A few times every generation, there is a movie that captures a specific time for a specific group of people. For the most part, millennials fondly remember the live-action Scooby-Doo movies of the early 2000s. While those films didn’t win any Oscars, they were quickly locked into cinematic history as cult classics. Remember when Rowan Atkinson pulled off his mask to reveal he had been Scrappy-Doo all along, or when Ruben Studdard led a dance number at the end of the second movie? Or when the Mystery Inc. gang switched bodies and made a lot of boob jokes? James Gunn’s unrestrained take on the family-friendly Saturday morning cartoon was of such a specific place and time that it couldn’t have happened if all the stars didn’t line up just right. There is no way to replicate the strange, subdued cultural phenomenon that was the charming and campy live-action Scooby-Doo movies of the early 2000s in 2020. And frankly, why would you want to?
Before the pandemic hit, SCOOB! was intended to be Scooby-Doo’s return to the silver screen, his first theatrical release since 2004’s Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. Luckily for SCOOB!, Trolls: World Tour was rented 95 million times in its first three weeks as a children’s direct-to-digital planned theatrical release. Jumping at the chance to emulate Dreamworks, SCOOB! made the digital leap as well to great success. Financial success, at least. But as disheartening as the film was for me, I think it has, just by circumstance, become definitively linked to this time and this place. People are stuck inside their homes, away from friends and family, and perhaps 94 minutes of Scooby and Shaggy joining up with super-heroes to travel to a dinosaur island is just what the families of the world need right now.
I am a longtime fan of Scooby-Doo. I’ve seen nearly every episode of every iteration of the show, from A Pup Named Scooby-Doo to The 13 Ghosts, multiple times for most of them. I’ve seen every direct-to-VHS and DVD movie that released up until the late 2000s, and I will maintain to this day that Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is a near-perfect film. I love the Mystery Inc. gang, and I have as long as I can remember. What SCOOB! presented to me, therefore, was a quandary. SCOOB! was advertised as a reboot from the get-go, and of course, is targeting children, so I shouldn’t have been so surprised that the film is built on the premise of throwing out pretty much everything we know about Scooby-Doo and starting over. This, like Sonic the Hedgehog, is not a movie for longtime adult fans. This is a movie for children. But isn’t that just what it says on the tin?
SCOOB! resets the universe of Scooby-Doo, setting us back all the way to where a young, lonely Shaggy Rogers (Will Forte) meets a stray mutt on the beach and names him Scooby Dooby Doo (voiced by returning Frank Welker). In a heartwarming opening sequence, the dynamic duo forever seals their fates together. The two of them meet local kids Fred (Zac Efron), Velma (Gina Rodriguez) and Daphne (Amanda Seyfried) while trick-or-treating, discover a haunted house together, and Mystery Inc. is formed. The first 15 minutes of the film was lovely and had a few callbacks to the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? for longtime fans like myself, including a recreation of the opening theme song. It’s about the time that the villain, Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs), is introduced that the film starts to feel…commercialized.
SCOOB! was not created just to relaunch the Scooby-Doo brand. It’s true raison d’être to form a launchpad for the Hanna-Barbera cinematic universe, a phrase I cannot believe I’ve had to type out. Following a half-dozen other studios that have tried and failed horribly to emulate Marvel, Hanna-Barbera has utilized the only IP it has with any value (Scooby-Doo) to create a series of children’s movies with its other properties. Dick Dastardly and Muttley (from Wacky Races and Yogi Bear) serve as the antagonists for the film, while Shaggy and Scooby must team up with Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg), Dyno Mutt (Ken Jeong), Dee Dee Skyes of the Teen Angels (Kiersey Clemens) and Captain Caveman (Tracy Morgan, somehow) to close the portal to hell (???) that Alexander the Great opened thousands of years ago. The plot is, to put it mildly, convoluted. But Scooby-Doo isn’t about a well-written plot; it’s about heart, fun gags and the Mystery Inc. gang getting into shenanigans.
Unfortunately, SCOOB! has none of these things either. While some of the jokes hit, most will fall flat for adults. Fred, Velma and Daphe only spend about five minutes of the movie with Shaggy and Scooby — they spend the rest of the time trying to track down the two. Blue Falcon and his crew get much more screen time than the three of them, which was frankly upsetting. And as far as heart, look no further than the voice cast. Someone at Warner Brothers decided it was time for a changing of the guard, and they could not have made worse selections. Will Forte’s performance as Shaggy is gratingly awful. Shaggy has one of the most timeless, distinct voices in animation history — when you get that wrong, people will notice. Matthew Lilliard, who has played live-action and animated Shaggy since the legendary Casey Kasem passed away, was not informed about the project and was disappointed to see what it became. Iconic voice actor Grey DeLisle (who you may know as Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender) has played Daphne for years and was heartbroken not to be offered the part. Frank Welker has voiced both Scooby-Doo and Fred for decades now but was replayed with Efron as Fred’s voice for unknown reasons. At least they kept him on as Scooby — small victories.
All of this comes
together to create what feels like a heartless corporate reboot of a franchise that so many out there love. I must qualify my reasoning against the fact that this movie was made for children, and children are enjoying it. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable as a whole, but there at least there were a few laughs along the way. In the most pedantic, agonizing way possible, all I can say is that SCOOB! does not feel like Scooby-Doo. I think for most folks that won’t matter, and I think others will say, “that’s the point of a reboot.” Fred doesn’t tell the group to split up and look for clues. Shaggy and Scooby don’t get caught in their own convoluted trap and accidentally unmask the monster. Velma doesn’t lose her glasses. But I suppose those other folks are right — that’s the point.
Nirav recommends SCOOB! for children and families, but advises older fans of the franchise to give it a pass.