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Non-Review Review: Scoob!

Have you ever wondered what it might look like is a beloved fifty-one-year-old children’s television franchise had a midlife crisis?

If so, Scoob! might just be for you.

We have lift-off.

To be fair, “beloved” is something of a loaded term. The Scooby-Doo franchise has endured since 1969 by embracing a certain style of populism, capable of rebooting and reimaging itself continuously in order to cash in on the various trends of the era. This approach explains curiosities like The Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, the short-lived cartoon which featured the gang teaming up with none other than Vincent Price for some old-fashioned star power.

As such, it’s probably not a surprise that Scoob! chooses the direction that it does, trying desperately and awkwardly to resonate with what it thinks kids these days want from their mass market entertainment. Early in the film, a bowling station attendant cracks a self-aware joke about the strange space in which Scooby-Doo has always operated, describing Shaggy as “a middle-aged man’s idea of what a teenager sounds like.” However, that self-awareness cuts both ways. Scoob! is a middle-aged man’s idea of what a successful twenty-first century reboot looks like.

Right up their alley.

There’s something frustratingly condescending in all of this, from the finer details to the larger structure. Scoob! is packed with that wry and ironic self-referential humour that is expected from most modern children’s entertainment these days. “Don’t you know that Halloween is just a marketting ploy by big syrup?” taunts a bully early in the film. Scooby retorts, sassily, “We’re okay with that.” When the teens bust their first criminal, he protests as he’s loaded away, “I would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for–“ The catchphrase is cut off by the slamming of the door.

There’s something very awkward about this, as if Scoob! is twenty years out of date in terms of understanding what a young audience expects from a film like this. The movie’s big celebrity guest appearance is Simon Cowell, who is treated like a messianic figure. “Oh man, it’s Simon Cowell!” Shaggy exclaims, prompting Scooby and Shaggy to launch into a rendition of Shallow from A Star is Born. After the obligatory put-down, Fred chuckles, “See, he’s mean – but he makes it fun.” It all feels like something that belongs to the earliest years of the twenty-first century.

Down with the kids.

Scoob! is driven by a desperate and exhausting attempt to seem cool. To give the movie the smallest amount of credit, this is reflected in the introduction of the character of Blue Falcon. When Shaggy complains that Blue Falcon doesn’t look like he should, the hero replies, “It’s called an upgrade.” He assures Scooby and Shaggy, “This isn’t your daddy’s Blue Falcon.” Inevitably, the Blue Falcon is revealed to be inept and insecure, trying to look like a modern idea of a superhero.

Scoob! understands that such desperation is unbecoming. Desperately looking for clues about Dick Dastardly’s next target, Blue Falcon assures his colleagues that he is down with the kids, “I got a DM from one of my fans who gave me the locat.” His hyper-competent canine sidekick sighs in exasperation. “Brian, those are a lot of words that no one your age should be using.” Strangely, the movie seems entirely oblivious to all of this.

Falcon fantastic.

The problem is compounded by the movie’s idea of young and hip feels painstakingly outdated, which is a serious problem. At one point, the Mystery Machine is pulled over by a police officer. Fred insists that he knows how to handle the situation. He turns to the window and spots the beautiful female officer. She whips off her glasses in slow motion and waves her hair, as Let’s Get It On drops on the soundtrack. It’s an old joke, an old song, and is as fresh as the rest of the movie around it.

However, it isn’t just that Scoob! is out of touch. The movie feels relentlessly cynical. Scaling up from these individual moments that do not work, it is very clear that Scoob! has been designed to emulate a formula that studio executives believe will resonate with young audiences. Scoob! has no fewer than six credited writers, whether on the screenplay or the story, but all of them seem to be adhering to the standard Hollywood playbook.

Gutterball.

Most superficially, Scoob! offers an origin story for the gang. It shows how Shaggy and Scooby first met, and how they crossed paths with the rest of the group, and how they solved their first case. This isn’t the worst idea for a movie. After all, origin stories are effective narrative machines, offering a clear arc and structure that leaves the characters in a different place than they started. It might not be original or creative, but an origin story about Scooby Doo and Shaggy would at least be efficient.

However, this is only the first ten or so minutes of the film. After playing out the gang’s origin story, Scoob! jumps ahead a few years. Again, everything here is strictly formulaic. Designed to the safest possible specifications, the bridging theme for Scoob! is the power of friendship, and the importance of the union between Scooby and Shaggy. The pair are told that friendship is meaningless by Simon Cowell, inevitably divided by the plot, and brought together at the climax. “I guess friendship really did save the day,” Shaggy summarises.

Some cross brand synergy right here.

Again, while this isn’t inspiring of itself – the idea of building a story around the generic themes of “friendship” and “family” often feels like an effort to avoid building it around anything else – it is not a deal breaker. There are plenty of successful franchises built around similar themes, from Guardians of the Galaxy to The Fast and the Furious. However, Scoob! is such a mess that this plot never really drives the action. It often feels like an element that is broached strategically at certain points in the story, but never meaningfully developed.

This gets at the most exhausting and craven aspects of Scoob! It tries to reinvent Scooby Doo in the style of a modern franchise film, that means both turning it into a generic superhero blockbuster, a marketing launchpad for a variety of adjacent properties, and stressing the importance of a central “chosen one” narrative. It is exhausting how insistently Scoob! argues that this is the single most important adventure that the gang have ever undertaken. “This is the real deal,” Velma states at the climax, just so the audience understand the stakes.

Superhero war ship.

“This is our most important mystery ever,” Daphne offers at one point in the story, prompting Fred to agree. “This isn’t about some guy in a mask,” he remarks. Daphne clarifies, “This is about one of us.” However, there’s never any real sense of this. Daphne, Fred and Velma don’t actually solve any mystery. Even their efforts to track down Dick Dastardly end when Dastardly himself kidnaps them from the side of the road. Daphne, Fred and Velma feel like they feature in Scoob! as an obligation rather than as a key feature.

Scoob! wants desperately to be a superhero movie, casting Blue Falcon and Dick Dastardly in the role of heroes and villains. Dastardly gets a massive upgrade in order to justify this role, commanding an army of robots in a global treasure hunt to literally open the gates of hell. The action sequences involve dueling rocket ships and laser dog fights, as if trying to compete with something like The Avengers.

“You’re a Peritas, Scoob!”

Scoob! tries to graft on superhero mythology to a franchise about a bunch of weird ghost hunters. Dastardly desperately wants “a giant dog skull”, which immediately suggests the thematic importance of Scooby Doo. He needs Scooby because Scooby is “the most important dog in the world.” Velma summarises, “Scooby Doo is the last descendant of Peritas.” (That’s “Alexander the Great’s Dog.”) To be fair, it could probably be worse, but it’s disappointing that Scoob! refuses to believe that Scooby Doo is special because he’s Scooby Doo.

Indeed, Scoob! feels like a cynical marketing exercise designed to showcase a shared universe of Hanna Barbera characters. This makes sense, as Warner Brothers have been testing the idea of a shared universe of these cartoon properties in their comic book range. Scoob! is clearly intended to serve as a wider nostalgia hit for the beloved cartoon characters of the seventies, with the plot built around Dick Dastardly and Blue Falcon, and even finding an excuse to go to “Mystery Island” so it can justify bringing in Captain Caveman for a few scenes.

Captain Falcon.

There’s a suffocating smell of desperation to all of this, with the music even quoting from the X-Men: First Class towards the climax. It’s not necessarily surprising that an attempt to update an older property like Scooby Doo would quote from the dominant blockbuster genre of the day, but it is disappointing that it would allow itself to be so completely subsumed by a middle-aged man’s idea of what a children’s film looks like.

2 Responses

  1. Its depressing this movie turned out so generic. As a kid Scooby Doo offered a nice balance of corny humor, easy mysteries , and spooky environments for a kid who was just discovering horror. To see all that replaced with a generic eye rolling ironic superhero block buster is disheartening. If you want an actually good scooby doo reboot I recommend the show Scooby Doo mystery incorporated. Which used an x files like structure of combing episodic mysteries with an over arching mystery (something more popular kids shows like gravity falls would use later). Which when coupled with clever writing, more in depth characterization, and genuinely spooky creatures felt like an actual evolution of the scooby doo concept rather then a cheap cash grab.

    • It’s just transparently “Franchise Film #1456”, with appropriate entries from the Scooby Doo! wikipedia page slotted into place.

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