Synopsis – Scooby and the gang face their most challenging mystery ever: a plot to unleash the ghost dog Cerberus upon the world. As they race to stop this dogpocalypse, the gang discovers that Scooby has an epic destiny greater than anyone imagined.
My Take – I think we all can accept (silently if you want to) that when it comes to celebrating Scooby Doo and his Mystery Inc., no matter the age, we are always going to be in. Despite being created all the way back in 1969, the brown colored goofy male Great Dane and his amateur detective friends, especially his lifelong companion, Shaggy Rogers, continue to remain one of the most iconic, longest-running and beloved characters in the world of children’s animation since their debut in the Hanna-Barbera series Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! on CBS.
A series which launched a whole media franchise, which along with its extensive merchandise, consists of multiple follow up series iterations, more than a dozen direct-to-video films (which continue to release every year), and two live action big screen iterations in the form of Scooby-Doo (2002) and Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004), led by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Linda Cardellini, Freddy Prinze Jr., and Matthew Lillard.
While the critical mangling of the live action films did put an immediate stop to further follow ups, though Cartoon Network released two prequel live action TV films, Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins (2009) and Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster (2010) and a spin-off film entitled Daphne & Velma (2018) premiered at C2E2, however, with this new originally planned theatrical release, Warner Animation Group and director Tony Cervone stick to animation, bring in a star-studded voice cast, with clear intentions of scooping up a new generation of fans, while also finding a way to appease older fans as well.
With the COVID-19 crisis pretty much derailing it’s hopes for a theatrical release, this latest iteration which released on VOD yesterday, is pretty much what I personally expected it to be, i.e. an imaginative reboot that respects its TV roots but is also smart enough to add enough winks at pop-culture and film references.
While I understand the negative feedback the film is receiving, mainly as it is set up as the first installment of an animated Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe, with a superhero-esq world-ending catastrophe to be stop, instead of a traditional and more grounded spooky mystery the gang is usually involved in solving. However, with expectations in the right place, I must say, it is easy to enjoy its stunning animation, humor, touching story about friendship, and most importantly, deep dive into nostalgia.
Working as an origin tale the story follows Norville “Shaggy” Rogers (voiced by Will Forte) and his canine best friend Scooby-Doo (voiced by Frank Welker), who met years ago when a young pup, after stealing food from a Greek cafe on the Venice boardwalk finds himself in the company of a young Shaggy (voiced by Iain Armitage), a fellow lonely junior gourmand, and strike up a friendship based in no small part on their bottomless appetites.
A friendship which grows even stronger with addition of Fred (voiced by Pierce Gagnon), Daphne (voiced by Mckenna Grace) and Velma (voiced by Ariana Greenblatt), who while searching for some purloined candy in a spooky haunted house, unmask their first villain and are instantly hooked on solving mysteries, which leads to the establishment of Mystery Inc.
However, 10 years later, it becomes evident to the gang especially, to Fred (voiced by Zac Efron), Daphne (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) and Velma (voiced by Gina Rodriguez), that their sleuthing adventures have not been commercially viable, and in hopes of a identifying a potential investor, meet entrepreneur Simon Cowell (voiced by himself). While Simon is impressed with the group’s history, he insists that Shaggy and Scooby are a liability, forcing the two to part ways with their longtime partners.
But unknown to them, Dick Dastardly (voiced by Jason Isaacs), a sneaky villain, is in hot pursuit of Scooby for his surprisingly famous DNA, which while leading to a whole stash of treasure also opens up the gates of the underworld, hence forcing the two to team up with Shaggy’s favorite superhero, Blue Falcon (voiced by Mark Wahlberg) and his trusty steed, Dynomutt (voiced by Ken Jeong), and Dee Dee Sykes (voiced by Kiersey Clemons) to save the world.
Of course this follows a standard chase and climax battle that marks most films these days, however it also manages to be often funny, and deeply self-reflective about current pop culture and the original tropes like some unmaskings. Though, we get a look at the origin of Scooby and Shaggy, their burgeoning friendship, and how they meet the rest of their crew.
However, the creative team doesn’t get too bogged down in sentimentality as after solving just one apparently haunted house mystery, the team is all grown up. Personally I found the early segment about the young heroes and their penchant for uncovering strange goings on to easily be one of the most charming bits of the film.
While I understand the inclusion of the other Hanna-Barbera characters that never quite achieved the cultural ubiquity of Scooby-Doo makes for a fun, universe-expanding tale, I do agree that I too would have preferred a whole feature about meddling kids cracking criminal skulls while catching greedy scammers. And yes, I too found it odd to see how the film decides to split the gang for most of the film.
However, it is hard not to get a kick out of the pop culture references, and the humor which comes with the territory. Here, director Cervone and animation coordinator Bill Heller have successfully managed to craft an immersive and engaging visual world you’ll want to revisit and live in. The nuances of the animation are impressive with detailed lighting and depth that give the film a warmth that many modern animated films lack. Kids stuck at home during quarantine–and animation fans of all ages–will adore the brightly colored escapism on display. Parents might not be as engaged with the story as younger viewers, but there are plenty of silly, raunchy jokes and classic character appearances to keep adults entertained.
The voice cast also does well here. Frank Welker, who has been voicing Scooby for years, continues to be splendid as always. Will Forte, taking over from Matthew Lillard and Casey Kasem, does well in his part, so do Gina Rodriguez, Amanda Seyfried and Zac Efron. Mark Wahlberg also gets to unlock his inner insecurity as a muscly superhero-bro, with Ken Jeong and Kiersey Clemons providing him enough support. Jason Isaacs also does a stellar job as Dick Dastardly, who brings an unexpected motivation. In smaller roles, Tracy Morgan, Simon Cowell, Iain Armitage and Mckenna Grace are also good. On the whole, ‘Scoob!’ is a goofy and gorgeous good dive into joyful nostalgia despite its inverted original concept.
Directed – Tony Cervone
Rated – PG
Run Time – 94 minutes