Directed By Tony Cervone
Starring – Frank Welker, Will Forte, Zac Efron
The Plot – The first full-length, theatrical animated Scooby-Doo adventure, which reveals how he (Welker) and his best friend Shaggy (Forte) became two of the world’s most beloved crime busters. The story takes us back to where it all began, when a young Scooby and Shaggy first meet, and team up with Velma (Gina Rodriguez), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried), and Fred (Efron) to launch Mystery Incorporated.
Rated PG for some action, adult language and rude/suggestive humor
– Talented ensemble. There is no shortage of cherished big screen names and legendary voice talents to fill the screen, and produce a surprising cameo every few scenes. However, the work done by the central cast here is what really takes precedent, and brings forth no shortage of spell-binding personalities to add to these decades old characters. For a transformative quality, Forte is nearly unrecognizable, emoting Shaggy with the same kind of compassion and energy that have made him one of the iconic 20th century animated characters. Likewise, the work of Efron, Rodriguez, and Seyfried are equally as invigorating, with each of them conjuring up no shortage of depth despite each of them playing into the very same Hollywood typecasting that each of them have managed to escape. The champion, however, is Welker, who returns once more in the titular role, and who hasn’t lost a step in his raspy delivery that comes across so naturally as one that we would envision in a canine best friend. Frank’s love for Scooby comes across so evidently in a performance with no shortage of heart on the values of friendship, and throughout a career of covering Scooby preserves one of those rare occasions where you truly couldn’t envision someone else vocalizing the role.
– Bubbly animation. Such rich textures and serene backdrops adorn “Scoob” in the most vibrant of illustrations, and makes this if nothing else an easy on the eyes delight that constantly satisfies. It helps that Scooby’s world has adapted for the contemporary times, trading in the legendary hand-drawn artistry for a 2.35:1 aspect ratio of computer generation that stretches as far as the eyes can see. The backdrops are diverse and shadowed by a luster of skyscapes that luminate the fantastical elements that Pixar have capitalized on, and the occasional blending of different animated stylings is something that this critic noticed and repeatedly appreciated. My lone critique for the animated is in the lack of attention detailing that was paid to characters. Nothing condemning, but I would appreciate more definition in their likenesses that would make them stand out like never before, and give their character’s originality against previous incarnations.
– Nostalgic familiarity. This will easily be the biggest advantage that this movie has over its audience, as the combination of cherished callbacks and formulaic satisfaction makes enough of an appearance for this movie to stay on the rails of maintaining its identity, all the while incorporating them in ways that matter the most. The sound editing is the most obvious of these, bringing along every “Boink!!!” and “Zoink!!!” that became a staple of the 60’s cartoon. The structure is equally as engaging, taking us through another adventure where the gang must save the world from a man with evil intentions, despite the film not accentuating its mysterious elements like it typically does. More on that later. Finally, the establishment of the Hanna Barbara Universe is certainly there, bringing forth a collection of cameo’s, celebrity and non, that resonated consistently in its animated predecessor. It gives older audiences something recognizable to hang their hats on, and proves that even in a movie with so much change, it’s the little things that make the difference every single time.
– Inclusive humor. While nothing that will even be nominated as even the funniest animated movies of the year, the humor encased in “Scoob” does do wonders for including both sides of the proverbial audience age that will inevitably go to see it. For the kids it’s the expected; strange noises or physical sight gags that are quick, brunt, and straight to the point. For adults, it’s the moments of dark humor and fourth-wall breaking for the Scooby Doo structure that only they will pick up on, and reap the most from beneficially. It gives the film a slight mature edginess that I honestly wasn’t expecting from the Scooby Doo name-stay, and provided some sturdy punchlines that succeeded in producing a few laughs from me. An animated film means so much more when it caters to many audiences, and while “Scoob” will inevitably be the first stop for many new Scooby Doo enthusiasts, it doesn’t forget those that made it one of the greats of the Saturday Morning cereal shows.
– Fresh characterization. Despite so much of the vocal performances zeroing in on the audible likenesses of their predecessors, the spring of originality with Mystery Inc’s personalities charmed me in ways that once again broke the fourth wall for conventional storytelling. Scooby and Shaggy are pretty similar as a whole, but Fred, Daphne, and Velma are given complete character makeovers, which in turn produced many layers for who I previously felt were easily the most boring characters of the show. Fred is portrayed as a bit of a pretty boy whose sexuality is even questioned a couple of times in the film hilariously. It helps that he’s voiced by Efron, but a line that calls Fred a “Discount Hemsworth brother” lands hard here, especially considering Efron himself has been the victim of such a critique. Seyfried’s Daphne is a bit of a dumb blonde without a blade of blonde hair on her head. She’s clumsy, bubbly, and neurotically naive without ever feeling annoying. A difficult barrier to not break completely when toeing it. Velma is still a nerd, but one whose interests span far deeper than those of gadgets. Here, she feels more sentimental than previously established, and comes to the forefront of the movie’s additional subplot, ahead of the other two characters I mentioned in this paragraph. Every character is different, and that’s fleshed out more evidently than ever before.
– Friendship clause. No good animated film comes without a strong message for its youthful audience, and “Scoob” is certainly no different in this regard. Using most of the movie to distance its protagonists between two respective groups and subplots, the longer this takes, the longer we understand the importance of friendship, even if these people are apart. It becomes obvious when the group is together, and their fear is limited, their brainstorming is the strongest it has been all movie, and the film’s climax wraps things up with an unmistakable weight in consequences that leans heavily on such a series of pivotal relationships. This is one of those feel good movies that will weigh heavily with kids hours after they finish the movie, and one that will hopefully have them expressing the value of such a perk towards the loneliness who are less fortunate.
– No mystery. As to where most Scooby Doo cartoons revolve around a weak mystery that is easily predictable, and producing several moments of convenient coincidences, “Scoob” isn’t even good enough to claim this much with its complete lack of mystery. That’s right, this movie has no mystery. The antagonist is revealed right away, and even worse than that, this movie shouldn’t even be classified as a mystery subgenre offering. It instead tries to absorb as much about the contemporary culture as it can, trying to sell itself as a superhero film instead of remaining true to its roots. There’s even a 12 minute origin introduction and two temporary group break-ups that are meant to produce uncertainty, when in reality they just play into a formula. There’s also the expanded universe that I previously mentioned, which hurts this movie because, like a superhero narrative, too much is focused on future installments instead of the one right in front of us. A trait that has become synonymous with Warner Brothers cinema.
– First act misfires. For my money, I could’ve used more time with the adolescent Scooby and Shaggy, considering much of the trailers and marketing for the movie revolved around such a notion. As previously mentioned, this arc is only twelve minutes long, and nothing more than an afterthought when compared to what follows it. In addition to this, the entirety of the first act strained the pacing forcefully, and took a bit too long in establishing the movie’s central plot before the story got moving smoothly. Considering the second and third acts of this movie are straight to the point, and possess very little downtime or inconsequential sequences between them, the initial first few meetings sag even more because their consistency isn’t up to par. It makes for a difficult introduction to the film that may lose audiences before its best has even started, spending too much momentum when the movie hasn’t gained a single shred of it up to that point.
– Forced agendas. There’s a line in the movie where a sarcastic clerk makes a fourth wall breaking remark to the group about what a middle aged man thinks teenagers sound like. This is obviously a playful jab at the 60’s cartoon series, which absorbed as much of the culture as it can. It’s a cute joke that would work better if this movie itself wasn’t guilty of such a feat in dramatically heavier circumstances. The pandering here involves crowbar’d references like character’s dabbing, mentions about Netflix and Tinder that are nothing more than one-off spoon-fed jokes, buzz words like “Hashtag” and “Fresh” when used in hip lingo, and the bizarre soundtrack choices that don’t pertain to anything happening in the scene they accompany, nor stick around long enough to justify the price tags for such an inclusion (Outkast’s ‘Bombs Over Baghdad’ being the most perplexing). There’s even an out-of-nowhere reference mumbled by Daphne, where she mentions toxic masculinity between two male characters shoving each other. These wouldn’t be a problem if the movie incorporated them in a way that produced something meaningful to the plot, but social commentary has never been Scooby Doo’s bag, so the reaching for such feels ill-timed and full of irrelevance to what’s taking place in the foreground.
– Simplicity for complexity. Part of what’s beloved about Scooby Doo is its simplistic approach to formula that can be drawn on a napkin for how easy it all translates to the audience. Group of mystery solvers go into a haunted house, there’s a ghost, they run around scared, and in the end they find out it was one of the previous people that they engaged with. Obviously you can’t always do this, but what is substituted is truly convoluted thematically, and feels a bit too heavy for anything a youthfully dominated audience will be asked to endure. It turns into a very complex inter-connected web involving the movie’s antagonist, Alexander the Great, portals to another universe, and of course a sky-beam, because I did mention superhero drama. Maybe Warner Brothers felt the old way wasn’t big enough to justify the big screen treatment, but their desperation to connect to a young audience is one of the things that sinks this movie’s aspirations early on, and makes the whole movie feel stretched for how it’s trying to reinvent the wheel. A wheel that brought its audience to the dance in the first place.
My Grade: 6/10 or C