Beyond telling an engaging story, animated children’s features have two goals: captivate the target audience and be clever enough so the parents don’t want to murder themselves on the 58th viewing. By all marks, Warner Brothers Animations’s Scoob! succeeds in both of these areas. Not so much a continuation of the stories audiences have seen, but a soft-reboot that opens the door for an entire Hanna-Barbera universe of adventures, Scoob! is a fun tale of loving friendship that also includes transforming robotic minions, Cerberus the hellhound, and a reference to just about every Hanna-Barbera character you know. Don’t expect the wonder of Scoob! to exist solely in the potential of what’s next, as the film itself is crafted by individuals who have an obvious love for the Mystery, Inc. gang, evident in every line and frame.
In this new start, a lonely Shaggy (Iain Armitage) meets a homeless dog, whom he names Scooby Dooby Doo (voiced by Frank Welker), and they form a fast friendship. After a scuffle on Halloween lands their candy in a presumed haunted house, Shaggy, Scooby, and three nearby kids, Fred, Velma, and Daphne (Pierce Gagnon, Ariana Greenblatt, and Mckenna Grace), brave the danger and end up solving their first case. Realizing they have something special, they launch into ten years’ worth of adventures which just barely prepare them for an investigation that sends them out into space and deep into Earth’s core in order to find out why a suspicious man is on the hunt for Scoob.
Audiences don’t need to have a deep-well knowledge of the Scooby series of adventures in order to appreciate the narrative. It’s a simple story of tested friendship that’s as equally touching as it is totally absurd. Basically, it’s a kid’s movie. Does it have aspects that are clearly narrative-driven that go against the logic within the film? Yes. Will that stop your kids from asking to watch it again? Likely not. What’s particularly interesting about Scoob! is that it opts to go to its imagined beginning to show how all the characters get together. It’s safe to say that Shaggy and Scooby are the heart of the group, offering inspiration and lifted spirits through their mostly carefree attitudes and actions. So showing how they banded together doesn’t do much more than set-up what we know, but it’s the little details that make the difference. First, there’s the fact that Shaggy is a big fan of a character called Blue Falcon. In-universe it’s not clear if Shaggy thinks the character is a real person or a fictional one, but that doesn’t stop Shaggy and Scooby dressing up like Blue Falcon and his sidekick Dynomutt. Cosplay of any kind is about taking on the physical characteristics of those we idolize, enabling us to make external internal desires of self. For these two to dress like superheroes makes sense considering they are both enormous chickens. Similarly, when they meet the remaining future Mystery, Inc. crew, Fred is a knight, Velma is the Notorious RBG, and Daphne is Wonder Woman. In contrast to Shaggy and Scooby, these three are dressed as they see themselves externally and internally. They are selfless, smart, and strong. The narrative pushes these notions of all five characters and puts them on display for the audience to examine, even as Scoob! is so obviously a story of growth and change for the central two.
Before audiences really get deep into the story, though, it’s made clear that writers Matt Lieberman, Adam Sztykeil, Jack Donaldson, and Derek Elliott and director Tony Cervone (The Looney Tunes Show) possess a deep love and understanding of the property they’re working on via a title sequence montage depicting several great moments in Scooby-Doo history that also serves as a means of showing the audience what the Mystery, Inc. crew was up to from their initial meeting to the ten years that transpire until this film begins. To say that EoM editor Crystal Davidson shouted with glee as the animation style itself referenced the original opening of the cartoon would be an incredible understatement to her ability to hit high decibels and my poor nerves. Representations of priors works don’t end with the title sequence — oh, no. What will absolutely delight fans of either prior Scooby adventures or just any of the Hanna-Barbera catalogue of characters are the insane amount of references, call-backs, and all-around easter eggs planted within every frame of the film. Scoob! comes with subtle references like a storefront for “Pebble’s Pet Shop;” or seeing a sign referencing radio host and voice actor Casey Kasem (the first actor to voice Shaggy) behind a young Shaggy who’s jumping from music playlists of ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s as he walks along the boardwalk in Venice, L.A.; countless roadside billboards; a beautiful reference to Iwao Takamoto, the Scooby-Doo animator responsible for Scooby’s design; and so many more. Quite literally, be prepared for listicles, articles, and videos that will be combing Scoob! to identify every little nod. It may be safe to say that Scoob! will hit all the nostalgia buttons until it feels like nothing is left and then the credits roll and they manage to find a few more. Thankfully, though, Scoob! has more than the past to fall back on as the story is all about looking to the future.
Before you start making a Shaggy Super Sandwich, it’s worth noting a few things that stand out about the film as a whole. For one, it seems unclear who the audience is at all times. The referential material is fantastic, no doubt about that, except that the core audience isn’t the 30+ parents shelling out for tickets. For two, there’s the voicecast of talented actors like Will Forte (adult Shaggy), Zac Efron (adult Fred), Gina Rodriguez (adult Velma), Amanda Seyfriend (adult Daphne), Kiersey Clemons (Dee Dee Skyes), Jason Isaacs (Dick Dastardly), Mark Wahlberg (Blue Falcon), Ken Jeong (Dynomutt), and plenty more. Each one brings something fresh and delightful to the roles, especially Jeong as Dynomutt who this reviewer has never heard sound so measured and authoritative in a straight role, except kids are not going to be lining up to see the majority of these voices, they’re coming for the characters. So why not cast top voice actors like Tara Strong, Maurice LaMarche, or Jennifer Hale? John DiMaggio, Billy West, and Fred Tatasciore are present but as minor, less-recognizable roles despite having highly recognizable voices. Of the vocal performances, as much as it breaks my heart that Matthew Lillard did not portray Shaggy, a character he’s portrayed twice in live-action and provided vocal work for since 2009, Forte does a good job carrying the mantle forward. The last, and not exactly a minor issue, is the visual style of the film. There’s a lovely vibrancy to the look of the characters, bold greens, yellows, and blues are abundantly pervasive. It allows the characters to maintain the visual language of the original cartoons while taking on a more modern, three-dimensional style. The trick is, there are several sequences that are overcooked with color, bathing everything in deep reds, purples, or neon greens to the point of losing the details in the design. It’s difficult to tell if this is a result of designing the film with a 3D theatrical presentation in mind or if it’s purely accidental, but these moments absolutely ruin the wonder of the narrative, snapping audiences out of the magic. When Scooby! harnesses it, though, the resulting experience is a charming and absolute delight.
Whether you’re a longtime fan, a casual Scoob enthusiastic, or an utter noob, Scoob! offers a great excuse to pull the family together, pop some popcorn, and just relax. For all the interpersonal squabbling that leads to the character opportunities of self-progression, there’re silly jokes, surprising narrative beats, and casual-yet-perfectly-delivered reveals of various Hanna-Barbera characters that make the viewing feel like coming home. And that’s what the Scooby-Doo adventures are after nearly 51 years: a feeling of returning to something safe, loving, and supportive; that no matter what otherworldly obstacle seems to be in your way, there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation and approach to deal with it. So why not delight yourself in seeing who these meddling kids take down this time and celebrate some friendship along the way.
Available on VOD and digital May 15th, 2020.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.