There aren’t many franchises that have maintained a consistent spot in the annals of pop culture like Scooby-Doo has. It has now been more than half a century since Scooby-Doo, Where Are You first made its debut on CBS’ Saturday Morning cartoon block on September 13th, 1969. The show immediately proved to be a hit for its studio, the legendary Hanna-Barbera Productions, and proceeded to evolve over the next several decades with new incarnations of the show. And while these newer shows did occasionally make a few story changes here and there (whether it’s by having a series with the gang as kids or by having the monsters they encounter be real instead of fake), they almost always stayed true to the franchise’s classic formula. As of this year, there have been 14 TV series starring the Mystery Inc gang and more than 40 feature-length films. Most of these films, however, have been direct-to-video releases, although the franchise did make its way to the big screen in 2002 with the live-action Scooby-Doo film, which was then followed by Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed in 2004. While neither film was a hit with critics, they both did solidly at the box-office, although the second film wasn’t as successful as its predecessor, resulting in a potential third film being canned. Thus, it wouldn’t have been until this year when the series would finally make its return to the big screen with a new animated feature titled Scoob!... that is, until the coronavirus pandemic hit, forcing theaters across the country to be shut down until further notice. And in Scoob’s case, this immediately proved to be a problem since it was originally set to come out on May 15th, which was now impossible. Thus, Warner Bros. ultimately decided to follow in the footsteps of DreamWorks’ Trolls: World Tour by forgoing its theatrical release in favor of it debuting via on-demand on the day it was slated to hit theaters. Not only that, but this new film is set to be the first in a new ‘Cinematic Universe’ that would be based around the classic characters of Hanna-Barbera, a prospect that I find quite exciting and solidly initiated through this entertaining new take on the Mystery Inc gang.
On an average summer day, a young, lonely boy named Norville ‘Shaggy’ Rogers (voiced by Iain Armitage as a kid and Will Forte as an adult) comes across a stray talking dog (voiced by Frank Welker). The two instantly begin to bond, resulting in Shaggy adopting him and giving him the name Scooby-Doo. Soon afterward, the two end up finding even more friends when they meet Fred Jones (voiced by Pierce Gagnon as a kid and Zac Efron as an adult), Daphne Blake (voiced by Mckenna Grace as a kid and Amanda Seyfried as an adult), and Velma Dinkley (voiced by Ariana Greenblatt as a kid and Gina Rodriguez as an adult). Together, they decide to tackle mysteries as the Mystery Inc gang, which they proceed to do for the next several years. And yet, despite their success, Shaggy and Scooby soon start to feel that they are the least valuable members of the group given their generally lax and cowardly nature. However, the two then find themselves summoned by their favorite superhero, the Blue Falcon… or rather, the Blue Falcon’s son Brian (voiced by Mark Wahlberg) who has taken up his father’s mantle in the wake of his retirement. After also meeting the Blue Falcon’s companions, tech-savvy Dee Dee Sykes (voiced by Kiersey Clemons) and the robotic dog Dynomutt (voiced by Ken Jeong), Shaggy and Scooby learn that Scooby is being pursued by the notorious Dick Dastardly (voiced by Jason Isaacs). Specifically, Dastardly plans to use Scooby to open the gates to the Underworld (since Scooby is revealed to be a descendant of Alexander the Great’s canine companion Peritas), potentially unleashing the three-headed dog monster Cerberus upon the world. Thus, both the Mystery Inc gang and the crew of the Blue Falcon’s ship, the Falcon Fury, find themselves in a race against time to prevent Dastardly from unleashing the Apocalypse as Shaggy and Scooby look to prove themselves worthy of being properly seen as heroes.
Scoob is very much your traditional Scooby-Doo adventure albeit with a larger focus on other characters from the world of Hanna-Barbera. As such, I should probably start by noting that while this is very much a Scooby-Doo film, it isn’t as centered on the Mystery Inc gang when compared to the other films and shows that make up its massive franchise. In fact, given the nature of the plot, Shaggy and Scooby end up separated from Fred, Daphne, and Velma for a good chunk of the runtime. At the very least, the film does still allow for each member of the gang to have their own standout moment in the story, and if there is a major upside to all this, it’s that I believe that this film serves as a great gateway for new audiences to be introduced to some of the lesser-known characters from the Hanna-Barbera universe. I mean, if Marvel could do it for the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy, then Warner Bros and Hanna-Barbera can do it for the likes of the Blue Falcon, Dynomutt, and Captain Caveman (voiced by Tracy Morgan). And although the plot itself is rather basic (to the point where it somewhat rehashes the subplot of Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed where Shaggy and Scooby look to prove themselves as valuable members of the gang), it still delivers solid emotional depth through its excellent handling of Shaggy and Scooby’s relationship. Plus, the film also does a great job of maintaining the overall spirit of the franchise even as a modernized adaptation of it. So yes, there are quite a lot of modern references here and there to things like Netflix and Harry Potter, but the film is also full of Hanna-Barbera trademarks from the delightfully cheesy sound effects to an impressive recreation of Where Are You’s title sequence (not to mention all the fun Easter eggs). And it all comes together thanks to some solid animation that reminds me a lot of 2015’s The Peanuts Movie in how it excellently manages to maintain the Scooby-Doo franchise’s traditionally 2-D animated roots even though it is a computer-animated feature.
There has been a bit of controversy, however, surrounding this film’s voice cast. Instead of utilizing the current ensemble that has been voicing the Mystery Inc gang on TV and film, this film goes for an all-star cast, with the legendary Frank Welker being the only one of the core crew reprising any of his roles (in this instance, Scooby-Doo, who he’s voiced since 2002). As you may have guessed, this didn’t go over well with some of the franchise’s current voice cast, namely Matthew Lillard, who took over the role of Shaggy from Casey Kasem after playing the character in the live-action films, and Grey Delisle, the current voice actress for Daphne. And while I completely understand where they’re coming from, especially since they’ve stated that they weren’t informed of this change, the cast for this film does end up doing a solid job. To be clear, I’m not saying that this new cast should completely replace the current voice cast (not in the slightest) but at the very least, Will Forte, Zac Efron, Gina Rodriguez, and Amanda Seyfried manage to be natural fits in their respective roles. But like I just said, not everyone has been onboard with this decision and have often argued that the ‘celebrity’ voices should’ve been reserved for the supporting characters like Mark Wahlberg as the Blue Falcon. On that note, Wahlberg is certainly a fun standout of the cast and a lot of this is thanks to how the film handles Brian’s role in the story since it primarily revolves around his struggles to live up to the legacy of his father. Because of this, he often avoids partaking in any superhero action (but still takes all the credit at the end of the day) while the far more competent duo of Dee Dee and Dynomutt do all the work, resulting in plenty of the film’s best comedic moments. Finally, Jason Isaacs is clearly having a lot of fun as the utterly diabolical Dick Dastardly, but perhaps the most fascinating part of this whole film is how even someone as villainous as Dick gets to partake in some of its emotional beats when the reason behind his plan to open up the Underworld is revealed. I won’t reveal it here for obvious reasons, but if you’re familiar with the character, then I don’t even need to say anything more because I’m sure you know exactly what I’m referring to.
All in all, Scoob is a delightful new spin on one of the most classic animated franchises of all-time. It may not be the best thing that has ever come out of the Scooby-Doo franchise, but it still delivers on a lot of what longtime fans have come to expect from it. Yes, it’s very much a modernized take on the property, but at the same time, it still does just enough to pay homage to the classic style of Hanna-Barbera. And while I fully understand why this film has been a notable source of controversy due to its revamped voice cast, I also feel that this will only become a genuine problem if this cast ends up replacing the current cast from the shows, which I strongly doubt it will. In short, I’m well-aware that quite a few people most likely groaned at the prospect of this being another film that’s meant to kick-start a new cinematic universe a la Marvel since, to be perfectly blunt, most of the attempts to follow the MCU’s winning formula have been underwhelming, to say the least. However, this is one of those cases where a potential cinematic universe would be highly appropriate since crossovers between Hanna-Barbera properties were quite common back in the studio’s heyday. Just look at the time that the Jetsons met the Flintstones or when the Mystery Inc gang cameoed in an episode of Johnny Bravo. And as someone whose experience with Hanna-Barbera is admittedly limited to The Flintstones, The Jetsons, the various Cartoon Network shows from the ’90s like Johnny Bravo and Dexter’s Laboratory, and of course, Scooby-Doo, I’m all for a Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe. As such, I do hope that this film’s fate as a direct-to-streaming release won’t end up affecting its potential franchise’s chances in the long run. Believe me, if it wasn’t for this crazy pandemic that we’re currently in right now, this was very much a film that I was planning to see in theaters.