Scooby-Doo and the Mystery, Inc. gang have survived countless iterations since their television debut as a Hanna-Barbera cartoon in 1969. Now, they are featured in a new 3D animated feature film, “Scoob!”, which combines nostalgia for the original show with modern updates.
Directed by Tony Cervone, the opening of the film is an origin story revealing how a lonely kid called Shaggy (Iain Armitage) and met his dog Scooby (voiced by Frank Welker) and they immediately became best friends. The duo then come across Velma, Fred, and Daphne on Halloween night and together they inadvertently solve a mystery at a supposedly haunted house, prompting them to partner up and form Mystery, Inc. Fast forward ten years, and Velma (Gina Rodriguez), Fred (Zac Efron) and Daphne (Amanda Seyfried) are trying to obtain more funding to expand their crime-solving business, but Shaggy (Will Forte) and Scooby aren’t so sure that things need to change. Their following split results in Shaggy and Scooby being picked up by Shaggy’s childhood heroes, the superhero Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg) and his robot dog Dynomutt the Dog Wonder (Ken Jeong). They are trying to stop the evil Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs) from unleashing the ancient three-headed dog Cerberus on the world, something that Scooby is the key to. Shaggy and Scooby’s friendship is tested when they go on an adventure with Blue Falcon and his crew to try to save the world.
“Scoob!” starts off on a promising note. The story of how the gang met is cute and looks and feels very classic Scooby-Doo. The transition from their first adventure as kids to the present day takes the form of a remake of the classic opening and theme song to “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” that hits just the right nostalgic note. While it is set in the present day, there are elements sprinkled here and there that take you back to the franchise’s 70s origins, namely in the form of characters from other, lesser-known Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Blue Falcon and Dynomutt had their own series back in the day as did Dick Dastardly and his dog Muttley (Billy West) beginning with the cartoon “Wacky Races.” Tracy Morgan voices Captain Caveman from the show of the same name, and be sure to watch the beginning of the credits for more visual cameos from other recognizable characters. A host of voice-acting veterans have roles in the film, most notably Welker, who voices Scooby here but originated the role of Fred on “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” Another fun tidbit (maybe not noticeable within the film itself, but a fun thing to find out afterwards) is that the three police officers who appear throughout the movie—Officers Jaffe, Casey, and North—are named for three of the original Scooby voice actors: Nicole Jaffe, Casey Kasem, and Heather North.
The animation is colorful and the designs for the characters work well, making them easily recognizable and retaining many of the elements from their original designs but updating them a bit to make them fit better in the present day. There are some funny moments and plenty of pop culture references, some of which work, and some (like a confusing cameo from Simon Cowell) that don’t. Of course, Shaggy and Scooby’s relationship is at the heart of the story, and even though some of the drama feels contrived, there are enough genuinely sweet moments between the two to make up for it.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the plot after the opening sequence less resembles a mystery and more resembles a comic book movie, with less investigating and more action. Sure, we get to see Velma use her brain a few times, but with the way the story splits up the gang for a lot of the movie, it often feels like she, Daphne, and Fred don’t have quite as much to do. Dastardly makes for a solid villain for this sort of movie (evil, but not so sinister as to be genuinely threatening) but the plethora of robots and spaceships don’t aid the overly-convoluted plot in feeling much like a Scooby movie.
“Scoob!” sets up a potential Hanna-Barbera cinematic universe that honestly I wouldn’t hate seeing, and the potential for more movies centering around Scooby and the gang is certainly out there. The animation and voice cast are solid, but this film frequently feels like it is trying to fit into that particular genre of animated kids’ movies: bright, loud, and occasionally obnoxious—and sacrifices elements of the original series that made it so great. That’s not to say that the movie needed to be made only with the original fans in mind, or that it needed to be crammed with fan service and 70s nostalgia; but more of a meeting in the middle would have been nice too.
“Scoob!” is available to watch on demand now. Runtime: 94 minutes. Rated PG. 2.5 out of 5 stars.