You’d think that after seeing so many studio films, one would be accustomed to the pathetic pandering that can sometimes be produced. However, I am still angered when a studio film is so blatantly crafted as a product, with no regards whatsoever towards story and characters. Understandably studios and Hollywood run a business, but some semblance of a balance between the cinematic artistry and capitalistic greed must be achieved.
Scoob! (2020) is the latest reimagining of Scooby Doo for the big screen. This time with CG animation instead of the classic 2D drawings. We pick off briefly when stray Scoob (Frank Welker) gets adopted by a young Shaggy (Iain Armitage), and how they eventually bump into the rest of the Mystery Gang. After solving their first mystery, we jump to the present where Scooby and Shaggy (now voiced by Will Forte) are separated from the rest of the crew in order to go on a world saving event with superhero Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg).
Scooby Doo, Where Are You (1969-1970) and its subsequent rebooted shows all had simple structures around its narrative premise. Each episode had a mystery confined within a single location, and the stereotyped hippie characters would stumble on the solution uncovering a greedy villain. The formula has worked for decades, but when trying to adapt something for the big screen some larger ambitions are obviously demanded. This was done relatively well with the originally-panned live-action films written by James Gunn: Scooby-Doo (2002) and Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004); both were silly films but were very self-aware of the caricatures and ridiculousness of its story. This self-awareness and indulgence into the characters’ original one-dimensionality allowed the live-action films to bring about some semblance of a character arc and simple entertainment.
With this newly animated version, there is a clear disregard to any creative minds. Studio Warner Bros., has already been desperately trying to create something akin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, their parallel superhero DC Universe suffered from a rushed world-building that seemed to be checking off boxes instead of being interested in telling a story. Such is the dire state of their DC Universe which seems to be splintering and faltering. Other studios, desperate to copy Marvel, have also seen embarrassing bombs, such as Universal with their Dark Universe, which only lasted one film (The Mummy (2017)). One would think that Warner Bros. would have learned of their inability to replicate the MCU formula, however, Scoob! shows otherwise. Warner Bros. clearly wants to exploit their Hanna Barbera cartoons (The Flintstones (1960-1966), Dick Dastardly and Muttley (1969-1970), The Jetsons (1962-1963), Yogi Bear (1962-1963)) and are attempting to craft an inexplicably linked cinematic universe around them.
Scoob! quickly forgets about being a Scooby-Doo film at all, leaving out the mystery and haunted aspects for what the filmmakers seem to think young viewers are interested in. During the film there is a smart jab at the original creators of Scooby Doo, with a character describing Shaggy as “what a middle aged man in the 60s thought young people speak like.” It would have been a witty quip if not for the irony infused in it when seeing the rest of the film. Scoob! seems to be a modernization of middle-aged men thinking about what young people like. There is an endless deluge of pathetic references: dabbing, Netflix, Tinder, the phrase “toxic masculinity,” a random racial diversification of characters, etc. This last aspect seemed to be especially frustrating. Velma (Gina Rodriguez) is made Hispanic in this film, and while that would have been a fascinating switch, to see a more diverse Mystery Gang, the only reference we get to this change is Velma exclaiming “increible!” This only occurs once in the film and is never mentioned again. It seems that executives think diversity is simply acknowledging the existence of someone different and then completely ignoring that rich difference for the rest of the film. Diversity is not about a homogenous characterization of different people, but a celebration of those differences instead.
Then there is the plot itself. Not only is the splitting of the Mystery Gang a seeming insult to the great dynamic that they usually had in past iterations, but it seems to be a ploy to fit the Scooby Doo IP into incongruous genres and situations. There is an overdrawn superhero plot, an island of dinosaurs found underneath the south pole, a gladiator ring with cavemen, the mythical Cerberus wreaking havoc on present-day Athens, an interdimensional gate, Alexander the Great and his dog, etc. The narrative felt as if the filmmakers refused to cut out any of the ideas in their original pitch meeting and instead made a smorgasbord of everything.
Scoob! results in a convoluted, dull, and desperate money-grab from Warner Bros, which betrays its own property by trying to create a cinematic universe. The real mystery to be solved here is how could one studio be so oblivious to the characters and story structures that have been profitable for nearly 50 years already?