I was disappointed in Scoob!.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty good stand-alone animated feature; and it was an uplifting film in a time of high anxiety for many families and Scooby-Doo nerds alike. But I was disappointed in Scoob! as a Scooby-Doo installment.
Not-telling-the-current-voice-actors-they-weren’t-voicing-their-characters controversy aside, the film just didn’t fully feel like Scooby-Doo.
The story begins with a lonely adolescent Shaggy meeting and befriending a homeless (and nameless) Scooby-Doo. The two quickly become inseparable. The pair run into Daphne, Fred, and Velma on Halloween night and solve their first “mystery” together.
Flash forward ten years, give or take a few, and Mystery Inc. is looking for an investor to help them get involved in bigger, more important, mysteries. Enter Simon Cowell, who views Shaggy and Scooby as useless and launches a sub-plot of whether or not you can count on or trust in friendship.
While sulking from this encounter, Shaggy and Scooby are attacked by evil shapeshifting robots at a bowling alley (named Takamoto Bowl – a tribute to Scooby-Doo designer Iwao Takamoto – my favorite of the Easter Egg tributes to Hanna-Barbara and Scooby-Doo creators and creations).
It turns out Dick Dastardly needs Scooby in order to open a portal to the Underworld, which is full of treasure. He also needs a few skulls to open the portal. To protect Scooby, Blue Falcon, Dynomutt, and Dee Dee Sykes swoop in to keep him from Dastardly and enlist his help in finding the skulls first.
And so, the race is on. After some shenanigans, the group make their way to Messick Mountain (a tribute to original Scooby-Doo voice actor Don Messick). Scooby and Blue Falcon tussle with Captain Caveman and lose the final skull to Dastardly, who kindly reunites a captured Daphne, Velma, and Fred with everyone else.
After a verbal fight and a subsequent rousing speech from Shaggy, the group unites to try and save the world from Dastardly opening the Underworld, rediscovering true friendship in the process. (End of synopsis – finally! There’s a lot going on in this film, and I left out quite a bit).
Despite the overactive storylines, the movie has its moments and was overall interesting to watch. I think the animation is appealing, although I know some disagree. A few critics felt there wasn’t enough contrast between the coloring of the background people, objects, and setting compared to the characters we’re generally supposed to keep our eyes on. I think it worked – the color scheming fit the vibes of the characters, and the updated look is a nice addition to the Scooby franchise.
Production designer Michael Kurinsky told Animation Magazine “Our movie is like three different movies in one. I gave each major group its own palette and used those when that character was in control of a scene.” He elaborated, “The Falcon aesthetic is royal blue and clean white, almost like an Apple store. With Dastardly, everything is diesel-punk and dirty. For the gang’s palette I based certain things off of the Mystery Machine’s colors ─ teal blue and yellow/green, with orange flowers ─ because those are so iconic.”
It also wasn’t a simple task to reanimate classic 2D characters, along with planting them next to characters from other Hanna-Barbara shows, into 3D. Director Tony Cervone told Animation Magazine “Just a slight turn of Scooby’s head put him off model.”
Aside from the animation, I appreciated the personalities created or adapted for Daphne, Velma, Blue Falcon, Dynomutt, Dee Dee Sykes, Dick Dastardly, and Dastardly’s robots (Daphne especially – it’s the most full personality she’s had in any Scooby installment other than Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!). I also think the casting choices were excellent for these characters – Ken Jeong was surprising and effective as a grizzled-veteran-cop-stuck-with-a-clueless-rookie type.
These were the things that helped make it a good stand-alone animated feature, along with an interesting (though overcomplicated) save-the-world story. But that story was also part of the problem.
The story they told should have been the sequel. I was mostly disappointed that this film wasn’t really an origin film (as initially advertised). The rough idea would be the first half of the movie shows how the gang meets and how they all come together; the second half would be the first big mystery they solve together.
Instead, Scoob! spends ten minutes on how adolescent Shaggy and Scooby meet, they bump into the rest of the gang on Halloween night (how did Daphne, Fred, and Velma meet?!!), and they accidentally solve a mystery in about a minute. They say “We should do this again!” and that’s that. Then there’s a montage, utilizing the original Scooby-Doo! Where Are You? opening sequence, where we see the gang grow from kids to teens – it’s still unclear if they have perhaps just finished high school when it’s all said and done. Then the main plot begins – the aforementioned saving-the-world-and-becoming-heroes story.
The problem here is coming together as Mystery, Inc. should have been the main plot. WB is supposedly trying to create a Hanna-Barbara universe, and so they added in other characters they can explore in the future: Dynomutt and Blue Falcon, Captain Caveman and DeeDee Sykes, and Dick Dastardly and Muttley. But instead of setting up the universe with Mystery Inc. like how Marvel set up their universe with Iron Man, WB jumped straight to an Avengers-style team-up movie.
This brings me to problem two. It wasn’t really a Scooby-Doo mystery. Most of the hallmarks were missing.
In regard to clue-finding, the clues brought Dastardly to Velma’s attention almost immediately, and the biggest “clue” of all wasn’t actually part of the mystery. It was part of the sub-plot of being able to count on friendship tying in with the main save-the-world plot (and did Shaggy really have to say “I guess friendship really did save the day” out loud at the end?). There was no classic “split up and search for clues” either. The only split-ups were people “breaking-up” or being physically separated by an event or obstruction.
In regard to catchphrases, Fred is the only one who says “Jinkies.” And no one ever actually said “I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids!” The first guy got cut off and Dastardly said “mismatched meddling miscreants.”
The only thing not missing was Shaggy and Scooby getting chased and playing one of their trademark ruses on the chasers.
I don’t actually mind the save-the-world mystery, but like I said before: that’s a sequel plot, after you’ve established the mystery-solvers in the first place. Jumping out of the gate with saving the world seems like too much. Where does Mystery, Inc. go from here? At the end we see someone call in a tip about a seafaring ghost mystery, but that couldn’t possibly be as exciting as saving the world from Cerberus – a literal three-headed Hellhound.
Another problem I have is that I do not like Will Forte as Shaggy. I’m not comparing Forte to Casey Kasem’s Shaggy – no one will ever be able to touch his original character, though Scott Innes was great as a fill-in in the late 90s, and Matthew Lillard (real life Shaggy!) has been excellent since taking over the role after Kasem’s retirement. I just didn’t like Forte’s attempt at Shaggy’s voice (I actually cringed when he first started talking), or the personality he brought with it, though some of that can be attributed to the writing. His character was whiny, petty, and too-easily jealous. Instead of wanting to protect his best friend or stick by his side, Shaggy sulked when Dastardly told him he only needed Scooby. And Forte’s voice! Was he going for pubescent teen with a hint of frail old man?
On a lesser note, I wasn’t a fan of the personality given to Fred. Zac Efron is actually a nice fit for Fred, in regard to voice and voice-acting ability, and I could see him taking over Fred if Frank Welker were to ever retire. But the personality for Fred was a little too clichéd jock-who’s-obsessed-with-girls-and-cars, and not in a funny or satiric way. Anywho, that’s a minor gripe.
I also don’t like the decision to have Scooby speak the way he does in the film. I don’t know if it was the producers, the director, Frank Welker, or some combination of those three, but it just doesn’t sound totally right. Don Messick’s original Scooby was a little muddled, but understandable – and not muddled in a bad way, but in a way that made a talking dog believable.
Scott Innes, again, did a nice job filling in for a few films. And Frank Welker has done a fantastic job as Scooby since taking over the role in What’s New Scooby Doo? Welker’s Scooby is generally more understandable than the original Messick version, and is about at the limit for going from appropriately-muddled-with-the-inability-to-pronounce-certain-human-vocal-sounds to asking: Why does he speak like that?
Scoob! is making me ask that question. It’s a little past the limit. His voice is relatively un-muddled in the film and his quirk of replacing certain consonants with an ‘R’ sound is only used as a gag, mostly to set up Dastardly shouting “Dick! Dick! Dick!” – a joke, I’m assuming, for the parents watching with their kids.
It’s clear that the people who worked on the film were passionate about it. They installed over 100 Hanna-Barbara and Scooby-Doo tributes and Easter eggs in the film, after all. But the film never established Mystery, Inc. to its viewers. Those of us who have seen at least the original cartoon, if not one, two, or all of the reboots and extensions, know the characters. But what about all of the kids who don’t know Scooby all that well? This movie should have built the characters and their origins better for them. Really, the only origin story for the whole gang was a mediocre Cartoon Network TV movie – not even A Pup Named Scooby-Doo showed us how they all met.
I think my sister put it best when, after seeing the movie, she said “I didn’t not like it.” We deserved more than not not liking it. We deserved to love this film. We deserve an excellent story of how the gang came to be.