory overload. By expecting us to care about Blue Falcon or wedging in characters like Captain Caveman, and not giving a reason to, not only do you do them a disservice, but you damage the core group of characters that sold the tickets (or on-demand purchases), Mystery Incorporated.
This film did not have to be about these characters to create a Universe for them. Instead of having a film with Blue Falcon, why could Shaggy not merely have idolized him and used him as a source of inspiration to face his fears? That would have reintroduced him to modern-audiences and allowed for Scoob! to create a strong foundation to build upon. Or, why couldn’t they have done the classic chase scene, you know, the one where they all come out through different doorways as they’re chased by a ghost? And then, as a gag, there is a cameo with Tom chasing after Jerry with a giant wooden mallet? Why did we have to embed Dick Dastardly as the film’s antagonist? That way, you could recreate a brand and its unity, without ruining the integrity of each creation.
What could have been a way to introduce Scooby Doo and the gang to a new audience through a teen-detective mystery, the film feels like a celebration of Hannah Barbera characters in a remake of SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, and it is every bit as weird and jarring as it sounds.