Scoob! (2020) review: what’s new with Scooby-Doo?

SCOOB! has kick-started this curious shared universe and it’s “got some work to do now”.

Since 1969, Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Velma, Daphne and Fred have been unmasking “ghosts” and uncovering mysteries, and a number of generations have grown up with their adventures. No doubt many readers will have their own favourite take on Hanna-Barbera Production’s magnum opus franchise. But in director Tony Corvone’s big screen-intended VOD animated film SCOOB!, while things stay the same, they are also quite a bit different. Obviously, even the Mystery Machine crew could not foil COVID-19’s sinister plot and this hopeful kickstarter for a Hanna-Barbera shared universe did not have the beginnings it hoped for. That being said, as divisive as it is at points, these meddling kids still manage to just about get away with it.

The film starts at the very beginning for these characters, as young reclusive kid Shaggy Rogers inadvertently meets canine pup Scooby-Doo, the pair soon make friends with their future Mystery Inc. buddies one Halloween night, as they all solve their first false ghost plot. From here, SCOOB! unfolds into a rather wild ride, as Scooby-Doo (franchise legend Frank Welker) and Shaggy’s (Will Forte) friendship is tested, as both are transported away by famed hero Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg), who needs their unlikely help to stop the latest scheme of the villainous Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs), all the while the rest of the Mystery Machine team, Velma (Gina Rodriguez), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried) and Fred (Zac Efron) are hot on their tales wondering what the heck is going on?

I had some mixed feelings on SCOOB! As a kid (and probably one of the last) who grew up with constant re-runs of the original cartoons and some of their later instalments on Cartoon Network, it was great seeing some of the playful tweaks and homages put in place. The show’s classic tropes are still visible to warmly laugh with, and Adam Sztykiel, Jack Donaldson, Derek Elliott and Matt Lieberman’s screenplay has moments many older fans will certainly appreciate. For instance the first act CG animation makeover of the original opening/iconic theme was great fun and very well done, and the entire film has many references or cameos to other Hanna-Barbera properties (some well known and beloved, others a work of more cult affection).

Also among the – quite impressive – voice cast list, there are some great performances to pick out. Zac Efron as Fred works remarkably well, Frank Welker on board is always a plus and Sweetheart’s Kersey Clemons as revamped Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels character Dee Dee Sykes is one of the fun updates. There are also some genuinely heartfelt moments, as pertains to the series’ dog n’ dude bromance, and no matter how crazy the plot gets or how off the rails events become, there is a heart to SCOOB! that feels childlike and innocent and keeps the film in some kind of focus mostly. As such the kids and some fans should certainly warm to it.

Sadly, despite some things really working in the screenplay, the actual scripted dialogue and narrative is very hit and miss. I mean c’mon, did we really need a celeb-pandering Simon Cowell sub-plot in a Scooby-Doo film? It’s also an odd launch of a shared universe because outside of some heavy hitters, there is some Hanna-Barbera material that a wide audience may not be entirely familiar with and SCOOB!’s aspirations for a H-BU (if you will) means the film is sometimes overflowing with such content and characters. Whereas spreading this same approach across a further film or two instead, might have left a bit of needed breathing room. Also, some of the modernised gags, while necessary in theory, cannot help but feel very odd. It will never feel right hearing Scooby and the gang (or other characters) crack jokes about Tinder, Netflix and toxic masculinity…it just won’t.

The animation, though initially a touch basic, does grow on you as the film continues and is lively and colourful enough to capture some of these creation’s original imagination and flair. Meanwhile Tom Holkenborg’s effective soundtrack does a good job of backing up some of the imagery on this jam-packed film which is less a mystery than it is an adventure in Hanna-Barbera world.

Overall, SCOOB! is a flawed Scooby-Doo story with potential but despite the stuff that clicks, there is a similar amount of material that feels slightly unusual. That said, the prime target audience will probably be entertained and while not everything works, this fun animation is in no way the worst thing that’s happened to these meddling kids in the last 50 years…

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