In case there are some who don’t know what a cinematic universe is, it’s a series of films which take place in the same fictional universe, despite each film having different tones and different characters. A common rule is a studio can only include intellectual property they own. For instance, Disney owns Marvel and Warner Brothers owns DC, meaning each studio can only produce content with their respective characters. It’s become such a money-maker that every studio has greenlit entire slates of films, spinoffs and crossovers. These franchises are usually aimed at teens or older, so it was only a matter of time until a cinematic universe for really young kids came along. The film in question is Scoob! (2020), the new computer-animated comedy based on the popular Scooby Doo cartoons of Hanna-Barbera Productions.
Norville ‘Shaggy’ Rogers (Will Forte) didn’t have any friends until he adopted a homeless talking dog, who he named Scooby Dooby-Doo (Frank Welker). On Halloween night, Shaggy and Scooby meet Fred Jones (Zac Efron), Daphne Blake (Amanda Seyfried) and Velma Dinkley (Gina Rodriquez). They venture into a ‘haunted’ house together and confront the ghost. Alas, they discover he was nothing more than a masked criminal. This inspires the kids to solve spooky mysteries, forming a group called Mystery Inc. After 10 years, the group wants to expand their business, but this results in the firing Shaggy and Scooby who (according to Simon Cowell) don’t add anything of value. Meanwhile, a nefarious villain known as Dick Dastardly (Jason Issacs) is up to no good, which leads to Mystery Inc crossing paths with other Hanna-Barbera characters like Blue Falcon (Mark Walhberg), Dee Dee Skyes (Kiersey Clemons) and Dynomutt (Ken Jeong).
Our eyes are so conditioned to Pixar’s textures that anything different is criticized as less than perfect. The trick is come up with an interesting animation style. In doing so, it won’t matter if the animation isn’t photorealistic or fully textured. The near perfect Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018) is a prime example and Scoob is thankfully playing that same game. It reimagines the hand-drawn animation of the original cartoons for a modern computer-animated world. Scoob allows each character to retain their own unique proportions and movements. The attention is entirely on the foreground, leaving the landscapes and backgrounds slightly less polished. In the cartoon, this was due to tight delivery schedules, but here it’s an aesthetic choice out of nostalgic respect. Happily, the vibrant colours and frenetic action make it all work.
‘Vibrant’ is the best word to describe the film’s tone. Like any decently crafted children’s film, Scoob plays best to an audience of seven year olds and their parents. While the bombastic action, colourful characters and playful sequences keep the young ones entertained, there’s a healthy dose of jokes and implications older viewers will appreciate. There are plenty of pop culture references, yet the adult focused humour is wittier than just simple shoutouts to famous films. Each of the principle characters have genuinely hilarious dialogue, showing how much effort the writing team put in to engage adults and kids. Eventually, the self awareness does get tiring in the second act and becomes a little too mind-numbing. No child is going to come out of this a rocket scientist, but the flashy sequences and fast pace isn’t going to endanger a their intelligence either.
The Scooby Doo cartoons were never the pinnacle of horror or detective stories, but they always had an adorable charm. They weren’t complicated, but the mysteries and scares were perfectly appropriate kids. The enjoyment came from seeing plans, plots and schemes the gang would devise to catch the man in the mask. The story told in Scoob is appropriately uncomplicated and allows for plenty of fun sequences, but it follows a superhero template instead of horror-mystery. The Inclusion Blue Falcon, Dynomutt, Dee Dee Skyes and Dick Dastardly add to that tone, but Scoob would still be a superhero narrative even if the they weren’t involved. Scooby and Shaggy’s arcs are similar to other masked avenger stories. Superhero films are bigger than ever, so it makes sense why this decision was made. Sadly, the Scooby Doo novelty is lost and it could have stood out if it kept the detective and horror elements intact.
On the plus side, Scoob juggles it’s many characters gracefully, appropriately updating their signature traits into a modern context. The story fleshes out what Scooby, Shaggy, Fred and Velma bring to the team, which provides the groundwork for a series of character centred interactions. None of the gang members are particularly deep, but they’re all supremely endearing, likeable and necessary to the dynamic. The playful banter is at its strongest when they bounce off each other, so it’s a shame that they’re split up for most of the action. Division between the characters is necessary for this kind of story, but it goes on for so long that you eventually favour one subplot over the other. It’s mostly worth it once the team is inevitably reunited for the climax, but one does wish we got to see the gang together more frequently.
The Scooby Doo heroes are too iconic for their own good, so it’s imperative to have a cast who can bring these classic cartoons to life. The voice performances are so spot on that you completely forget the celebrity names on the marquee. Frank Welker has been a mainstay of the franchise since the beginning and shows no signs of slowly down, providing Scooby’s signature voice as passionately as ever (He voiced Fred in the cartoon). Will Forte is perfect as Shaggy, playing up his overuse of the words ‘man’ and ‘like’ with hilarious results. Zac Efron melts into Fred, playing him as a soft parody of Efron’s live-action roles. Amanda Seyfried and Gina Rodriguez bring extra layers of heroism and charm to their performances as Daphne and Velma, elevating their underwritten place in the script. The standouts are Mark Walhberg and Jason Issacs as Blue Falcon and Dick Dastardly, who are clearly having a great time and keep things gleefully cheesy.
Scooby Doo is that rare franchise which will remain universally loved forever. The innocence, delight and heart of these stories is what keeps them timeless. Kids watch the original cartoons with the same love and affection that nostalgic adults do. It’s a franchise which can be retooled and reimagined to fit whatever is popular at any given moment. Even if there’s middling returns on an interpretation, there’s always the next time to look forward to. This superhero and cinematic universe version may be missing some of the magic of the original cartoons, but it’ll still introduce a whole new generation of kids to the beloved franchise.
Best way to watch it: With your doggie sitting right beside you.