Let’s just admit that this is the best Scooby-Doo movie.
Mystery, Inc. has broken up. Daphne (Mary Kay Bergman) has a hit TV show with her cameraman Fred (Frank Welker). To celebrate Daphne’s birthday and her new supernatural investigation series, Fred invites Velma (B.J. Ward), Shaggy (Billy West), and Scooby-Doo (Scott Innes) to reunite for one last ride. Unfortunately, despite looking for ghosts, all the gang finds are people in suits trying to steal things. The gang eventually winds up in New Orleans where a woman named Lena (Tara Strong) invites them to see Moonscar Island where her employer, Simone Lenoir (Adrienne Barbeau) has a real haunted house. The gang starts to encounter some strange happenings, but is it ghosts or a hoax? Hint: It ain’t a hoax.
Between 1969 and the present, there have only been 9 years in which no new Scooby-Doo media was released. Six of those years were between the end of A Pup Named Scooby-Doo in 1991 and this movie. The franchise was potentially on its last legs, aside from Cartoon Network’s occasional reruns and its annual 25 hours of Scooby-Doo marathon. But, it did well enough on repeats for the network to give this film a shot. It was assembled by people who had mostly worked on more serious shows than the traditional Scooby-Doo, like Swat Kats: The Radical Squadron. In fact, this film was basically a recycling of an unused script from that show. Because of that, this movie went in a new direction for the franchise: Legitimately kind of dark.
It’s not just that the zombies are real in this movie, it’s that by this point in their careers, Fred, Daphne, and Velma no longer even consider the possibility that magic could be real. While there had been some real ghosts or monsters in some previous Scooby-Doo works, most of them involved Scrappy-Doo instead of the human gang. When Velma and Fred encounter things that seem supernatural, they immediately move to debunking it, comparing it to other times that they’ve dealt with manufactured mysticism. The only ones who still appear to be humoring the idea of real ghosts are Shaggy and Scooby, which makes it better that they’re the first ones to encounter the zombies, because no one believes them. Despite the fact that the zombies are real, though, there is still a legitimate mystery as to why they’re attacking and how they came to be.
The soundtrack to this film is great. The theme song was performed by Third Eye Blind and there were two original songs in the film composed by the band Skycycle, “The Ghost is Here” and “It’s Terror Time Again.” I sometimes still find myself humming the latter whenever I see any kind of horror montage. That’s actually part of why I picked this film, even though the request was actually for “The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo.” The other part was that the only movie of 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo came out recently, and it was not great.
Since this film came out, Scooby-Doo has had five more series and thirty-eight more films, including Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, one of my favorite series ever, and it would not have been possible without this film reminding people that the franchise still had untapped potential. If you ever had any love for Scooby-Doo, give this film a try. If you have never seen Scooby-Doo, this is the best pond to dip your toe in.
The first animated feature film in the franchise is not quite what I hoped, but it’s not a tragedy.
Norville “Shaggy” Rogers (Will Forte/Iain Armitage) adopts a talking dog which he names Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker) as a kid. The two become best friends, and one Halloween night they end up meeting three other children: Fred Jones (Zac Efron/Pierce Gagnon), Daphne Blake (Amanda Seyfried/Mckenna Grace), and Velma Dinkley (Gina Rodriguez/Ariana Greenblatt). The five end up thwarting a fake haunting in a local house and become a team of supernatural sleuths known as “Mystery Incorporated.”
Ten years later, the group is trying to become an actual business, but Scooby and Shaggy are accused of being dead weight. They go and sulk by bowling, where they are attacked by robots. The team ends up being caught in a scheme by supervillain Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs), resulting in them teaming up with the Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg), his canine robot companion Dynomutt (Ken Jeong), and his pilot Dee Dee Sykes (Kiersey Clemons). It turns out this time the stakes might be the fate of the world.
Alright, I’m going to split this review so that I don’t drive people nuts. The first half is going to be me talking about this as a reviewer, the second as a Scooby-Doo fanboy.
As a reviewer, this movie has some good points. The animation style really does seem like they just made a CGI model of the original cartoon designs with some era-appropriate updates. There are a number of surprisingly solid jokes for a film like this, including some decent slapstick gags. The film covers both the origin of the team as well as their “greatest challenge,” but it never really feels rushed. I was surprised how much happened in only 90 minutes. The addition of Blue Falcon (or at least his son Brian who takes over for him) allows the movie to put in some creative action sequences, and Jason Isaacs’s interpretation of Dick Dastardly manages to be deeper than the character has ever really been before and yet still a stereotypical villain. Also, there are a ton of cameos from past cartoons and the traditional goofy sound effects that will probably give you some childhood nostalgia.
On the negative side, the voice acting is probably going to be divisive. I didn’t think it was really that great, because each of the voices felt more like the actor than the character. The plot is kind of ridiculous even for a kids’ movie, with me frequently going “wait, really?” Fortunately, it’s not too heavy on plot, trying instead for some deeper characterizations between the action and comedy. Unfortunately, it tries them with Blue Falcon and Dick Dastardly more than it does with the actual Scooby team and, honestly, Blue Falcon wasn’t that interesting. He’s the fame-seeking son of the original Blue Falcon, which could be worthwhile as the focus of a movie, but he’s only an ancillary character so most of the scenes feel weird and unnecessary.
Overall, it’s not a bad movie, but it doesn’t ever really come close to the level of Pixar or Into the Spider-Verse or other modern great animated films. If you’ve got kids, it’s probably worth it when this movie comes out on Redbox or rental, but don’t spend the 20 bucks to get it now.
Okay, so, now I’m going to address this as a long-time Scooby-Doo fan. I want you to understand that I have gone out of my way to watch almost every Scooby-Doo property and I am only mildly ashamed of that. Hell, I reviewed Daphne and Velma on here, because I’m that dedicated. So, as a fan, I say the following: It’s amazing that this movie can be so close to getting it right and yet not really get it at all. The film contains a decent reproduction of the original Scooby-Doo, Where are You? theme sequence that I think kind of represents the film as a whole: It’s got the elements, but not the spirit. It’s like the people who made this read all of the Wikipedia entries on Scooby-Doo and the rest of the Hanna-Barbera family, but didn’t watch them.
Part of why I feel that way is the sort of “sampler platter” this film presents of the Scooby-Doo franchise. We start off with the gang as kids, like A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, then we see the Scooby-Doo, Where are You? Opening play out, then we see the gang meeting up with Simon Cowell, as they would in The New Scooby-Doo Movies, then we see them dealing with robots and superheroes rather than supernatural entities (although we end up seeing an actual supernatural element in the film), which is reminiscent of the later Scooby-Doo shows. This should have given me a nostalgia overload, but instead it ended up feeling like a jumbled mess, because while Scooby-Doo and the gang may have done things as diverse as rebooting the universe by defeating an eldritch abomination, helping KISS stop a witch, participating in the Laugh-a-lympics, or helping Batman fight crime, they never did them all at once. This film starts out with the traditional “meddling kids” model, but then abandons it when the plot actually begins, instead becoming more of an action comedy focused on Dick Dastardly and the Blue Falcon. That means that the characters we see in the first act should be completely out of their element throughout the rest of the movie, but instead they pretty much immediately just shift into the new paradigm without any issues. It just feels off.
It also doesn’t help that none of the characters really feel right either, from the characterizations and design updates to the voice actors. I love Will Forte, but he doesn’t really try to deliver Shaggy’s lines like he was Shaggy. Instead, it just comes off as Will Forte trying to act like himself in the 60s. He just doesn’t come off as a “scared hippie.” The same is true for most of the voice actors, aside from Amanda Seyfried and, of course, Frank Welker. It’s weird for me that they decided they had to have four celebrity voices when there already are already four semi-famous actors who voice the current version on television: Grey Griffin, Kate Micucci, Matthew Lillard, and Frank Welker, who has been voicing Fred for 50 freaking years. None of them really feel like the characters they’re supposed to be, from the voices to the appearances to the things they say and do. That extends to most of the other characters as well, with the usually goofy Dynomutt being a snarky jerk, the usually Batman-esque Blue Falcon being kind of an idiot, Captain Caveman (Tracy Morgan) speaking normally and being sarcastic, and Dick Dastardly being an actual genius supervillain as opposed to just a comic badguy. It’s like they’re all drawings of the characters made by someone who had the originals described to them, rather than seeing the real thing.
Honestly, I still enjoyed parts of the movie, and I could overlook almost any of this if it were just a better film in general, but it still took it down a bit for me.
The two first ladies of cartoon mystery solving get their own live-action spin-off.
Daphne Blake (Sarah Jeffrey) is a rich high-schooler who hosts a web show about supernatural conspiracies. Her family moves a lot, so her closest friend is her Skype buddy Velma Dinkley (Sarah Gilman), who attends an elite high-school and usually debunks Daphne’s theories. Daphne’s mom gets a job in Ridge Valley working for tech mogul Tobias Bloom (Brooks Forrester) which allows Daphne to attend high-school with her. Velma reveals that there are strange happenings in the school and the two pair up to solve a mystery (but not rewrite history because that’s a different franchise).
Up front, this was definitely made for kids. Scooby-Doo properties have run the gamut on age appropriateness and, while the best ones work for all age groups, this one skews younger (though I am still holding out for just one legit R-rated movie, so far it’s only parodies and Supernatural). I will say that it has one or two jokes that were, in retrospect, kind of dark, but it’s definitely rated G. Still, it’s a Scooby-Doo property, so I was bound to see it at some point and I will say that I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not the best Scooby-Doo movie ( that’s either Zombie Island, Moon Monster Madness, or, and I’m not kidding, Scooby-Doo and KISS Rock and Roll Mystery, which features the members of KISS with magical powers and Sailor Moon transformation sequences), but it’s definitely in the top half. Granted, that’s probably only because most Scooby-Doo films are terrible (and I say that as a fan) and so are many of the shows (Mystery Incorporated was amazing, but that doesn’t offset Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo).
Part of what works in the movie is that it is filled with absurdity that completely meshes with the traditionally abnormal world of Scooby-Doo. It takes place in a super-high-tech high school where clothing is hackable and robots have human emotions, something that’s more in the vein of Eureka than Supernatural, but since Scooby-Doo usually involves people using ridiculous technology to perpetrate absurd schemes, that’s still on-brand. There are suspicious people EVERYWHERE and everyone has weird quirks, which, again, fits the genre.
The humor is genuinely better than most Scooby-Doo properties. I actually laughed quite a few times, particularly with lines like “I forgot to put in the wolves” which is just as ridiculous in context, trust me. The humor is also self-aware enough to call out a ton of the insanity witnessed on-screen without ruining the suspension of disbelief. It helps that Velma’s deadpan snark perfectly compliments Daphne’s humorous over-the-top positivity. While it does contain some generic characters, it uses them in funny ways and usually subverts the tropes by the end. Honestly, the supporting characters are generally really well-done for this kind of movie.
The best part of the film, though, is that they use Daphne and Velma well. Both of the actresses do a great job emphasizing why these characters keep working throughout the years. While Velma has been fairly consistently portrayed throughout the years, Daphne’s character has varied much more, and yet the film makes use of all of them, from damsel-in-distress to action-girl, without feeling out-of-character. They play off of each other perfectly and you really get a good sense that, while they’re very different, they still care about each other and respect each other.
Look, I’m not going to say this is a “good” movie, but it was a decent Scooby-Doo film. It works because it never pretends to be anything else and the effort was focused in the right direction. It’s dumb, but if you’re willing to suspend disbelief to the right level, it’s actually pretty fun.
If, like me, you’re a Scooby-Doo fan, watch this with your kids… or just drink until you feel younger. At least it’s better than Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf. If you’re not a Scooby-Doo fan, give Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island a try.
Scooby-Doo doesn’t die. That Great Dane has appeared on television or in film all but 11 years since it was created in 1969. You can mock the laugh track or the premise or the fact that Shaggy is obviously high all the time, but the fact is, people love the characters, that’s why they keep coming back. Sure, they’ve changed over time: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, The New Scooby-Doo Movies, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!, etc. They’ve added characters, then removed them, then added them back. They’ve changed premises. They’ve had the cast as kids. They’ve done it all.
But, in Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated, as opposed to they writers asking “what if we set it in space” or “what if it takes place in the future,” apparently they asked a different question: WHAT IF WE MADE THE SHOW AWESOME? And they did.
This series isn’t corny. It isn’t hackneyed. It isn’t pointlessly goofy. The villains in this one become willing to flat-out kill the main characters (at the beginning it’s with complicated death-traps, but by the end, it’s just pulling out a gun and opening fire). The series even has a fairly high body-count for recurring characters, and none of the deaths are taken lightly. It’s a well-written mystery-horror-comedy that manages to be inventive while still being a perfect tribute to the original show.
Unlike almost all of the other series, it’s not episodic: It’s a serial. It’s all part of one large plot-line that builds slowly until it’s revealed to be so much bigger in scope than anyone could have imagined. The ending literally explains all of the other Scooby-Doo series, including why Scooby can talk and why people in their universe like dressing up in monster costumes to commit crimes. It has the entire original team, too: Fred, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker, Mindy Cohn, Grey DeLisle, Matthew Lillard, and Welker again).
What’s even better is that they worked thematic episodes into the overarching plot. There were episodes that paid tribute to the classic Hanna-Barbera Saturday Morning Cartoons, to the film The Wild One, even to Saw (yes, in Scooby-Doo, they had an episode about a serial murder who builds elaborate death traps, and it was awesome). And then, there was this episode.
Some of you have probably heard of this guy called “Batman.” He was kind of a big deal for a while. In fact, he appeared multiple times with Scooby-Doo during the 70s, when Batman was goofy and played by Adam West. What you might also remember is that one of the biggest comics Batman ever appeared in was the famously dark “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.” This episode is that comic. Except with a twist.
In the 1970s, Hanna-Barbera had a cartoon called Dynomutt, Dog Wonder. Dynomutt was a goofy robot dog who was the sidekick to a Batman-esque superhero called “The Blue Falcon.” They frequently interacted with Scooby-Doo, but got cancelled relatively quickly. However, apparently, they made enough of an impact for the writers of this episode to go “Hey, what if we took the same goofy Dynomutt, but paired him with the super-intense and violent Batman from ‘The Dark Knight Returns’?” My only hope is that after that sentence was first uttered, the clouds parted and pure golden light shone down upon the crew.
The episode starts years before, at the laboratory of Dr. Benton Quest of Johnny Quest fame. A robotic dragon attacks the building, injuring Security Guard Radley Crowne’s dog Reggie. Quest vows to save the dog’s life.
Cut to the present. Fred, having recently had to turn on his evil parents, is living in a van down by the river (AND YES, THEY REFERENCE THE FARLEY SNL ROUTINE). Velma summons the rest of the gang to city hall, where they discover an attack on the archives by the dragon robot.
The Blue Falcon and Dynomutt intervene, making multiple references to both their goofy show, and also to the gritty Dark Knight Returns. It’s a work of art to see these two styles juxtaposed and interacting. It’d be like watching the 1989 Batman pull out a can of Bat Shark Repellant. Or, if you have watched the Lego Batman movie, it’s like that: Pure, concentrated, awesome.
Blue Falcon explains that they’ve been tracking the robot for years, but Velma points out that Crystal Cove (the show’s setting) is the turf of Mystery, Inc., so they’re tagging along. Falcon agrees, and delivers one of my favorite lines:
“Very well, but you should know that if I need to sacrifice any of you to get my prey, I’ll gladly do it.”
To which Dynomutt, cheerfully responds, giggling: “Oh, B.F. (to Mystery, Inc., deadly serious) He’s not kidding.”
The teams work together to track down the dragon robot. They break into the headquarters of the evil corporation “Destroido,” where Blue Falcon brutally dispatches the guards… with intermixed cartoon sound effects and music. Again, the juxtaposition just makes it amazing.
They confront the company’s head, recurring Scooby-Doo villain Mr. E (Lewis F*cking Black), who refuses to talk. However, the dragon attacks the facility at that moment. They discover the dragon is downloading files from the corporate mainframe, when a voice comes out of the dragon, belonging to none other than Dr. Zin, the Villain from Johnny Quest, who has been searching for Quest’s amazing power source, which apparently is in Dynomutt. Unfortunately, Zin tells the dragon to take the dog and Blue Falcon, which leads the dragon to take Scooby-Doo by mistake.
The gang, along with Dynomutt, travel to a volcano lair to rescue Blue Falcon and Scooby. Zin tries to shoot them down, but they’re saved by Shaggy accidentally crashing the plane they were in. The gang and Blue Falcon take down Zin’s henchmen (because the Gang have all been learning to fight over this series, it actually seems reasonable). They find Zin crying over his dragon, revealed to contain his daughter, who has been trapped in the suit since the night that it first attacked Quest Industries. The suit won’t release her without an external power source, which Dynomutt provides from his battery.
Zin, getting his daughter back, remarks that his quest for power has blinded him to the beauty of a simple act of selfless kindness… before setting the volcano layer to self-destruct and abandoning them. The group escapes in the nick of time.
One of the best parts of this episode is that it mashes up all of the different styles that have come out since Scooby-Doo first began. Batman, SNL, E.T., Johnny Quest, James Bond, all of them are referenced throughout the episode, and they all work. It’s a postmodernist episode of Scooby-Doo, which is my new favorite sentence.
Zin himself is a perfect enemy in this episode, because he was both a Hanna-Barbera enemy, a Bond-esque Supervillain, and, in this episode, is mildly tweaked to resemble Ra’s Al Ghul from Batman, all at the same time.
It’s just a great half-hour of television within a great TV Show. I’ve always loved Scooby-Doo, so I know I’m biased, but Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated really was the first time that the characters were really used to their full potential. I recommend watching it, whether you loved the cartoon or not. It really just was that good of a show.
I’m also looking forward to the Supernatural/Scooby-Doo crossover coming soon.