Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Would you believe the classic “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!,” characters recently turned 50? That’s right, the four-teen sleuths of Mystery, Inc known for solving silly crimes and indulging in plenty of afternoon snacks are given a new look in “Scoob!,” decades after their initial launch. A CGI animated reboot, “Scoob!” seeks to modernize the iconic property and bring together a slew of classic characters under the Hanna-Barbera umbrella who are now owned by Warner Bros.
“Scoob!” is the most recent studio picture that had to shift its theatrical release strategy to streaming following the COVID-19 pandemic, which is a fitting place to view this wacky adventure anyhow, considering the beloved animated series got started in that medium on Saturday mornings. The film, like “Trolls: World Tour,” should offer families who have exhausted the Disney+ library an appealing distraction during these difficult times.
Thanks to the countless straight-to-dvd videos, two live action remakes, and thousands of television episodes, you probably have an idea on the origin or mythology of how the gang sprung together. In “Scoob!” director Tony Cervone and writers Matt Lieberman and Adam Sztykiel try to offer a clearer and more definitive take. In the opening scene we get a brief recap of how laid back slacker Norville “Shaggy” Rogers (Will Forte) and his canine companion Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker) became best pals. Later on that evening, a Halloween encounter with Fred (Zach Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried) and Velma (Gina Rodriguez) introduces the brigade to the investigative side after they discover a supposed haunted house is a cover for theft and thus Mystery, Inc is born and their careers as amateur sleuths begin
Those fun and nostalgic opening scenes hark back to the simplicity of the series: which often cast the kids as paranormal investigators who debunked many theories on ghouls, zombies, and vampires. It was always someone in a mask who would have gotten away with the crime if it hadn’t been for “those meddling kids.” Most of the comedic elements from those missions were often situational with Shaggy and Scooby always eyeing two things: the exit and the kitchen. But each character had their own quirks to manage: Fred - with his boyish charm - always wanted to be the hero, Velma constantly over-analyzed, and Daphne was the obligatory damsel-in-distress.
In 2020 those character arcs look different. For one, the animators are trying to make the gang a bit more diverse by having Rodriguez voice Velma, and giving the brainiac a darker complexion; Fred isn’t the smartest tool in the shed; Daphne can save herself; and Scoob and Shaggy are, well, Scoob and Shaggy. In 2020, the gang also has to worry about real issues like financials and paying the bills, this happens as the group decides it’s time to go pro after 10 years and thankfully the resourceful Velma tracks down a suitable investor: Simon Cowell (Cowell, of course, playing himself), but the one stipulation of his investment is that Scoob and Shaggy are no longer in the picture, forcing the two pals to part ways with their Mystery, Inc brethren.
Shortly after, they’re picked up by another group when their longtime idol the Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg) swoops in and saves them from a swarming horde of scorpion robots. The maniacal inventions are doing the dirty work of Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaac's) - equipped with a pristine handlebar mustache - an archvillain hellbent on resurrecting the spirit of Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding the underworld, and recovering the lost treasure of Alexander the Great.
Admittedly, the Dick Dastardly villain plot isn’t that compelling or noteworthy, especially as the “Scooby-Doo” characters thrived on debunking supernatural entities. It was silly, campy, and designed to not be taken seriously: in other words, it was a cartoon. “Scoob!” ditches that fun teen-detective format in favor of the big and flashy spectacle, stripping the franchise of its best qualities. Part of you wishes the filmmakers would have gone for the slick hand-drawn animation vibe as opposed to the pudgy CGI, to give “Scoob!” an older aesthetic, but the cheesy sound effects and frenetic pacing help fill the gaps.
Another glaring blemish is the obvious mime-like impersonation of the voice cast, specifically Will Forte who doesn’t really bring his own style of comedy to the character of Shaggy, rather sounding like one of those knockoff voice-actors hired to do the cheap video games and not the real thing. On the other hand, Welker delivers on the brand name, evoking the trusting loyalty of Scooby-Doo, even if his dialogue is often muddled and hard to understand. Efron, Seyfriend, and Rodriguez don’t really put their own spice or flavor on their characters to really make an impression.
Still, Cervone certainly knows how to maintain the action and confidently suggest that more adventures are in store for these characters. That’s not the worst idea, but one hopes the filmmakers will explore elements of team building rather than separation and go back to the paranormal roots of what made the series tick. Time will tell if that will be a mystery worth solving.
SCOOB! is available to rent and purchase from various digital platforms.