Scoob! Review – Same old Mystery, Inc. with a flashy makeover

The well-known gang are back in another blockbuster outing.

Since its creation in 1969, with Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, the members of Mystery Incorporated have rarely left our screens. The enduring appeal of the exploits of Fred Jones, Daphne Blake, Velma Dinkley, and, of course, Shaggy Rogers and Scooby-Doo can probably be attributed to the simplicity of its storytelling. It’s predictable, and it feels quite reassuring and safe to be in the presence of the gang solving yet another mystery.

Scooby-Doo is no stranger to reinvention, however. While it often swings back around to its origins (such as 2010-2013 series Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated and, to some extent, Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!), executives have been known to tinker with many key elements: whether that be the art style, which changes with some regularity, or the featured characters. Though initial series were focused upon the “unmasking” of criminals posing as monsters, later versions saw the gang face actual monsters. At its core, however, Scooby-Doo remains the tale of a group of plucky youngsters who solve mysteries for the sheer thrill of it. There’s doubtless a chase sequence, including implausible teleportation from doorway to doorway, and Daphne probably gets kidnapped. That’s the way it goes.

It’s doubtless a shame that the current global climate has cast somewhat of a cloud over what could have been a very successful box office turnout. Having said that, Scoob! has done exceedingly well, like Trolls: World Tour before it, in Video On-Demand sales, becoming the top-rented film on many outlets and, reportedly, outselling Trolls which managed to gross $40 million over its first three days of release. Scoob! has retained this spot across these multiple services into its second weekend of release, which is commendable.

Of course, there are confounding variables – firstly that most people don’t actually digitally rent films anymore anyway, and often purchase it outright, so it’s uncertain how much of a fishbowl this has produced. Moreover, Scoob! have definitely shot themselves in the foot globally by not making the film available worldwide, meaning that UK viewers had to make do with pirated online versions. Not that I’m bitter or anything, but it just makes a certain amount of business sense to release a film globally, if it’s going to be made available on digital media. Not least because I want to see it.

Scoob! follows our familiar heroes, as they embark upon an entirely different sort of adventure. Shaggy (Will Forte) and Scooby (Frank Welker) manage to get recruited by superhero Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg), along with his canine assistant Dynomutt (Ken Jeong) and Dee Dee Skyes (Kiersey Clemons) to take down the nefarious Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs) who seeks to unlock the Underworld.

What transpires is, in fact, quite a radical departure from the source material. Traditionally, the gang would discover a terror plaguing a town and investigate, only to be chased by the monster and, eventually, devise a plan to capture them. Here, the mystery comes to the gang and sweeps them up in what’s probably better defined as a quest movie. The gang are made fairly aware of the enemy, Dick Dastardly, and his plan, and merely try, with the help of Blue Falcon and Dynomutt, to stop him before he can open the gates of the Underworld. It’s definitely a transition for these characters to make the transition from smalltown investigators to these gadabout heroes.

That’s not to say that the franchise hasn’t forgotten its roots. There are still plenty of throwbacks to Mystery, Incorporated’s origins, including a heartwarming origin tale, in which a lonely pre-teen Shaggy (Iain Armitage) finds Scooby on Venice Beach and the two bond over their shared love of food and need for companionship. Later, at Halloween they also meet up with Fred, Velma and Daphne and inadvertently solve a mystery about the supposedly haunted house in the neighbourhood. While only a small part of the film, it’s a brilliant embellishment for the franchise.

Another brilliant throwback is a sequence that wonderfully recreates the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! beginning credits with the new animation style, helping to cement that these are the continued adventures of the characters that we already know and love.

Somehow the new animation still captures the spirit and charm of the original, still possessing the traditional squish-and-stretch techniques that exaggerate the characters’ movements. Furthermore, many sound effects are reused from the original series, such as the noise of the characters running or objects falling on characters’ heads, which are wonderful throwbacks and bring a wry, nostalgic smile to the audience. On top of this, the new CGI looks absolutely stunning. The characters are as gorgeously colourful as ever (though Fred is missing his delightful orange ascot – let’s be honest, that’s definitely an outdated fashion choice), and the new environments look incredible. From the sleek, futuristic interior of the Falcon Fury to the grandiose temples in Athens, every frame is excellently realised and engaging.

Scoob! serves as the first film within an intended Hanna-Barbera shared universe, and the restraint of the filmmakers has to be commended here. Considering there could have been the Smurfs, Tom and Jerry, Popeye, Dexter, The Flintstones, The Powerpuff Girls or the Jetsons rolling around the place with gay abandon, the selected characters to appear turn up in an organic way instead of being shoehorned in. Blue Falcon and Dynomutt are huge sources of comic relief throughout the film and are really integral to the plot, while Captain Caveman (Tracy Morgan) is wonderfully amusing in his minor sequence.

The cast are wonderful. There was some trepidation considering the news that the voices for the Scooby-Doo gang from the TV programmes hadn’t been offered any of their roles, but Zac Efron is a wonderful leader in Fred, bumbling and slightly awkward in all the right places. Amanda Seyfried is a fabulous Daphne, who has been elevated above her traditional damsel-in-distress role that she’d previously fallen into and imbues her with a whole lot of heart, while Gina Rodriguez really delights in the more geeky aspects of Velma’s personality. One slight downfall is Will Forte, whose performance falls slightly on the side of imitation – and not a terrible good one, of Shaggy. Frank Welker, of course, is on top form as the only returning cast member and, really, the only person who can do the character of Scooby-Doo justice.

In summary, Scoob! has an awful lot to offer. It isn’t especially revolutionary, and it’s not going to win any awards, but it really captures the spirit of the original cartoon and provides a diverting hour and a half. There are wonderfully funny and heartwarming moments, and it’s a promising genesis for a new wave of Hanna-Barbera films (please be The Powerpuff Girls next!).

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