Film review #405
Director: Tony Cervone
SYNOPSIS: While Mystery inc. are looking for ways to expand their brand, Scooby-Doo and Shaggy are abducted by the super hero the Blue Falcon (or, more accurately, his son Brian). The Blue Falcon and his partners Dino-mutt and Deedee Skyes believe that Scooby-Doo is important to the evil schemes of Dick Dastardly, who is collecting the three skulls of Cerberus for some undoubtedly nefarious scheme. Meanwhile, Fred, Daphne and Velma are trying to catch up with Scooby and Shaggy in order to rescue their friends and unravel the mystery…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Scoob! is a 2020 animated film in the Scooby-Doo! franchise. Scooby-Doo is quite an odd entity: It’s a very simple show that has never been revolutionary or even had anything particularly unique. However, for some reason, it has been continuously in circulation through TV shows, reruns, and movies, for over fifty years. It’s staying power is truly unmatched for reasons we may never comprehend. It’s not to say that Scooby-Doo doesn’t deserve its status as a cultural keystone, but it’s unassuming, simple premise has rarely been altered over those fifty years, and people can still watch it and instantly recognise the characters. Maybe it’s that consistency that keeps it in circulation, and that you always get what you expect isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you’re not trying to be anything else.
So Scoob! itself starts with the origin story of Shaggy meeting Scooby-Doo. It doesn’t offer any real surprises, and I think it’s one of those origin stories that doesn’t really need to be told. Nevertheless, it sets up the theme of Scooby and Shaggy’s friendship that is the backbone of the film’s story. In the next scene we see young Shaggy and Scooby becoming friends with young Fred, Daphne and Velma, as they sole their first ‘mystery’ together. Again, the origin story doesn’t hurt, but I still wonder whether we need the origin told. The TV series A Pup named Scooby-Doo! showed the gang as kids, and I think that was enough, but at least the film doesn’t contradict that (that I know of), and obviously not everyone will be familiar with the characters, so it’s a decent way of introducing them. We then get a scene that faithfully recreates the original TV opening, with the gang being chased by all manner of monsters and ghosts. It’s a nice touch that will please fans of the franchise, and throughout the film there’s a fair amount of more minor references that fans will enjoy spotting.
Cut to the present, and the gang are sitting in a diner discussing ways to expand their business….and this where the film starts it’s slide downhill. They meet Simon Cowell (yes, voiced by him), who says that Shaggy and Scooby are holding the team back because they don’t really contribute anything. At this point, the joke about Simon Cowell judging people in a straight and harsh manner has been done and done again. I can’t really fathom why it’s in this film, other than maybe younger viewers haven’t seen it before (would they really recognise Simon Cowell though?). I get the need to have the ‘breakup’ between Scooby and Shaggy with the rest of the gang as it serves the premise of the rest of the film, but using Simon Cowell to do it just seems bizarre and distracting). There’s a lot of humour in this film that feels outdated; using jokes that have been done plenty of times before. However I think the main problem with this is that Scooby-Doo should have a timeless quality to it, which I think has formed part of its success by maintaining its universal appeal and sticking to its consistency rather than adding in current trends or trying to update the characters. Remember Scrappy-Doo? The only time they tried to change the dynamic of the franchise and how it’s been almost entirely erased from its history due to how poorly it was received and reflected on? That’s why trying to make the Scooby franchise be “relevant” is going to be detrimental to itself, and jokes about Netflix and Tinder again just aren’t funny or original. That said, there are a decent amount of funny moments that will make you laugh, but they are definitely the classic slapstick, goofy antics that you would expect from the franchise.
The film’s plot overall I think has a decent enough pacing. There’s a certain momentum in how the story develops, and it never slows down so younger viewers won’t lose interest. However, there is a lot going on, and a lot of characters that are thrown into the mix. The biggest problem in this regard is that it barely seems like a Scooby-Doo! movie at points: there’s no real mystery for the gang to unravel, and most of the story centres around The Blue Falcon stopping Dick Dastardly from unlocking the gates of the underworld. Daphne, Fred and Velma are absent from large chunks of the film, and there’s a loss of focus on the core characters at points. Dick Dastardly as the villain being concerned about his dog Muttley is a surprising mirror to Shaggy and Scooby, and I thought that in particular was interesting and could have been developed further. The film obviously isn’t trying to be a standalone Scooby-Doo! film, but to set up a “Hanna-Barbera” cinematic universe in some form. Characters like Blue Falcon, Captain Caveman and Dick Dastardly all have an appearance, but for such a big and iconic franchise as Scooby-Doo, it deserves it’s own dedicated film without worrying about an expanded universe. This also needs to another problem: that the film veers right into Marvel’s Avengers territory, and makes it a superhero film about saving the world. After ten years of the Marvel cinematic universe, I don’t think offering almost the same superhero crossover theme with less-known characters and properties is going to work. The Avengers franchise is not going to be topped anytime soon, and superhero fatigue is going to set in, rendering what is set up in Scoob! as ultimately a cheap imitation that maybe kids can like to get their fill with, but it is trying to carve a space in a genre that is saturated, and ultimately doesn’t need to be in. Don’t get me wrong: I think a Hanna-Barbera cinematic universe could work; they have a huge list of recognisable characters that could bring something to the table, but to layer all of that in a Scooby-Doo movie that already has enough content to work with ultimately dilutes the uniqueness of the characters. Going forward, I think there’s potential in maybe something in the style of the “wacky races” Hanna-Barbera cartoon (hinted at in the credits sequence) could be insanely fun in the style of a road trip with all the different characters teaming up or facing up against one another, but just another superhero cinematic universe? I don’t think it will work.
The 3D animation is something that Scooby-Doo hasn’t really ventured into, and for the most part it is fine. Scooby is well animated, and while the rest of mystery inc. aren’t quite up to par, they still move fluidly. Characters like Dick Dastardly are very expressive with their cartoon face pulling and gestures, and they really work. The problem emerges with the more ‘normal’ human characters, like Fred, Daphne, Velma, Deedee etc. in that they just can’t pull off the expressive range that the more cartoon-esque characters like Dastardly can, making them feel a little bit lifeless in comparison. Simon Cowell for example looks as ‘life-like’ as they could make him and he looks severely out of place. The voices are an area of huge controversy, as the usual voices for the Scooby-Doo characters were replaced for this film by celebrity actors apart from the voice of Frank Welker, who voices Scooby. To go back to the role of consistency in Scooby-Doo, the voice cast has been extremely consistent over fifty years, with voices only changing when an actor retires, and then their replacements are extremely close to the originals, or even chosen by them. While Frank Welker now voices Scooby, he has also voiced Fred since the very first episode for over fifty years until this film. Ditching the regular voices for actors with celebrity ‘appeal’ is a major mistake in this film. The voices of the characters are iconic, and there was no need to change them. Shaggy’s voice is a bit dreary from time to time, Daphne’s voice lacks the right tone (it’s a bit too peppy), and Velma’s is excessively dreary and makes her sound a bit too dismissive of other people’s opinions when she is conversing with them. Zac Efron voicing Fred did a better job then I was expecting, but it was a rather lifeless performance again at times, and since Welker voiced Scooby-Doo, there was no reason he could not have voiced Fred.
Overall, while Scoob! has good pacing and energy with some funny moments, it misses the mark on being a worthwhile continuation of the Scooby-Doo franchise. Combined with attempting to set up a cinematic universe with a large cast of varied characters, the film misses the simplicity and consistency of the franchise of a group of teenagers solving mysteries, chasing ghosts and some slapstick comedy from Scooby and Shaggy. The film simply tries to do too much, and neglects characters such as Fred, Daphne and Velma. The humour is hit and miss, and is best when it can surprise you, but more often than not it plays it safe and cracks a joke that has been done in plenty of films before. I think the film could have worked better if it didn’t need to simulate a ‘breakup’ between Scooby and Shaggy and the rest of Mystery inc., and focused more on the mirroring between Scooby and Shaggy and Dastardly and Muttley, framing it as more of a traditional mystery than a superhero ‘save the world’ adventure.
If you are interested in the Scooby-Doo! franchise, I say check out the Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated series which is by far the best implementation of the franchise and characters by keeping the typical mystery and detective work, but also expanding on it into a larger season-wide story arc that expands the lore in exciting directions.