While I am (roughly) of the age to have watched the adventures of talking Great Dane Scooby-Doo and his teen friends of Mystery Inc solve spooky mysteries every Saturday morning during the original run of Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, I was never much of a fan of the series. For whatever reason, it never much grabbed me as a kid. It always felt more like a show that I was told by adults that I liked than one I actually did. And things were only going to get worse as they started introducing real world “guest stars” in the sequel series The New Scooby-Doo Movies – What kid would care about Dick Van Dyke or Jerry Reed showing up in a cartoon? – and then bottom out completely with the introduction of Scooby’s extended dog family, most notably Scrappy-Doo.
Still, I approached the latest incarnation of the Scooby-Doo franchise, the CG-animated Scoob! with an open mind and the hope I would find it entertaining. I mean, it happened once before when Cartoon Network’s Scooby-Doo: Mystery, Inc (2010-2013), captured my imagination with its two-season long serialized story that allowed room for the familiar characters of Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Velma and Daphne to all grow and change over the course of the series’s long-term mystery. Unfortunately, this new film and its story of how Scooby is tied-up in a mystery that involves a secret treasure and a doorway to the Underworld being sought after by the villainous Dick Dasterdly – from numerous other Hannah-Barbera cartoons of the the 1970s – doesn’t much ignite any new enthusiasm for the characters or the newly reimagined world they live in.
Initially intended for theatrical release this weekend, Scoob! is now debuting via pay-per-view streaming on Amazon for a limited time before becoming part of the offerings available at the upcoming HBO Max streaming service.
I’m not quite sure who this movie is actually for. One on hand, it seems like it wants to be an origin story for the Mystery Inc team, introducing the characters. The prologue shows how Shaggy winds up adopting Scooby and the time jump to the main story hints that the original animated series takes place in the years between. And I suppose that is a great way to introduce the characters to a new generation of kids. On the other hand, there is a lot of fan service in this film. Not including a number of Hanna-Barbera characters who are integral to the film’s storyline, there are numerous references to other HB series from the 1970s and `80s such as Laff-A-Lympics, Jabberjaw and Johnny Quest, as well as a nice nod to longtime Hanna-Barbera voice actor Don Messick. In fact, with the layering of some references, one has to wonder if Warner Bothers Animation is looking at launching its own interconnected Hanna-Barbera-themed universe.
But if this film is aimed, at least in part, towards old-time fans of the original Saturday morning cartoons, then Scoob! falls short in the type of story it is attempting to tell. In the classic original series, the gang was always investigating supposed supernatural hauntings and monsters only to unmask them as regular people usually motivated by greed. However, the supernatural mystery here is actually supernatural in nature, which feels like a betrayal of the show’s original conceit. (See also – Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull‘s science-fiction MacGuffin following the franchise’s previous three religious artifacts.)
The script does deserve some credit for at least playing with the original show’s iconic villain unmasking trope and for imbuing Dastardly with some interesting motivation. But that doesn’t make up for the its many failings including barely giving any characterization to Fred, Velma and Daphne, saddling Dastardly with robotic, unfunny knock-offs of Dispicable Me‘s Minions and an alarming lack of energy despite the fact that the storyline keeps the action moving from location to location.