Scooby-Doo, the gangly Great Dane, and his four, teen friends have been entertaining kids, and quite a few adults as well, since 1969. Originally, the Hanna-Barbera production was a half-hour Saturday morning kids show entitled SCOOBY-DOO, WHERE ARE YOU? Since that auspicious debut, an instant hit, the franchise has seen all kinds of iterations, from various spin-offs to live-action movies to enough cosplay to fill a comic convention. Now, the Warner Bros. Animation Group (WAG for short, as in wag this dog?) has developed a new CGI-animated take on the material entitled SCOOB! It’s slick, fast, and frothy, paying delightful homage to the source material, and bringing enough modernity to burnish the old chestnut.
This new take starts as an origins story with all of the characters in junior high and starting their legendary friendships. Pup Scooby-Doo is first seen robbing an entire chunk of lamb from a gyros restaurant, his appetite always at the forefront. His size is a little too reminiscent of the much-reviled Scrappy-Doo character from one of the more misguided extensions, but he doesn’t stay small long.
Soon enough, the five meet, greet, and solve a mystery together. This one takes place on Halloween night and their rapport is wonderful as is the clever set-piece in a haunted mansion. What really stands out though is the host of in-jokes that start coming at us, fast and furious. Brainiac Thelma is dressed up as Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ingenue Daphne wears a classic Wonder Woman costume (another WB franchise, natch). And hunky heroic Fred wears a shiny suit of armor. Their banter is spirited too, dropping a slew of pop culture references in mere minutes.
Then the story moves forward to their older teen versions, all done to a montage that recreates the original series title sequence, complete with a rockin’ version of the theme song, and the core of the movie’s story begins. Soon enough, the gang finds themselves on a space ship alongside some caped superheroes who are battling to keep venerable villain Dick Dastardly from ruling the universe. The film didn’t need to wade into such territory, but one can imagine the lure of borrowing from the DC, Marvel, and Star Wars universes to get the eyeballs.
The introduction of the Blue Falcon hero in space, a riff on Deadpool, is far too on-the-nose, right down to voice actor Mark Wahlberg heavily channeling Ryan Reynolds’ delivery. (I had to check the credits on IMDB.com to make sure it wasn’t him.) The space set-pieces are well-executed, but it does distract from the horror genre where Scoob and the gang should be applying themselves. There’s more superhero than supernatural in this outing, and that’s not necessary for this franchise.
It all manages to be breezy fun nonetheless, with almost as many in-jokes and cultural references as the AIRPLANE or SCARY MOVIE franchises in their heyday. Simon Cowell makes an extended appearance, dozens of music cues play up the schtick and nostalgia equally, and a watchful eye will note that when Shaggy is introduced, he’s standing in front of a Venice Beach storefront entitled Casey’s Creations, an homage to DJ Casey Kasem’s original voicing of the character. I especially liked the snide aside during the Halloween sequence when a couple of bullies dismiss the holiday as mere marketing by “Big Corn Syrup.”
The writers (Adam Sztykiel, Jack C. Donaldson, Derek Elliott, Matt Lieberman, Eyal Powell, and Jonathon E. Stewart) have the sense to literally close the door on some of the cliches of the franchise that might play as too hoary today. When one villain is caught, he grumbles, “I would’ve gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for you meddli-” before the squad car door literally is slammed shut on him before he’s finished complaining. This film laughs at itself as much as we do.
The voice actors perform just fine, including Amanda Seyfried as Daphne, Zac Efron as Fred, (his hair is even styled like Zafron’s, another in-joke) and Jason Isaacs doing a particularly effective take on Dastardly. Isaacs has become one of the best voice-over actors working today, and he pays homage to Don Messick’s original voice characterization while adding some macho heft of his own to it. There’s a nice in-joke too involving a location named Messick Mountain. Sweet.
I wish Will Forte’s energetic take on Shaggy’s voice conjured a touch more of the Kasem rasp, but Gina Rodriguez makes for a much savvier Velma that’s more than welcome. The legendary Fred Welker reprises his role as Scooby, one he’s done many times before, and thankfully, the producers are smart enough to leave Welker enough alone. There are many other dog characters in the mix too, but not enough of Muttley, Dastardly’s pooch sidekick. It’s enough to make Penelope Pitstop park the car!
The animators do a terrific job throughout the 90-minute run time. It’s a bit long but never boring, and the kids and adults should be continually impressed by the eye-popping action and production design. At times, despite the demands of modern CGI animation, director Tony Cervone even slows things down to breathe, echoing some of the quieter character moments that distinguished the micro-budgeted original cartoons. Hanna-Barbera simply didn’t have the money to animate as fully as they wanted to so their productions always emphasized character development over action. A lot of that is on display here too, by choice, and more power to Cervone for going that route.
All in all, SCOOB! is a fun ride, one that should also be commended for appearing on VOD while the world is a captive audience. The material, after 50 years, is still quite a hoot. And I’m sure lots of kids and adults will be watching.