SCOOB! (2020) is at times great, but is more often than not a poor entry in a storied franchise.
This post contains story spoilers for SCOOB!, up to and including the film's conclusion.
SCOOB! went through a director change, cast controversy, and was released in the midst of the corona virus pandemic. By all accounts, I expected SCOOB! to be worse. However, after being treated to a thoughtful, heartwarming opening act, I found myself with a tear in my eye. A few things worked for me in SCOOB!'s opening act, among them the updated opening theme, Shaggy's backstory, Tom Holkenborg's score, and considerate references to the franchise's history. The opening scene of SCOOB! casts Shaggy Rogers as a lonely child who bonds with a stray dog over questionable sandwich toppings. Who among us has not felt a little less lonely thanks to a loving pet? Even moreso in the days of social distancing. After meeting the rest of the Mystery Inc crew, the gang are thrust into solving the mystery of the haunted house. These scenes are where I started to notice Holkenborg's score, particularly using a riff from an old Scooby-Doo! Where are You? underscore in homage. Perhaps I feel more strongly about this because I've been researching old Scooby-Doo music, but that simple riff felt like it was put there for me. Followed by a classic unmasking scene and a recreation of the Where are You? opening theme, which serves to both age up the gang in montage and bring a tear to my eye, these are scenes that I viscerally enjoyed. These are also among the last scenes that I enjoyed.
I have to talk about the casting for SCOOB! The main crew are Will Forte as Shaggy, Frank Welker as Scooby, Zac Efron as Fred, Gina Rodriguez as Velma, and Amanda Seyfried as Daphne. Before I dive into talk of controversy I want to shout out Gina Rodriguez as Velma. Not only does Rodriguez do a good job as our resident nerd, I think SCOOB! starts to make a smart choice to diversify Mystery Inc here. I simply don't feel good about the all white cast of Scooby-Doo anymore. SCOOB! doesn't hard commit to making Velma a woman of color here, but they should. Now I'll speak to the previously mentioned casting controversy. Matthew Lillard portrayed Shaggy in the live action Scooby-Doo movies in the early 2000s. Since 2010, Lillard has been the de facto voice of Shaggy from Mystery Incorporated through the present day with Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? Grey Griffin has voiced Daphne since 2001 and again, actively voices Daphne in the currently airing Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? It is my understanding that Lillard at least was not even approached to reprise the role of Shaggy is this new movie. Now, I try not to be precious about these sorts of things, I like to think I've given Will Forte a chance and I think he does a good job as Shaggy, but I can't help but have a sour taste in my mouth when it comes to this and other questionable casting decisions. For example, Blue Falcon is voiced by Mark Wahlberg. That dude has a hate crimes tab on his Wikipedia article. How are you gonna hire a guy who has committed multiple hate crimes? Even if you attempt some mealy mouthed defense, the fact of the matter is that Blue Falcon hasn't aired in 40 years and each of Blue Falcon's last three appearances have had a different voice actor. That leaves the door open for anybody to voice Falcon. It is racist to fill a wide open role with a man who has committed multiple hate crimes.
Immediately after the opening theme ends, and tangentially related to casting, we encounter the now grown Mystery Inc in a malt shop, attempting to answer the question "What's next for Mystery Inc?" The answer is to talk with potential investor Simon Cowell. Simon Cowell, a man who's cultural cachet peaked with the DVD extras of Shrek 2 in 2004, is a driving force in this movie. Talk about a dated reference. I expect any attempt of mine to recast this role will also out me as being out of touch, however, for the role of "wink and nod personality for the olds to enjoy as they see this movie with their kid" I'd pull from modern people like Hannibal Buress, Keanu Reeves, Amy Wong, and Tina Fey. Regardless, a direct comparison can be made here between Simon Cowell guest starring in SCOOB! and 2019's Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? a show on the Boomerang streaming service that features the Scooby gang alongside a new guest star every week. Now, I think some of the Guess Who? guests suffer from the same issues of irrelevance, but I'm willing to chalk that up to celebrities not wanting to do a Scooby-Doo show on a streaming service. Once your budget becomes theatrical release money, get a good guest star.
I would like to give credit to the next few scenes of SCOOB! for its easter eggs. Normally in this type of thing, a new entry in an old series, the easter eggs are pretty rote. Hell, not three paragraphs ago I waxed poetic about the recreation of the opening theme. However, SCOOB!'s easter eggs seem genuinely interested in paying tribute to the original series. A Hannah/Barbera (the production company for Scooby-Doo in the 70s) easter egg is a given, sure, but SCOOB! goes so far as to have easter eggs for Iwao Takamoto who designed Scooby-Doo and Carlton Zapp who was personal assistant to Hannah and Barbera in the 90s. This cartoonbrew article goes into further detail.
How then, do we go from a thoughtful consideration of Scooby-Doo's history to the dreadful comedy of the film. Comedy that attempts to live solely on the backs of failson Blue Falcon and portraying Fred Jones as an idiot. Of all my gripes with SCOOB!, comedy is the most subjective, so I won't try and point out individual jokes that I felt were bad. (Except maybe when Fred got heart eyes for the cop) Instead, let me contrast SCOOB! with various Scooby-Doo TV series. Despite the laugh track, much of Scooby-Doo Where are You? is not laugh out loud funny. That being said, Where are You? isn't a direct peer of SCOOB! The direct peer of SCOOB! is the aforementioned Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? (2019), a show that has me laughing at least once an episode. Or, let me compare SCOOB! to Be Cool, Scooby-Doo, a show that ran from 2015-2018 and was also funny. I'm not that surprised that throwing a bunch of money and a bunch of 40+ year old men at writing Scooby-Doo didn't result in a script that I enjoyed, it just especially hurts when considering the incredible story work done by Guess Who, Be Cool, and even Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated in 2010 which is great, it's just more serious and didn't work as much to my point about being funny.
I'm going to talk broadly about the rest of the film here. Scooby and Shaggy split up from the rest of the gang after being burned by Simon Cowell 🙄 and they spend damn near the rest of the movie apart, instead Scooby and Shaggy team up with Blue Falcon (who we learn is the failson of the original Blue Falcon), Dynomutt, and Dee Dee Skyes. Daphne, Fred, and Velma attempt to reconcile with Scooby and Shaggy but instead both they and the Blue Falcon group run into trouble with Dick Dastardly. Dick Dastardly, I feel, largely works here, again, barring much of the humor. Ultimately we discover that Dick Dastardly is attempting to gather the skulls of Cerberus to open Alexander the Great's secret treasure vault and also that Scooby-Doo is a descedant of Peritas, Alexander's dog. The door to the vault can only be opened by Scooby because only either Alexander or Peritas, his dog, can open the lock. Ultimately, Dastardly gets his way and opens the vault, unleashing a massive ghost Cerberus who starts to wreak havoc. This whole part does a massive disservice to the franchise's history, a history where the monsters aren't real and against all odds the monsters get trapped by the meddling kids. Instead what we get is Blue Falcon flying around Cerberus like it's a Marvel movie. How dull.
After Cerberus is defeated is where SCOOB! completely loses me. In the most emotionally manipulative, tear baiting way possible, the gang learns that to seal Cerberus back in the vault, they need both Scooby and his best friend (Shaggy) to lock the door, but one of them has to be inside. Obviously Shaggy takes the L and ends up inside the vault, presumably lost forever. Everyone cries (I did not cry). Then, to everybody's suprise (I was not surprised), Shaggy is not lost forever. Much rejoicing (I did not rejoice). One last Simon Cowell gag, a cut to Mystery Inc as an established brick and mortar business, and the movie ends.
I think, ultimately, the reason I came away disappointed by parts of SCOOB! is because I know that Scooby-Doo can be better, is better, has been better. I haven't seen Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue! (2006) but each subsequent Scooby-Doo series, Mystery Incorporated (2010), Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! (2015-2018), and Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? (2019), has been good, funny, and built for the modern audience. Like, hey man, I realize that writing a long runtime piece of Scooby-Doo media is hard. I've seen The New Scooby-Doo Movies (1972-1973), they suck, but in a world where the last decade of Scooby-Doo has been good, how can I accept a mediocre movie? So maybe watch SCOOB! until you see Simon Cowell and then turn over to "Attack of the Weird Al-Osaurus!" in Guess Who?
Edit 2020-07-15: Changed line from "It is, at best, crass and uncaring to fill a wide open role with a man who has committed multiple hate crimes."