Scoob! (United States, 2020)May 15, 2020
Scooby-Doo entered the public’s consciousness as America’s most lovable (and cowardly) Great Dane in 1969 with the CBS-TV debut of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? For years, Scooby and his four human friends – Shaggy, Velma, Fred, and Daphne – were Saturday morning cartoon staples. Thanks to re-runs, reboots, live-action movies, and the like, Scooby-Doo has never left the TV watcher’s consciousness. Over the course of about 50 years, there have been something like 20 different versions of Scooby-Doo cartoons and/or movies. Now, make it 21.
Scoob! is faithful enough to the franchise not to raise too many hackles. It tries to do a little too much and runs too long but it’s an affable mix of nostalgia and family-friendly animated action/adventure. It also represents an odd attempt to create what is being called the “Hanna-Barbera Shared Universe.” (Gone it seems are the days when being a stand-alone franchise is sufficient. Now everything needs to be part of something bigger.) To that end, this is not only a Scooby-Doo movie (complete with a never-before told origin story!) but it incorporates the likes of Blue Falcon, Dynomutt, Captain Caveman, Dee Dee Sykes, and Dick Dastardly & Muttley.
The animation is on par with what we have come to expect from churn-’em-out big screen cartoons: generic computer-generated images that often seem like they’re video game excerpts. It’s good enough but no one is going to confuse it with films that go the extra mile in an effort to present something that’s poetic or artistic. The voice acting has created a backlash with some younger fans who are miffed that none of the recent Scooby-Doo actors (especially Matthew Lillard) were given an opportunity to audition. Will Forte’s interpretation of Shaggy relies heavily on the stylings of character originator Casey Kasem; it’s almost an impersonation. Gina Rodriguez, Amanda Seyfried, and Zac Efron (as Velma, Daphne, and Fred, respectively) aren’t competing with recognizable voices from the past, so they’re fine. Jason Isaacs is suitably over-the-top as the mustache-twirling Dastardly. Mark Wahlberg is both pompous and clueless as Blue Falcon. Kiersey Clemons (as Dee Dee Sykes), Ken Jeong (as Dynomutt), and Tracy Morgan (as Captain Caveman) help to expand the Hanna-Barbera Shared Universe concept. Two veteran voice actors have also been employed. Frank Welker, who played Fred in the original cartoon, is Scooby and Billy West (with an assist of archived audio from the late Don Messick) gives Dastardly’s canine sidekick Muttley his characteristic snigger.
The movie begins with a 15-minute prologue that shows how the members of the Mystery Machine first met and details their first adventure. As is typical for a Scooby-Doo “case,” this one involves a seemingly supernatural encounter that has a scientific (and criminal) explanation. This is followed by a celebrity guest appearance (in this case, Simon Cowell). Then we get to the real story, which involves Dastardly’s attempts to locate and open the secret entrance to the Underworld (guarded by Cerberus the three-headed dog). To accomplish this, he needs Scooby-Doo, who is the last living descendant of Alexander the Great’s pooch. Blue Falcon and his friends join forces with the Scooby-Doo gang to stop this from happening.
Although Dastardly still says “Drat!” and “Double Drat!” (no rare “Triple Drat!” however), he’s portrayed more as a supervillain than the bumbling parody that he was during his long Saturday morning cartoon career. The narrative scope (such as it is) has been suitably beefed-up for the big screen but, in the process, it loses the central appeal of any Scooby-Doo cartoon: the “reveal” in which the Mystery Machine group uncovers the truth behind the seemingly fantastical occurrences. In Scoob!, what you see is what you get. With the exception of the prologue, every supernatural/science fiction element is real.
As with any property with the age of Scooby-Doo, there’s a heavy dose of nostalgia involved. The film has generally been pitched at grade school level but, like The Addams Family, it’s as interested in the Moms and Dads as the kids. To that end, there are some jokes no one under 10 will get (a few of which are pretty funny) to go along with the visual diarrhea that clutters the screen with needless “action” sequences. The resolution to the emotional component of the climax feels like an unearned cheat, but I suppose it’s okay when one considers it will probably work for children.
Will Scoob! enable the Scooby-Doo franchise to continue to live long and prosper into the future? That remains to be seen. Regardless of whether this particular iteration is successful (it has been moved from a planned theatrical release to at-home VOD due to the coronavirus and with an eye toward the success of Trolls World Tour – a venue that seems more appropriate for the material), it would be hard to bet against these characters when one considers their longevity thus far. Without question, they’ll be back again in one form or another.
Scoob! (United States, 2020)
Cast: Will Forte, Mark Wahlberg, Jason Isaacs, Gina Rodriguez, Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried, Kiersey Clemons, Ken Jeong, Tracy Morgan, Frank Welker, Billy West & Don Messick
Screenplay: Matt Lieberman & Adam Sztykiel & Jack Donaldson & Derek Elliott
Music: Junkie XL
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers