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The perpetuity of the Scooby-Doo is a strange and wonderful thing. The world has changed in remarkable ways since 1969 when the franchise launched with the animated series Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, and yet it’s been rare for the never-changing Norville "Shaggy" Rogers, Fred Jones, Daphne Blake, Velma Dinkley, and their talking dog to be away for more than a few years at a time. It’s simple storytelling – the collection of archetypes known as Mystery Inc. combining their skills to solve spooky whodunits – and yet the gang in the Mystery Machine has spoken to multiple generations through a multitude of mediums.
That longevity is now being tested again with a brand new feature reboot, Tony Cervone’s Scoob!, and by largely sticking with tradition while also adding in a splash of new, the film finds a way to work – providing some funny moments and saccharine-free sweetness. It’s not without some cringe-y moments, especially when it makes a special effort to be a bit extra “hip,” but those can be overlooked in the grand scheme thanks to the engaging characters, fun performances, and impressive animation.
Working to both reintroduce the legendary characters and also build on their legacy, Scoob! begins with a cute origin story for the Scooby gang, showing how their first met during one fateful Halloween night, before fast forwarding to the future and showcasing them in conflict. Thanks to some blunt advice from a cameoing celebrity, Shaggy (Will Forte) and Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker) start to question their roles alongside Fred (Zac Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried), and Velma (Gina Rodriguez) in Mystery Inc., and a fissure is created in the group’s solidarity.
Naturally, this couldn’t come at a worse time. The villainous Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs) starts cooking up his latest nefarious plan, and it just so happens to require trying to kidnap Scooby-Doo. Separated from their friends, Shaggy and Scooby fortunately get some help courtesy of the Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg), and his sidekicks Dynomutt (Ken Jeong) and Dee Dee Sykes (Kiersey Clemons)… but it’s not quite a perfect situation. As the mystery-solving fraidy-cats are quick to point out, Blue Falcon is not the original superhero, but instead the original superhero’s son, Brian, who is still trying to prove himself.
It’s hard to deny the comfort provided seeing the Scooby Gang together.
There is a security blanket feel that is projected by the Scooby Gang in that there is a certain reliability they provide in their simplicity, and while the new movie does make a few small updates along the way (like nixing Fred’s orange ascot from his classic look), the film also has the good sense to maintain everything that audiences have loved about them for decades. It’s an honest challenge not to smile as Velma nerds out while analyzing fascinating new technology in the back of the Mystery Machine, or when a freaked out Scooby-Doo leaps into the arms of the visually-quaking Shaggy.
There isn’t a lot of latitude created for any kind of real character growth, as the lessons learned are those that bring the protagonists back to being their traditional selves, but it works by ostensibly being pop culture comfort food.
The expanded Hanna-Barbera exploration is well-implemented and not overdone.
Where Scoob! does work to stand out in the grand legacy of the franchise is in its incorporation of the larger Hanna-Barbera universe of characters, and credit deserves to be given in the filmmakers exercising a surprising level of restraint. With decades of properties to work with, from The Flintstones to The Jetsons to Huckleberry Hound to Yogi Bear, the movie could have been made to be cameo city, with a new recognizable face showing up every five minutes sporting a celebrity voice – but instead the supporting cast is carefully selected and well-utilized, including not only those already mentioned (the back-and-forth between the new Blue Falcon and the veteran Dynomutt provides some of the film’s best moments), but also Captain Caveman (featured in a fun sequence voice by Tracy Morgan). As evidenced by the film, there is legitimate potential in the exploration of a larger universe, but this story is smart not to overplay its hand at the start.
Scoob! lovingly brings its characters into the CG animated world, while also delivering some impressive set pieces.
Of course, while Scoob! doesn’t make big sweeping moves to unnecessarily advance its protagonists, one big change from tradition is in the style of animation that gives the characters a literal extra dimension – and it’s a change that works. Similar to the live-action movies that were released a little less than 20 years ago, it’s understood that the key is translating the basic essence of the style of the 2D cartoons into the new medium, including both style and color, and it’s a transition that works for the property here.
More than the Scooby Gang and the larger cast of characters being instantly recognizable, however, the animation in general just looks great. In addition to there being a fun squash-and-stretch implemented into the more realistic presentation scene-to-scene, the big action sequences are very much blockbuster caliber – from a Shaggy and Scooby sequence in the first act that sees the pair chased by a group of transforming robot scorpions, to the big finale set in Rome. It may be a new format for the material, but watching the movie it never actually feels that way.
Looking at the film in the big picture, Scoob! is being released during a very stressful time in the world, and it’s a movie that’s actually kind of well-suited for it. Not only will it provide for a nice distraction for parents desperately looking for ways to keep their children entertained indoors, but it’s also simply a nice piece of well-intentioned escapism that is cute and occasionally heart-warming. It’s not spectacular or groundbreaking, but it is fun, and a potential launching point for a whole new generation of big screen Hanna-Barbera projects.