On the surface, Scoob! seems like a can’t-miss proposition: Hot on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? series, why not give Scooby-Doo his very first animated theatrical movie? (And indeed, this movie was originally supposed to open in theaters this past Friday, May 15th. However, COVID-19 sent this movie to VOD rental and purchase on that date instead.) Scoob! is decent, watchable family entertainment, and hits enough of the necessary notes that any Mystery Machine endeavor needs to reach. But it also speaks to the trickiness in trying to maintain cultural relevancy to a beloved, decades-old animated property. And it occasionally falls into the trap of pursuing modern-day movie trends, instead of giving us the mystery-solving shenanigans we all first fell in love with.
Scoob! begins exactly as any 21st-century movie tentpole is obligated to start: with The Origin Story! Hence, we get a 15-minute prologue in which the kid versions of Shaggy (Young Sheldon‘s Iain Armitage) and Scooby (Frank Welker) first met on Venice Beach and became best friends. (And yes, there’s even a moment where li’l Shaggy invents the name “Scooby Dooby Doo”. Although for longtime fans, how it happens will only create more questions.) From there, we see how Shaggy and Scooby meet their fellow future teammates Fred, Daphne, and Velma. This leads into a classic haunted-house sequence, where they manage to solve their first case in the process. Overall, it’s a cute opening reel, and it transitions into a fun piece of fan service: a near-exact re-creation of the original TV show’s opening sequence, rendered in modern CG animation. So far, so good!
Unfortunately, that’s where Scoob!‘s need to pander to modern tastes start to kick in… sometimes in extremely awkward ways. There’s no better example than the first modern-day sequence following the TV intro. We’re quickly introduced to the now grown-up Shaggy (Will Forte), Fred (Zac Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried), and Velma (Gina Rodriguez). Specifically, the team is meeting with a potential new Mystery, Incorporated investor: Simon Cowell (voiced by the man himself). Now, does it make sense why Cowell’s there, other than in some weird The New Scooby-Doo Movies throwback sense? No. Is Cowell actually amusing or funny in his brief role? Oh, no! Does he suffer from the movie’s inability to effectively animate humans that aren’t part of the core Scooby-Doo cast? Absolutely! And did we need an instantly dated gag of Shaggy & Scooby trying to impress Cowell by crooning “Shallow” from 2018’s A Star is Born? Uhh… no. 🙂
“Whoa, whoa! Scooby and Shaggy were taken?”
But soon, the actual plot starts to kick in, as Shaggy and Scooby are abducted from a bowling alley. They’re beamed up to the ship of legendary superhero The Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg), aided by his trusty dog Dynomutt (Ken Jeong), and Dee Dee Sykes (Kiersey Clemons). Falcon is trying to stop evil supervillain Dick Dastardly from unleashing the mythical multi-headed Greek dog god Cerebrus upon the world. (Jason Isaacs voices Dastardly with hammy glee… and he’s easily the movie’s vocal highlight.) As we eventually learn, Scooby’s heretofore storied dog lineage makes him the only one who can stop Dastardly’s evil plan. Meanwhile, the rest of the Mystery Machine team must try to figure out where Shaggy and Scooby disappeared to.
Now, if you’re a savvy reader, you may have noticed that most of the character names in that last paragraph are from other vintage Saturday morning cartoons: not just Dynomutt, Dog Wonder, but also Wacky Races and Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels. As it turns out, Scoob! also embraces another modern filmmaking trend: by attempting to start the Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe that we never knew we needed until this movie. (In the latter series’ case, the titular Captain Caveman also appears in the third act, voiced amusingly by Tracy Morgan!) I’ll admit, I loved seeing these characters lovingly rendered in CG animation that’s far more lush than their original TV appearances. But sadly, this movie never goes far enough with the Cinematic Universe gimmick.
And a big part of why I think this happens is because Scoob! is trying too hard to mold itself into what it things 2020 movie audiences want. Namely, Scoob! spends far too much time on The Blue Falcon, because all movies in 2020 must feature superheroes, I guess. (The presence of Marky Mark in the role keeps the character from reaching more looney and entertaining heights. As it stands, ) It also disappointingly saves several other legendary Hanna-Barbera characters for the end credits sequence, which is too bad. Granted, I’ll give director Tony Cervone (a Hanna-Barbera veteran, as well as the animation director for the original Space Jam) a lot of credit for trying to shove in as many Hanna-Barbera references as he probably could, given the studio’s constraints… but in the end, you can’t help but wish he could’ve gone deeper.
“The clean, modern aesthetic… the cool, blue color palette… We’re in the Falcon Fury!”
But that’s not the only poor creative choice the movie makes. Even though one of the unofficial mantras of the TV show is “Let’s split up, gang!”, having Shaggy and Scooby separated from Fred, Daphne and Velma for most of the movie is disheartening. And Dick Dastardly fans will be extremely disappointed to learn that the movie sidelines his beloved partner-in-crime Muttley. Instead, Scoob! gives him a bunch of robot underlings that are basically this movie’s version of the Minions. Sigh. (Gotta get those merchandising opportunities in, y’know!) However, I’ll go against the grain and say that Will Forte is actually a better fit for the role of Shaggy than I would’ve thought. I mean, if it was inevitable that Matthew Lillard be recast for this movie, they could’ve done a lot worse, believe you me.
In the end, I’m somewhat glad that Scoob! ended up debuting on home VOD services instead of theaters, because I probably would’ve been a bit more disappointed if I actually saw this on the big screen. That said, it’s still worth a watch if you were ever a fan of Scooby-Doo… and you definitely should not mistake this for one of the eons of direct-to-DVD cheapie Scooby animated movies. However, here’s hoping that at some point, Scooby and the gang do get another shot at the big screen, because they deserve it… and hopefully, they’ll learn from this movie’s mistakes in the process.
Overall Score: 3/5