When you think of the world of Scooby-Doo, what might pop into your head? There’s a quartet of human friends, of course, and their goofy dog pal. Oh, yes, and their colorful old-school van the Mystery Machine. It’s in that van that they drive around and around, solving supernatural mysteries in spooky locations. And the solutions to those mysteries usually involve a crabby old man hiding under a sheet, just pretending to be a ghost or a vampire or whatnot. That, at least, has been the basic formula of almost every Scooby-Doo story for 50 or so years. What the new film Scoob! presupposes is…what if a Scooby-Doo story had almost none of those elements? It’s a weird, baffling animated feature that’s all too willing to avoid being a Scooby-Doo movie, in favor of a superhero adventure no one asked for.
Scoob! is, of course, the Quarantine Release of the Month. As was the case with Trolls World Tour, this film was originally intended for movie theaters before the pandemic hit. Warner Bros., while they continue to wait on pushing back Tenet, was willing to send Scoob! to VOD, and it arguably always belonged there. Scoob! wears its dual inspirations on its sleeves. By bringing back ’70s-era Hanna-Barbera characters such as the Blue Falcon and Dick Dastardly, Scoob! is in some way trying to be a Marvel Cinematic Universe for animation. But the emotional core of the film is derived from the films of Judd Apatow, as it wants to explore the emotional highs and lows of the Scooby/Shaggy relationship. You see, the story here is that Shaggy and Scooby, after being told by Simon Cowell that their friendship with the rest of the Mystery Inc. gang doesn’t matter, team up with the Blue Falcon and his robotic dog Dynomutt, so they can go head to head against the nefarious Dick Dastardly.
It’s OK if that last sentence tripped you up at the phrase “being told by Simon Cowell that their friendship doesn’t matter”. There are a number of jokes and cameos in the film that defy all logic, such as Shaggy and Scooby randomly belting out “In the Shallow” from A Star Is Born or a Ruth Bader Ginsburg Halloween costume or the Ira Glass cameo in the opening scene. (This just goes to prove my theory: kids love Ira Glass.) So much of the humor of this film is sweaty and desperate, often bringing any sense of momentum the adventure may have to a screeching halt. Scoob! doesn’t necessarily have to be a gut-bustingly hilarious film. But it’s trying, and failing, to be.
Though the rest of the Mystery, Inc. gang is present (and voiced by Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried, and Gina Rodriguez), Scoob! is really about the relationship between Shaggy (Will Forte) and Scooby (the prolific Frank Welker), how it started and whether it can weather the threat of Scooby being more important than his hippie friend. If you’re looking for a film about the whole Mystery, Inc. gang, this is not the movie for you.
Unfortunately, even for those of us who don’t find the regular hijinks of Scooby-Doo and friends entertaining, Scoob! is a swing and a miss. The superhero stuff with the Blue Falcon (voiced by Mark Wahlberg, because…sure, why not) is a strange way to build out Scooby-Doo’s history into being more than just a mutt who loves Scooby Snacks. But then, all of Scoob! is quite strange, and never in a charming way. (Remember: this is a movie whose entire plot is kickstarted by Simon Cowell.) Whether or not this reviewer enjoys Scooby-Doo, it has a formula. And that formula has endured for decades. To so cheerfully eschew that formula seems to imply that either director Tony Cervone or the group of writers credited with the script just couldn’t stand the thought of reviving the Scooby-Doo franchise to…tell a Scooby-Doo story. (Or, failing that, a studio executive at Warner Bros. could only stomach embracing this IP by making it superhero-friendly.)
The animation in Scoob! is also somewhat quaint. The cast for this movie is big enough that a theatrical release would seem to make sense. But watching the Mystery Machine drive around is like looking at a miniature paper model, not an actual van. And most of the animation has a similarly rough quality, as if Warner Bros. nearly wanted to make a Lego version of Scooby-Doo but lost their nerve and went halfway there instead. It’s the kind of decision that only emphasizes a disturbing creative truth inspired by this pandemic: whatever theater owners may say and however angry they may get, some movies probably don’t need to stop in theaters first.
Scoob! is this month’s attempt to placate the youth of America by offering them something new. Speaking as a parent of a child who was very, very excited to watch this, I’m thrilled something new is here. But that doesn’t mean Scoob! is good. It just means the movie is here. It’s another drop of water in the desert of new content. Maybe if there wound up being a second animated film featuring Scooby and Shaggy, it might actually tell a story where they solve a supernatural mystery with their friends in the Mystery Machine. For now, all we have is this forgettable, lazy, pandering superhero film. And we can only hope that Artemis Fowl, the next family film originally slated for theaters and headed instead to the digital space in June, is a better Quarantine Release.
/Film Rating: 4 out of 10