‘Scoob!’ Exchanges the Mystery and Charm of a Classic for an Animated Action Romp
Is it that hard to make a normal “Scooby-Do” animated movie? “Scoob!” seems to think so. It is the latest beloved series reboot which thinks kids deserve nothing more than another parade of robots, failing jokes and missiles. Animated films have their roots in that old tradition of the cartoon. With digital technology they tend to all look superb, which means the real challenge is crafting something smart and original. The Hanna-Barbara “Scooby-Do,” cartoon which premiered in 1969, was a wacky mystery of the week show, which also tapped into the youth culture of the ‘60s. “Scoob!” taps into the idea that all you need are shiny colors to keep anyone entertained.
The movie opens in Venice where a lonely kid named Shaggy (Iain Armitage) makes friends with a goofy puppy named Scooby-Do. Fast forward to the present where a grown Shaggy (Will Forte) and grown Scooby (Frank Welker) are part of Mystery, Inc., which is a group of paranormal investigators that include jockish Fred (Zac Efron), caring Daphne (Amanda Seyfried) and super smart Velma (Gina Rodriguez). The gang want to get Mystery, Inc. going but a meeting with potential supporter Simon Cowell (voiced by the real Simon Cowell) results in Shaggy and Scooby being signaled out by the America’s Got Talent judge as useless. The pair go bowling to get over it but are nearly kidnapped by an armada of miniature robots before being rescued by Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg) and his sidekicks, Dynomutt (Ken Jeong) and Dee Dee Skyes (Kiersey Clemons). It turns out mad villain Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs) is after Scooby because our beloved canine is a direct descendent of Alexander the Great’s own dog companion, which means his paw can open a buried treasure hidden in the “Underworld.” Dastardly is also collecting a series of giant ancient dog skulls to complete the necessary ritual to open the portal.
The prime audience for “Scoob!” was not born when the original “Scooby-Do” series aired, in fact it is a safe bet that some of their parents were not around either. So they may miss how this new movie is also an attempt at mashing together various Hanna-Barbara characters into one quick package. There are a few adjustments, for example this Blue Falcon is actually the son of the original feathery hero. It doesn’t matter much since the plot just throws in cameos as quick pit stops. Our heroes find themselves in a hidden prehistoric-like world with Pterodactyls flying around and we get an appearance by Captain Caveman (Tracy Morgan), hilariously voiced but used for nothing more than knocking Blue Falcon around as they fight over one of the giant dog skulls. As goofy entertainment it is not the worst offering, but by cramming so many characters and turning the story into an action romp, “Scoob!” loses the charm of its franchise. You could mix and match or replace these characters with any other random animated figures to run around and blow things up. There is no investigating taking place for Mystery, Inc., and Fred, Daphne and Velma are reduced to using GPS and the internet to track people down.
“Scoob!” is generally fun to just look at. Director Tony Cervone and his team give the movie a lot of color and the kind of fine little details that serve as pleasant distraction when the narrative is lacking. Notice the eerie orange palette of a theme park where Dastardly chases Shaggy and Scooby through a rundown roller coaster, or the quiet, thick rain clouds gathering in the distance of a desert highway when Mystery, Inc. gets pulled over by a trooper. As is required by this kind of film there is cuteness splashed all around, here it is mostly in the form of the little robots who serve Dastardly. One who has been punished by having its head turned into a duster develops a big crush on Daphne.
At least there is still an attempt at providing an underlying theme. The best recent goof fests like “Captain Underpants” and “Angry Birds Movie 2” were smart beneath the surface, hiding very mature themes. “Scoob!” recycles an oldie but a goodie: When your best friend finds new friends. Once Scooby discovers he is important and gets his own superhero costume, Shaggy feels left out. When they fight over the situation it is at least a moment where the movie offers kids a complicated situation to think about. Blue Falcon also gets one good moment where he opens up about feeling the weight of inheriting his father’s mantle.
The rest of “Scoob!” is completely standard throwaway entertainment. Like Jim Carrey in “Sonic the Hedgehog,” Dastardly can’t think of anything better to do than fire a barrage of projectiles at Scooby and friends. So there is a lot of running and evading involved. The only moments where “Scoob!” gets more in touch with its roots is at the beginning, when the friends who make up Mystery, Inc. first meet as kids on a Halloween night, entering a haunted house and running into a real ghost, and near the end when the three-headed hound of Hades is unleashed. Frank Welker, who voiced Scooby in the original show and has gone on to voice countless other cartoons, is back as well. Adults hoping for more wit to endure sitting through the movie with offspring or relatives under the age of 8 can only expect a stale Tinder joke and Falcon announcing his autobiography is named “Falcon Around.” Even with that kind of humor you won’t find Shaggy at least smoking a joint in honor of his ‘60s origins.
Since “Trolls World Tour” inaugurated the Covid-19 PVOD revolution, titles like “Scoob!” will find it easier to reach audiences, or at least parents desperate to keep the kids entertained in cities on lockdown. With its splashes of color and breakneck action it will easily distract for an hour and a half. But it offers little mystery or better humor to snack on.
“Scoob!” premieres May 15 on VOD.