Scooby-Doo, like other Hanna-Barbera properties, is in a weird place. People know the name “Scooby-Doo”, so it has value, but what Scooby-Doo was as a TV series is a little cheesy and dated. So how do you introduce Scooby-Doo to a younger generation while not alienating the people that genuinely like Hanna-Barbera cartoons? Warner Bros. Animation has attempted a solution with Tony Cervone‘s Scoob!, which tries to take the familiar Scooby-Doo cast, throw in some other Hanna-Barbera characters, and then give them a superhero polish because kids like superhero movies. The mash-up doesn’t really work since the film seems caught between two audiences, but it is fascinating to see how far out this movie can get as it tries to wrangle a plot that can be classified as “Scooby-Doo” while also appeasing kids who like superhero stories.
The film starts out as an origin story about how a young, stray pup met a lonely kid named Shaggy, was adopted by the kid, and named “Scooby-Doo.” We then see how Shaggy and Scooby were out trick-or-treating one night, ran into Fred, Daphne, and Velma, and a lifelong friendship was formed. As adults, Fred (Zac Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried), and Velma (Gina Rodriguez) are trying to get funding for a new Mystery Inc. venture, but are told by potential investor Simon Cowell (as himself) that the business is only as strong as its weakest link, and that Shaggy (Will Forte) and Scooby (Frank Welker) are those weak links. Feeling a bit adrift, Scooby and Shaggy go bowling only to be abducted by superhero trio Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg), Dee Dee Skyes (Kiersey Clemons), and Dynomutt (Ken Jeong), who are trying to stop Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs). Dastardly needs Scooby-Doo’s DNA to unlock the gates to the underworld where a treasure awaits, but doing so will also release Cerberus. Fred, Daphne, and Velma race to reunite with Shaggy and Scooby, but Shaggy and Scooby’s friendship begins to fray as Scooby backs into his Chosen One identity.
So to reiterate, the new, kid-friendly Scooby-Doo movie has the following: Simon Cowell, a plot to open the gates of hell, Scooby-Doo having special DNA (because he’s the descendant of Alexander the Great’s dog, and Alexander is the one who built the hell gate), and teaming up with superheroes while also being a story about the unbreakable bond of friendship between Scooby and Shaggy. Oh, and the way Dick Dastardly has to open the gate to the underworld is by unearthing three giant dog skulls. It’s…a lot. I’m not against any movie taking big swings, but Scoob! just appears to be swinging wildly in an attempt to be all things to all people.
Watching Scoob!, I was left to wonder why if Warner Bros. just want to make an animated superhero movie for kids, they wouldn’t just use Blue Falcon and Dynomutt (Dee Dee Skyes comes from Captain Caveman, but her inclusion feels pretty natural here). And then I realized that in the Hanna-Barbera pantheon, Scooby-Doo is arguably the biggest name. But in that case, why not just do a straight-up Scooby-Doo movie where they solve supernatural mysteries? And that brings you back to, “But it needs to be superheroes.” So you don’t really get the Scooby-Doo movie you wanted, and it’s not like there’s a shortage of better superhero movies. In trying to please everyone, Scoob! ends up pleasing no one.
And that’s a shame because I don’t think that Scooby-Doo is an outdated character, but he does need some form of updating for young audiences who didn’t grow up with him. Scoob! tries to bridge this gap with topical jokes like a riff on sharing Netflix accounts and dialogue poking fun at the very premise of Scooby-Doo, but the film frequently feels like a compromised product rather than something with a genuine adoration for Hanna-Barbera characters. Instead, it feels like because the IP is valuable, it had to be put to use regardless of how well it channels the original properties. Scooby-Doo is not a superhero property, but superheroes are hot right now, so Scooby-Doo must become a square peg shoved into a round hole.
Maybe Scoob! will appeal to parents looking for any new way to entertain their children, and I certainly don’t begrudge them that. But I’m not exactly sure who this movie is for beyond desperate adults hoping to distract rowdy offspring for 90 minutes. Even if kids are won over, I can’t help but wonder if typical Scooby-Doo cartoons will be a disappointment. But if your young ones have ever wanted a tale where a 70s cartoon icon is used to open the gates to hell, then Scoob! is worth checking out.