The first thing one must understand about Scoob!, the latest reinvention of Warner Bros.’ seemingly evergreen Hanna-Barbera properties, is that despite what the name implies, it is not actually a Scooby-Doo movie. Beyond its origin story prologue, there are no ghosts, no scheming land developers, no unmaskings.1 The film does feint towards having a central mystery for a minute or two early on, when our heroes are attacked and nearly abducted by an unknown assailant, but a secondary character helpfully rescues them and informs us of the culprit’s identity immediately after introducing herself.
No, as it turns out, Scoob! is, in fact, a Blue Falcon and Dynomutt movie, one that pits those heroes in a struggle against Dick Dastardly (of Wacky Races fame), with Mystery Inc.’s own Shaggy Rogers and his faithful dog Scooby-Doo acting as the requisite audience surrogates. Your response to that bit of information, whether it be intrigue or disgust, will be a major factor in determining whether or not this film is worth any of your time.
Structurally, the movie is exactly what you would expect from an unambitious superhero narrative: the Falcon Fury and its crew hunt MacGuffins across the globe, gradually learning more and more about the true nature of their adversary’s scheme, until they finally arrive just too late to prevent it. While all of this is occurring, Shaggy and Scooby’s mystery-solving cohorts, Fred, Daphne, and Velma, are engaged in a parallel effort to track down their missing friends. The exposition sprinkled throughout is, if not necessarily sloppy, delivered with the bare minimum of effort. I struggle with whether or not to hold this against the film; the children who comprise its target audience certainly won’t care, and save for the revelation of Dastardly’s true motive — a scene that is much better-handled than many others in the film — I didn’t either. Considering that I am basically an ideal representative of the non-child portion of the film’s target audience, that feels significant.
The best moments of Scoob!, then, come uniformly from its characters. Nearly all of them — even the famously archetypal Scooby Gang — are reinterpreted on some level, and I found these new takes both interesting and engaging pretty much across the board. The character animation is quite good, and many of the film’s best laughs come from visual gags. The dialogue is somewhat hit-and-miss, though thankfully very little of it resembles the onslaught of sarcastic one-liners or non-sequiturs that plague modern children’s animation. The film also has a smart but not insecure level of self-awareness; its winks to the audience range from genuinely chuckle-inducing (A cop opining that “if the dog has a middle name, I can’t charge it with theft. I don’t like it, but it’s the law”) to jokes that were hackneyed even when they were new (Shaggy’s speech pattern described as “the way a middle-aged man thinks teenagers talk”). And speaking of the way Shaggy talks…
One of this film’s most controversial aspects prior to its release was its abandonment of the current Mystery Inc. voice cast (Frank Welker, Matthew Lillard, Grey Griffin, and Mindy Cohn/Kate Micucci) in favor of a ‘star-studded’ lineup consisting of Will Forte, Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried, and Gina Rodriguez.2 While I certainly don’t begrudge Forte, a very good comedic actor, the chance to take on an iconic role, he is miscast here. His Shaggy voice is audibly forced, and never stops being distracting — a major problem, considering that he is the film’s main character. The others in the gang are mostly fine, though only Seyfried’s Daphne gets an opportunity to really stand out, and Rodriguez’s Velma might as well not be in the film at all. None of them bring anything to their roles that are even close to being worth the presumptive millions Warner Bros. spent on them. The rest of the cast, luckily, fares better; Mark Wahlberg brings his best “Will Ferrell co-star” energy for a fun turn as the Blue Falcon, Jason Isaacs is surprisingly good as Dick Dastardly, and Ken Jeong, of all people, turns in one of his most restrained performances ever as Dynomutt (also, possibly, the best one in the film).
By far the most baffling concession that Scoob! makes to modern animation practices, though, is its choice of celebrity cameo: the film’s inciting incident hinges on an appearance from Simon Cowell, as himself. I cannot blame you for doubting me when I say this. I barely believe it now. Were Scoob! a different film, the sheer absurdity of this conceit — the idea that Simon Cowell, a man most Americans have not cared or even thought about in over a decade, is sitting down in a Los Angeles diner with a group of mystery-solving teenagers to critique their business acumen — would itself be the basis of the joke. When the scene is referenced later, in a moment where Shaggy bitterly intones “I guess Simon Cowell was right,” I can almost believe that. But Scoob! is not that kind of movie, and it plays Cowell’s role completely straight. I wish I could explain why. 3
One thing that I can say is that — setting aside the materialistic ambitions that are inherent to all children’s animation — this is a film made with genuine care and sincerity. Both the script and the set design are absolutely jam-packed with Easter Eggs, not just related to Scooby-Doo, but to the entire Hanna-Barbera oeuvre.4 The soundtrack, in a very nice touch, regularly quotes or reorchestrates the ubiquitous music loops that were present in all 41 episodes of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, and one of the film’s most fun sequences lovingly recreates that same show’s famous theme song almost shot-for-shot. While these references will go over the heads of most kids watching at home, they act as nice shout-outs to big kids like me, an indication that this is more than just Warner Bros. newest attempt to leverage name recognition and make a lot of money in the process (though it is definitely that as well). I find that knowledge reassuring, and it allows me to look back on my Scoob! experience with, if not high praise, at least a sense of good will.
Should I watch Scoob! eventually, on cable or a streaming service?
If you unironically enjoy the source material, there are worse ways to spend 93 minutes. Otherwise, no.
Should I pay $25 to own Scoob! digitally?
If Hanna-Barbera cartoons are legitimately meaningful to you — no judgement if they are; they are to me! — and you already own other Scooby-Doo media, perhaps. Otherwise, no, especially since the eventual Blu-Ray will be cheaper.
Should I pay $20 to watch Scoob! once?
NO! What are you, insane?