Scoob! and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros. Pictures
Directed by Tony Cervone
With releases being what they are and LIFE being what it is, I’ve certainly fallen into a bit of a funk lately which is perhaps the biggest reason I was really looking forward to this movie; something that I can put on my calendar and look forward to instead of just the endless pile of stuff that’s already here but I couldn’t muster up the energy to work on. Now Warner Bros’ recent output of the Hanna-Barbara licenses has certainly been interesting to see, particularly those comic books they released a few years back, and so bringing Scooby-Doo back to the big screen in the midst of all this… shall we say CREATIVITY, does have a certain amount of appeal. I don’t know how popular it is right now, but the Scooby franchise has proven to be remarkably resilient and is in constant flux with new and drastically different series coming out every few years, so perhaps with such a rock-solid property to work with, Warner Bros can do something truly unique! Is this the start of Scooby-Doo’s resurgence to the peak of popular culture, or will the concepts prove to outdated for modern audiences to latch onto outside of Saturday morning cartoon reruns? Let’s find out!!
Shaggy Rogers (Iain Armitage and Will Forte) is a lonely kid with no friends… for some reason, until he finds a stray dog who can talk but no one seems to have much of a problem with. He names the dog Scooby (Frank Welker) and eventually meets three other kids named Fred, Daphne, and Velma (Pierce Gagnon and Zac Efron, Mckenna Grace and Amanda Seyfried, and Ariana Greenblatt and Gina Rodriguez) who by happenstance they end up solving a mystery with. And thus the origin story has been told, in less than ten minutes! What do they fill the remaining eighty with? Well it turns out that The Blue Falcon, or at least his son Brian (Mark Wahlberg) is trying to stop the evil Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs) from doing… something, and it somehow involves Scooby (presumably because he’s SUCH a good boy) which means he snatches Shaggy and Scooby away from whatever it was they were doing and are now sidekicks on a superhero adventure! Blue Falcon is helped by his female pilot Dee Dee (Kiersey Clemons) and his dad’s robot dog Dynomutt (Ken Jeong) who are basically the two keeping this operation afloat while Brian stumbles his way through the adventure, and with the help of Scooby being… so very important I guess, they will race Dick Dastardly across the globe from collecting the Magical MacGuffins that will spell doom for the world! Meanwhile, Fred, Daphne, and Velma are wondering why they aren’t a part of this movie and so try to “solve the mystery” of where Scooby and Shaggy went, only to wind up in a larger than life adventure far beyond investigating a ghost who’ll end up being a guy in a Halloween mask! Will our heroes overcome the pure malevolent evil of a man named Dick with a beautiful mustache? Will Scooby’s new status as BEST DOG EVER make Shaggy into a jealous jerk for half the movie for extremely petty reasons? If we’re gonna do this cinematic universe stuff with Hanna-Barbera, can we at least put Harvey Birdman into it? Better yet, Phil Ken Sebben! At least that would be SOMETHING about this movie worth talking about!
Woof, this was a bad one. I’m not sure what I was expecting out of a modern-day Scooby-Doo film, and after seeing this I’m STILL not sure what I should have expected. It’s a confused, poorly structured, and cheaply produced mess of a story that can’t even make up for it with good jokes or fun set pieces. The only real string to this movie’s bow is nostalgia as they plonk recognizable characters and obscure references into an otherwise pedestrian superhero, but to what end? Do they really expect kids to know who the heck Hong Kong Phooey or Captain Caveman are, especially since neither has been seen since the freaking eighties, and if it’s bait for the parents then why is the movie so toothless and safe? Hanna-Barbera has NOT been hitting it out of the park lately with terrible ideas like that Banana Splits horror movie or the Dastardly & Muttley series which was actually some Lovecraftian mythos nonsense with a crap ending, but they’ve been more than willing to take risks with its properties in ways that this film does not. It’s safe, it’s boring, and it’s palatable, but if you don’t swing for the fences then you’re gonna be swiftly forgotten when standing next to those who do, and I hate to break it to you Warner Bros, but there’s a LOT of competition out there vying for kids’ attention and this isn’t gonna cut it.
The whole thing comes off as cheap and half-hearted; not unlike the endless deluge of straight to video features that have been the lifeblood of the Scooby franchise since the turn of the millennium. The animation is almost amateurish as there is rarely a sense of life to anything we’re seeing on screen. There are like ten characters in the movie that look alright, but everyone else looks like they were ripped straight out a Unity asset store with flat features and bland movements, and that even when they bother to PUT people in the background as the environments are uniformly barren outside of the first scene on the beach and I GUESS the opening of the climatic ending. You’re telling me they didn’t think to have more than one person inside of a bowling alley or for every street to be completely bereft of life? It just screams of a budget that was either too small to begin with or just kept getting slashed as studio interest began to fade, and perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad if they didn’t try to make this a WORLD SPANNING EPIC instead of just a straightforward detective film, but when it comes to kids movies it’s always BIGGER IS BETTER; even if we can’t afford it! Now the animation isn’t the be-all and end-all of a film like this which can compensate with clever dialogue and entertaining characters. Sadly, this film has neither as the dialogue is written at the most basic possible level (not in a way to keep kids from getting lost but more like they went with the first draft every time), and the film is in such a hurry to throw action set pieces in your face that it never has time to form genuine connections with the characters. Heck, Velma, Daphne, and Fred are BARELY in the darn thing and don’t contribute anything to the narrative when they do bother to show up! How do you have a Scooby-Doo movie without the Mystery Gang!? Okay, fine; Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School, Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, and probably like five other things, but considering this is ALSO supposed to be an origin story for the crew it feels a bit less forgivable here!
The biggest problem with this movie though and what makes it such a BAFFLING sit instead of merely a boring one is the story which feels rather cynically designed to jump on a bandwagon that left the station four years ago. Scooby and the gang are not on hand to solve a mystery, which feels like it’s missing the entire point of the series, and instead it’s what I can charitably describe as a misguided attempt to make a Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe. Despite Scooby being the MacGuffin of the movie in a story that barely even TRIES to make it make sense, it’s not about them at all and is instead trying to squeeze in as many cameos and oddball concepts to see what sticks. I’m actually kind of blown away by the cynicism at play here in trying to strip these characters down to their most basic and marketable pieces to try and dazzle the audiences with these references. It’s so bad and without the slightest bit of heart that it almost feels like a dare; as if the filmmakers are genuinely trying to goad anyone who WOULD have nostalgia for these characters. Yes, reinvention is an important part of updating something for a modern audience, but that’s not what’s happening here. This isn’t plumbing new depths or even a vaguely interesting reinterpretation; it’s carving them up to fit the blandest molds they can find for the most by the numbers script they could find. Is it too much to ask that the writers of this film try as hard as the writers of the Hanna-Barbera DC comics? Perhaps. I mean as great as Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles I can see why you’d be hesitant to make a kids film out of it, but I KNOW that Warner Bros Animation is better than this. The Lego Movie was easily one of the best films of its decade and Teen Titans Go! To The Movies was the kind of fun and subversive movie that I think this is TRYING to be; so while I will cut this film slack for not being the spiritual successor to Harvey Birdman or my rose-tinted memories of Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, I don’t think it’s unfair to ask that it take itself and its audience a tad bit more seriously.
If I were to give the movie credit for one thing, it’s their new interpretation of Dick Dastardly which has definitely been hitting the gym and drinking a lot of protein shakes but still feels like the craven little jerk-bag that I’ve always had a soft spot for. There’s some potential in an expanded universe of sorts if you pick the right characters, and Dastardly is a good foil for many of the more fantastical elements of the Hanna-Barbera catalog. Heck, even though The Venture Bros kind of salted the earth on it ever being taken seriously, I don’t see why you couldn’t at least TRY to do a movie like this about Johnny Quest; traveling the world to stop bad guys while meeting up with famous characters along the way? That could have worked and it almost feels like they’re trying to go that route, but the fact that this is a Scooby-Doo movie getting crammed out by a very dull Blue Falcon movie is like if… I don’t know, you put Spongebob in a Hellboy movie. You might turn heads just for trying, but these two things aren’t gonna complement each other.
The big question I had coming out of this movie is what they were trying to accomplish, and to try and answer that I took a crash course on modern-day Scooby-Doo. I watched a few clips online of the more recent show, sat through that terrible RETURN TO ZOMBIE ISLAND thing, and even read some of that Scooby Apocalypse comic, and if nothing else I’ve gained a bit of perspective as far as how low the bar could go for this franchise. What I also learned is that Scooby works when it’s about solving mysteries; less so when it’s about self-referential humor or completely tangential concepts like being a superhero or surviving a monster apocalypse. Maybe a big budget (or at least mid-budget) animated feature about solving mysteries isn’t going to capture enough of the public’s interest to justify the cost, but I have a hard time thinking that something more in line with the properties strengths wouldn’t have at least made for a less obnoxious film. That live-action movie may not have been great, but it’s a lot better than this and frankly had a GENUINE impact on the franchise by discovering Matthew Lillard as the perfect successor to Casey Kasem. What the heck is THIS gonna be remembered for, other than being way overpriced on its VOD release?