Heavy-handed efforts by Universal Studios to create a Monster-verse taught Hollywood an important lesson on episodic filmmaking: for audiences to invest in a series, there must be a sturdy foundation.
For Universal, The Mummy’s high-profile unravelling, a product of its rushed and presumptive storytelling, proved more than just a costly misstep, but a cautionary tale on how not to manufacture a franchise. Warner Bros. has earned similar castigation for their attempt to rush a DC cinematic universe; clear hunger to replicate the Marvel franchise machine.
Frankly put, franchises risk eating crow should they attempt to run before they can walk.
Testing its fortunes on resuscitating Hanna-Barbera’s back catalogue of ‘60s/‘70s cartoons into contemporary family films, the likes of which piggybacking and launching off of the coattails of the world’s most-beloved mystery-solving pooch Scooby-Doo, Warner Bros. animated romp SCOOB! manages (just) to be a somewhat enjoyable, albeit busy, reimagining.
First introduced to pup Scooby (voiced by long-time Scooby-Doo collaborator Frank Welker) and baby-faced Shaggy (Iain Armitage) on the sands of Venice Beach, the two lovable outcasts are serendipitously brought together upon the theft of a slab of meat and find themselves connected over shared feelings of isolation. The depth of their loneliness matched in extremity to their insatiable (and questionable in taste) appetites.
Fostering their friendship into adulthood, the two “supernatural” investigators (Will Forte portraying adult Shaggy with the vocal shakiness of a cold-ridden Gilbert Gottfried) deviate from their usual array of mystery-solving hokum. Instead, the two traverse the world on an action-packed mission to take down the nefarious Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs portraying the moustachioed character of Wacky Races fame), and what culminates is a grand departure from the source material.
The film sidelines the traditional Mystery Machine accompaniment of ascot-wearing Fred (a scene-stealing Zac Efron), no-longer-damsel-in-distress Daphne (Amanda Seyfried), and brains of the operation Velma (Gina Rodriguez) in place of globetrotting superheroes. Their origins existing on the outskirts of the obscure IP barrel, it’s almost immediately clear that SCOOB! favours modern big-swing animated filmmaking in lieu of upholding the property’s spoopy heritage.
An additional disservice to Scooby-Doo and friends, the excess of eccentric characters – featuring the voice talents of Mark Wahlberg, Kiersey Clemons, Ken Jeong and Tracy Morgan, all of whom possessing overwhelming personalities right for their own spin-offs – reduces SCOOB! into becoming the film equivalent of a Baby Boomer flipping upside-down their childhood toy chests.
While director Tony Cervone and his four screenwriters nail the connection between Shaggy and the now fluently-speaking Great Dane, extracting from these loveable jesters a deep sense of humanity, the purist in this reviewer cannot help but long for the giddish, low-stakes breeziness of the original property. Unfortunately, efforts by Cervone to reinvent the wheels of the Mystery Machine eventuate to a ruh-roh attempt at building a Hanna-Barbara-verse that verges on Despicable Me territory. Even when stakes are established, they last for as long as it takes to say Sarah Michelle Prinze, née Gellar.
That said, SCOOB! isn’t without its redeeming qualities. Like the payoff of a suspenseful unmasking, there is a satisfying humour to SCOOB! that revels in pop-cultural and self-referential de rigueur. Notable cameos, coming and going from the story where fit, prove less taxing on the already overloaded draft of characters. It is in these moments of goofy wit that not only places Scooby-Doo smack bang into today but allows the film to bear some semblance to the charm of the classic cartoon.
The CG treatment proves the perfect pairing for a 2020 Scooby-Doo movie. The film’s animated treatment, not without some glaring rigidness, mostly captures the fevered antics of the property.
Yes, it may very well do its job as an entertaining romp for meddling kids in the room, but it’s unfortunate that SCOOB! gestates to become the breeding-block of ‘70s IP, deconstructing the world of Hanna-Barbera as though it were a connected world of interchangeable characters, à la Marvel. The result sanitises SCOOB! of its humble origins in favour of “epic” storytelling. Jinkies.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★✩✩
‘SCOOB!’ was released Digitally in the U.S. and Canada on May 15.