REVIEW: “Scoob!” (The New Scooby-Doo Movie)

scoobI love Scooby-Doo. I’m way out of the age range for the show these days and I haven’t regularly watched anything from the series since the mid-2000s, but it still holds a special place in my heart. I grew up on those direct-to-VHS movies and re-runs of the old series (especially A Pup Named Scooby-Doo) on Cartoon Network. So, it’s one of those things that will always be special to me. However, I tend not to be one of those fans who get upset by changes made to the franchise. I really enjoyed the live-action Scooby-Doo films from the early 2000s and when I first saw the trailer for Scoob!, the latest theatrical reboot of the series, I was intrigued. The animation style was neat, it seemed to be teasing a pretty enjoyable story, and I was interested to see what some new talent could bring to the material. Thankfully, even with most movie theaters around the country closed, Scoob! was able to make its initial release date – just on PVOD instead of in theaters. So, having seen Scoob!, how is it? In short: it’s surprisingly solid. It’s a decent-if-predictable story with some good jokes, some beautiful animation, and a lot of heart. (Mild spoilers follow!)

Scoob! (written by Kelly Fremon Craig; directed by Tony Cervone)
“SCOOB!” reveals how lifelong friends Scooby and Shaggy first met and how they joined with young detectives Fred, Velma and Daphne to form the famous Mystery Inc. Now, with hundreds of cases solved and adventures shared, Scooby and the gang face their biggest, most challenging mystery ever: a plot to unleash the ghost dog Cerberus upon the world. As they race to stop this global “dogpocalypse,” the gang discovers that Scooby has a secret legacy and an epic destiny greater than anyone imagined.

First things first: Scoob! is definitely a Scooby-Doo movie. Well, sort of. It’s got all the main characters – Fred (Zac Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried), Velma (Gina Rodriguez), Shaggy (Will Forte), and Scooby (Frank Welker) – and it’s got all of the franchise’s heart and soul pumping through its veins. But it is missing a sense of mystery. In fact, I wouldn’t classify Scoob! as a mystery at all; it’s more of an action-adventure story – not that that’s necessarily a bad thing! While the plot of Scoob! certainly won’t win any awards, it’s perfectly serviceable, though a bit predictable. We open with a ten-minute prologue showing the audience how Shaggy and Scooby first met (it’s super cute) and how they ended up becoming a part of the Mystery Inc gang. From there, though, we jump a number of years into the future, through a neat transition that references the original Scooby-Doo theme song – which is also cute. In this context, I don’t know that I’d consider Scoob! an origin story the way the film’s marketing suggests it is. It’s not an origin story, not really. The film isn’t about how the Mystery Inc gang became the Mystery Inc gang. But, again, that’s not a bad thing! What the film is ultimately about is Scooby and Shaggy’s friendship. Their friendship forms the core of both the movie’s actual plot and its emotional arc. A prologue showing how they met is necessary in order to properly set that arc up, but from there it’s off to the races with the main story.

As for that main story, there are some positives and some negatives. On the negative side, the emotional arc is pretty predictable. You’ve seen this story in several other Scooby-Doo movies (the one that comes to mind is the 2002 live-action Scooby-Doo film). Shaggy and Scooby find out that Scooby is an important part of some grander plan and that knowledge puts a rift in their friendship that must ultimately be reconciled by the film’s end. Now, to be fair, I wasn’t really bothered by this. It’s a kid’s movie, after all, and Scooby-Doo isn’t really known for its subtlety or its unpredictability. It’s supposed to be light, comfortable entertainment and the film largely succeeds at this. Plus, I’m just a sucker for a good story about two friends gaining a closer relationship with one another – and Scoob! delivers that tenfold. On the positive side, though, the actual minutia of the plot managed to be fairly surprising. While actual plot points are still pretty predictable as you’re watching the movie, I was impressed by how little I knew about the film’s plot going into it. Warner Bros had managed to hide the bulk of the film’s story from its promotional campaign, so there was a lot of fun to be had in uncovering just what was going on. Sure, we know who the bad guy is almost immediately, but what we don’t know is exactly what he’s doing and why. That plotline is a lot of fun to follow through and there are some genuine surprises in the third act that I couldn’t have predicted.

But at the end of the day, Scoob! isn’t really about the plot. It’s about the characters and the action sequences – and the film does a remarkably solid job in both respects. Scooby and Shaggy are definitely the main characters of Scoob! and are focused on almost to the detriment of the rest of Mystery Inc. But it’s hard to be mad about that as Craig and Cervone capture the essence of these characters perfectly. The entire film hinges on their friendship and that friendship is explored very well throughout the film. Scooby and Shaggy have always been the heart of Scooby-Doo and that’s a message this film really broadcasts. Seeing the two of them together like this is just a lot of fun. Of equal fun are the film’s jokes. Scoob! is the kind of movie that throws as many jokes at the wall as it possibly can, hoping something will stick. But, surprisingly, it didn’t annoy me as much as it does in other films. Perhaps it’s the Scooby-Doo effect, but I thought the humor in the movie mostly worked. Some jokes fall flat on their face, but the bulk of them landed pretty well for me – especially the ones that were rooted in the characters and weren’t just topical references.

But where Scoob! feels the most like Scooby-Doo is in the film’s aesthetic and in its action scenes. While a lot has been said about the decision to animate Scoob! using 3-D animation instead of the traditional 2-D animation the franchise has mostly lived in, Scoob! is a beautiful looking film that feels right at home alongside the rest of the franchise. The animation style reminds me more of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse than most other 3-D animated films, and that’s the highest of compliments. There’s a clear style at play in Scoob! and it feels respectful of where the series came from while also pushing it firmly into the 21st century. The film’s action scenes, though, are pure Scooby-Doo. They’re exactly what you’d hope they’d be. There are lots of chase scenes with all the slapstick comedy you’d hope for and there’s the requisite climactic action sequence where the gang is able to execute their big plan for stopping the villain. As you’re watching the action sequences, it’s hard not to smile because they’re just so Scooby-Doo. In a film that lacks the aura of mystery one often associates with Scooby-Doo, it’s really nice to have such a solid visual representation of the franchise to help connect it with its roots.

Much ado has been made about the film’s cast. Aside from Frank Welker, none of the regular Scooby-Doo voice actors reprise their roles. Instead, the characters are voiced by some top-notch Hollywood talent. And, predictably, this ends up being a mixed bag. While Matthew Lillard is the voice of Shaggy for the latest generation of Scooby fans, Will Forte does a solid job in the role. He’s able to capture the cadences and heart of the character while bringing his own sensibilities to the role. Welker gives one of my favorite performances of his as Scooby to date as well. Equally good are much of the supporting characters – Jason Issacs is delightfully sinister as Dick Dastardly, Mark Wahlberg is a lot of fun as Blue Falcon, Ken Jeong is nearly unrecognizable (in the best way possible) as Dynomutt, and Kiersey Clemons shines brightly as Dee Dee Skyes.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for Fred, Velma, and Daphne. To be clear, Efron, Rodriguez, and Seyfried do not do bad jobs, but they never quite evoke the essence of their characters. Efron and Seyfriend have Fred and Daphne’s voices down pretty well, but they don’t quite capture their character’s hearts while Rodriguez never really sounds or feels like Velma at all. And, to be fair, it’s not entirely their fault – the writing doesn’t really capture their characters all that well either. It’s like Craig and Cervone didn’t really know what to do with the rest of Mystery Inc, so they’re just kind of there. But, none of their performances are movie-killing and you do sort of settle into what they’re doing after a while, and it mostly becomes the kind of background noise that hardcore fans will nitpick over while newer fans won’t care at all.

At the end of the day, Scoob! is a remarkably solid kid film and should probably be judged as one. While I totally went into it with pretty low expectations, I was thoroughly entertained through the film’s brisk runtime. It hits the ground running and never really lets up off the gas. While the voice cast is a bit uneven, everyone delivers performances that range from solid to excellent, and it’s all accompanied by a serviceable plot and some excellent animation. Scooby-Doo has always been somewhat predictable and cheesy, and Scoob! is no different. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a reason Scooby-Doo has been around for 51+ years. At this point, it’s comfort food. There’s something really nice about revisiting the Mystery Inc gang, and Scoob! captures that feeling perfectly. Scoob! is a love-letter to the franchise, filled with easter eggs and fun moments that should please even the most cynical of fans while delivering an enjoyable, fresh take on the material. It’s a fun time for all.

4 out of 5 wands.

 

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