New Releases: Scoob! (2020) - Reviewed

Scooby Doo is one of my guilty pleasures. When I was 12 years old, I came down with pneumonia for the first -- and so far, only -- time in my life. The result was two weeks off school and a discombobulated sleeping schedule that had me coughing in front of the television set at roughly 7am every morning, when TNT would run three hours of classic Scooby cartoons. I knew of the show but never had the opportunity to enjoy it for myself. By the end of those two weeks, I was a fan for life, especially of the original seasons, pre-Scrappy Doo. The cheesy humor and the gothic atmosphere of the animation creates a palpable sense of fun that you never grow too old for.

In 2002, Warner Bros. gave us our first live-action movie based on the series, simply called Scooby Doo. Written by none other than future Guardians of the Galaxy filmmaker James Gunn, along with its 2004 sequel, the duet of films fully embraced the cheese factor, and sprinkled in a healthy dose of meta humor. The results offered a mixed bag of entertainment, but have aged well into the annals of nostalgia. But there was one spectacular thing those movies gave us that absolutely no one can argue with: Matthew Lillard. Our generation officially had a Shaggy. His performance was equal parts hilarious and electrifying; the man truly seemed like the cartoon character come to life, and his interactions with the CGI Scooby Doo felt completely natural and organic among the corny shenanigans.

"Paw bump?" "Paw bump!"

Originally voiced by Casey Kasem in the cartoon series and subsequent animated efforts, until Lillard took over for him on that front as well, Shaggy Rogers and his pal Scooby Doo are the heart of the gang at Mystery, Inc. If those ingredients aren't perfect, everything surrounding them will suffer. This is one aspect where Scoob! falls short. Will Forte simply isn't engaging as the voice of Shaggy. He doesn't seem to be in on the joke the way Lillard was, both on screen and in the recording booth. It's difficult to explain exactly what's missing here, but pop in a copy of the immensely entertaining Scooby Doo: Stage Fright (a direct to video release in 2013), then watch Scoob! and you'll see what I mean.

The movie suffers from questionable casting and some storytelling missteps. It has the typical problems of long-standing intellectual properties with too many screenwriters (four names on the final draft) and too many studio executives hoping it's "woke" enough for the Twitter crowd. This leads to poorly written male characters who are either buffoons or villains without a middle ground, and underwritten female characters who are too one-dimensional to be identified with. In the most cringeworthy moment of the entire flick, the words "toxic masculinity" are actually said on screen in a children's film. This caused my wife and I to break with the movie just long enough to slow blink at each other. Scooby Doo is supposed to be about jubilant optimism and delicious sandwiches in the face of certain danger from masked ghouls. Keep your politics at home. Rant over.

With that being said, there's plenty here for kids and long-time fans to enjoy. After an extraordinary opening sequence that updates the original "Scooby Doo, Where Are You?" theme and pairs it with all-new CG renderings of classic villains from the series, you know someone with a love for the cartoon was working behind the scenes. The animation is often brilliant, always colorful, lively, and an all-around pleasure to watch. The best moments in Scoob! are when the writers toss in some funny throwbacks: The moment when Scooby and Shaggy stop a chase dead in its tracks so they can pop up behind a concession counter in full candy striper outfits and attempt to serve hot wings to a gaggle of violent shape-shifting robots made me grin from ear to ear.

The rest of the gang is all here too. Zac Efron (Fred), Amanda Seyfried (Daphne) and Gina Rodriguez (Velma) are all solid choices to bring some spunk and humor to these iconic characters. Jason Isaacs as the villainous Dick Dastardly (no, I'm not making that up), spews vitriol with more zest than he did in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Word of warning: Your kids will be saying the word "Dick" after this movie more than my generation did after sitting through Dick Tracy. His counterpart is a superhero with the subversively hilarious name of Blue Falcon (voiced unrecognizably by Mark Wahlberg). Anyone who has served time in the military or has a few vets in their circle of friends will get a kick out of that name.

Don't stand too close to a naked man.

Speaking of veterans, there is one unsung hero to this entire franchise of characters that never gets enough credit: Frank Welker. He's the only performer who has been with this series from the beginning. Starting in 1969 when he was only 23 years old, Welker's first regular gig was the voice of Fred Jones on Scooby Doo: Where Are You? He has consistently voiced the character for the last 50 years, which has to be some kind of a record. And since 2002, Welker has lent his vocal talent to the eponymous great dane, including the two live-action films. In Scoob! Welker is given a lot more dialogue than normal as Scooby, and his presence lifts up the whole production. Scoob! may not be as good as its live-action or animated counterparts, but there are worse things to spend your money on.

-Blake O. Kleiner