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Scoob! Has Us Asking Where’s the Mystery

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

One of the classic catchphrases of the old Scooby Doo franchise is the vocalized signal, often from the eager mouth of their de facto leader Fred, of “looks like we’ve got another mystery on our hands.” The new CGI reboot Scoob! now on VOD platforms answers that rhetorical realization with both possible extremes. The movie doesn’t have one and the canyon-sized narrative hole because of it leaves us more perplexed than satisfied with a shoulder shrug and a chin rub of our own (emoji optional).

Since this new movie wants so badly to modernize the settings and character vernacular for a new generation, it’s fair to lay one of our own fad phrases as viewers and fans. This is a Scooby Doo movie, one that wants to kick-start a new franchise with a new shared Hanna-Barbera universe. So, Scoob!, you had one job. The name on the side of the van says “Mystery Machine.” The name of this curious clique’s entrepreneurial venture is “Mystery Incorporated.” Where is the mystery? Insert your “looking” GIF of choice.

Moving to our present time of smartphones, laptops, and electric cars, the screenwriting team led by Matt Liebermann (The Addams Family, The Christmas Chronicles) crafts a very adorable origin story. A friendless teen Shaggy (Young Sheldon’s Iain Armitage) is listening to, what better for the now then, a motivational podcast between his ears through the sidewalks and sand of Venice Beach, California. When he helps the titular Great Dane stray pup out of a gyro-stealing pickle with a bike cop (Super Troopers nut Kevin Heffernan), they become new friends.

Long have audiences loved the inseparable dynamic between Shaggy and Scooby. Seeing a take on their first introduction and flourishing bond for one another is indelibly charming. Their mannerisms, from every shiver of fear or bite of insatiable appetite, couldn’t be more symbiotic. Everyone needs a friend. Go ahead and get every tween a dog or a cat right now. The two really complete each other, but, as always, the more the merrier.

Soon after on a Halloween night jaunt, the two best buds come to meet a knight in shining armor, Wonder Woman, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the form of a costumed Fred Jones, Daphne Blake, and Velma Dinkley. The five of them squash a fiendish local thief messing with trick-or-treaters and a team is born. And just like that, in the first 15 or so minutes, Scoob! has already spent its reboot concept and signature spookiness.

Fast-forwarding a decade to their adult selves voiced by Frank Welker (the original Fred now playing Scooby), Will Forte, Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried, and Gina Rodriguez, the quizzical quintet is trying to get sponsorship for their detective business (a bland cameo from Simon Cowell) only to stumble into a much larger plot. Oblivious to the general public, Dick Dastardly (professional movie villain Jason Isaacs) is wreaking havoc in the skies and seeks to unite three artifacts to release the mythical Cerberus and “dogpocalypse” upon the world. Standing against Dick is the jet-set social media-obsessed celebrity superhero Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg) and his do-all-the-work squad of Dynomutt the Dog Wonder (Ken Jeong) and Dee Dee Sykes (Kiersey Clemons).

Dick Dastardly sees Scooby as some kind of ancestral key to unlocking his prophecy. To fight back, the Blue Falcon team switches out Scooby’s special collar for a super-suit of his own to fight back. Thrust into a globe-trotting adventure, things build for all the good guys to need a “hero moment” to validate their confidence and place of success. Staying all 2020 again, insert your “eyeroll” GIF of choice.

When it’s all said and done, there is a pushback to the adversarial burns in the movie that claim “friendship won’t save the day.” To stay hip again, we all know “teamwork makes the dream work.” Having friends is always a big help and the best of them will come to your aid with all the spirit and sacrifice they can muster. Friendship will indeed save the day, and we can easily see that coming.

The new computer-powered animated gait of this movie is a busy-bodied approach with fuller perspective than the side-to-side camera antics of the classics. Fitting its inflated comic book-like size, complete with sky energy beams, moping laments, and a zillion other tropes, Scoob! unfortunately becomes more about the battles and endless chases than any subtle games of quirks and clues. Warner Bros. throws a home improvement store’s worth of kitchen sinks at something that only needed a drinking fountain. Sure, we’ve all loved a dreamy Scooby Doo crossover/team-up in our chosen times, but this didn’t need a “go big or go home” injection of Hanna-Barbera extras. Ease into that with more of the tongue-in-cheek and less of the superfluous TNT.

Alas, it’s about the missing essence. Part of the fun of anything Scooby Doo is the low-tech, accidental intuition. Bells and whistles aren’t the same as kicks and can’t substitute for the good, old-fashioned simplicity of surprise. Mystery is the sorely needed trait for this appealing chance to start something fresh, young, and easy.

By having an earmarked villain with zero dramatic irony, all this entertainment exercise becomes, even with classic and archival sound effects sneaking in, is a predictable roller coaster with no wonderment. That couldn’t be farther from what made these Joe Ruby and Ken Spears characters some of the greatest TV creations of all-time. We’re now the ones asking “Where Are You?” instead of enjoying and being challenged by a kitschy cinematic puzzle to solve. It’s a shame because the content and the new origin had ripe and promising potential.

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Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website "Every Movie Has a Lesson" and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication. He is also weekly movie trends columnist and occasional podcast contributor for the "Feelin' Film" podcast. As an middle school educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.

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