If you’ve been clamoring to watch the new brightly-colored feature length Scooby-Doo movie, now simply titled Scoob!, you’re in luck. Warner Brothers has decided to release the film on VOD so you can watch it (with your kids) without having to brave the crowds of a busy theater. Just keep in mind that the shortened name isn’t the only thing that’s changed; this isn’t quite the Scooby Doo you remember.
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? was one of my favorite cartoons growing up. It was unlike other Hanna-Barbera shows in that it had an intangible magnitude and sense of importance, the mysteries always at the forefront. The episodes always felt bigger than any of the show’s contemporaries and the characters more identifiable. I mean, what other cartoon could boast guest appearances by both the Harlem Globetrotters AND the Three Stooges?
Which is why feature-length adaptations of the series never needed to go over the top with production or elaborate scenarios. The ingredients are already all right there. Just throw in a few familiar faces and you’re golden.
Scoob! begins as a dog steals a skewer of shawarma from a Greek restaurant and gets chased down by police, leading him to a brief run in with a young boy named Shaggy (Iain Armitage). Shaggy is wearing headphones and it looks odd to have such an iconic character, who’s perennially placed in circa 1970s, with a smart phone listening to modern music. The dog overhears Shaggy going on to himself about how he doesn’t have any friends. The dog feels sad for him and offers to share his shawarma until the police find him again. Shaggy claims the dog is his and, when asked for his pet’s name, he comes up with the name “Scooby Dooby Doo”.
The two become best friends and eventually meet some other kids, Fred, Daphne, and Velma, on Halloween night after they all inadvertently bust an illegal electronics seller inside of a haunted house. Pleased with their collective power, they form a crime fighting team called Mystery, Inc.
Fast-forward some years and the gang is all grown up. They get an offer from Simon Cowell to sponsor their team, but the famously curmudgeon Cowell says that Shaggy (now voiced by Will Forte) and Scooby (Frank Welker) are a liability, and honestly useless when it comes to fighting crime. He won’t invest in their group as long as they’re a part of it.
This sends the aforementioned duo into an existential crisis where they believe they serve no purpose in Mystery, Inc. One night while bowling, they get attacked by little mechanical bowling ball robots, but are saved by the superheros Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg) and Dynomutt (Ken Jeong), who inform them that the evil villain Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs) is hunting them down for reasons unknown. The rest of Mystery, Inc. has to track down their friends and figure out why Dick Dastardly is trying to kidnap them.
Opening up some fun Hanna-Barbera lore, Scoob! is the first installment in a planned series of films set in a cinematic universe for the groundbreaking animation studio. Here, we get to see Captain Caveman (Tracy Morgan), and the aforementioned Dick Dastardly and Dynomutt, as well as subtle hints towards some others. These inclusions are what help make the film fun to watch. The faint mystery element strings us along as well, even if it feels forgotten about much of the time.
The fairly elaborate plot always feels loosely held together, ready to unravel at any moment. The script, written by Adam Sztykiel, Jack Donaldson, Derek Elliot, and Matt Lieberman, throws one too many ideas into the mix and there’s a lot to take in. At times the writers feel more concerned with the overall story than locking down their characters and making sense of their decisions.
Clearly, the movie has to find a way to justify Shaggy and Scooby’s importance to remain on the team, but too often the filmmakers let their own goals get in the way of what makes sense. Shaggy and Scooby are famously afraid of adventure, but initially only go on their new mission so they can prove themselves and be accepted back into the good graces of the Mystery, Inc. – just to embark on countless more adventures. I suppose this inherent issue is present in the original series as well, but attention was never drawn to it.
There’s definitely a certain knowledge, and even passion, for the source material, judging by how director Tony Cervone and company tap into the lore of Scooby-Doo (as well as other Hanna-Barbera properties), which is why it doesn’t make sense why certain things about the tone and the characters feel so wrong.
For one, Shaggy has always been a relaxed, pseudo-stoner type of guy, always without worry unless there’s a potential ghost or monster involved. But here, when we see young Shaggy, he’s emo and appears moody all the time. But in just a few short years later he’s completely turned into the nonchalant Shaggy we know and love and come to expect.
Then there’s my biggest gripe – probably the most annoying thing of all – which is how much Scooby-Doo talks in this movie. In the original series, he was nearly unintelligible, with his sentences rarely going beyond two or three words at a time. Voiced by the iconic Frank Welker, he now engages in full-blown conversations with Shaggy and other people. It’s bizarre to have such an iconic character altered so fundamentally.
The animation is polished so much that at times it feels sterile. In moments where we get to see real-life locations, such as Venice Beach, this is a positive. But when trying to engage an audience (who are mostly children) in an already-overstuffed story, the over-stimulation of details can distract us even more, making it even more difficult to focus on the actual narrative.
The humor throughout is largely hit or miss, with the hits being small and rare, and the misses being cringe-worthy and juvenile. It’s not too much to expect a children’s movie to have jokes that adults can enjoy, too, but the writers seem to have forgotten that there’s an audience for Scooby-Doo other than kids.
The cast is mostly spot on, with Mark Wahlberg particularly impressive as an insecure superhero-by-inheritance-only. His dad was the real Blue Falcon, and he just puts on the suit, attempting to live off his father’s reputation. Wahlberg delivers his comedy with an intentional self-importance and lack of awareness. Meanwhile, Will Forte nails the Shaggy voice and blends in incredibly well as though he’s been doing it for years.
The movie doesn’t really play around with any interesting themes to justify its complicated premise, and the ones that are included are glossed over quickly. Perhaps Scoob! should have focused more on being an origins story, or having more of a mystery aspect, or even maintaining the franchise’s trademarked ambiance, equipped with deep purple, green, and blue hues. Scooby-Doo, the franchise, is given a major update, but not always in the best way. It’s hard to make a full-length movie without enlarging everything in the process, but there are enough Easter Eggs and nods to the original that can make watching it worth your time.
If there’s one thing Scoob! does well, it’s making us want to revisit the original series – largely because we long for a simpler, less modern age. Despite all its problems, however, the creative team behind Scoob! really seem like they’re trying to create a good final product, and it shows. Honestly, if there were to be a sequel, I’d watch it for the hope of more tasty Hanna-Barbera references. Is it too much to ask for a Huckleberry Hound cameo?