Since the late 1960s, one of the longest standing icons in American animation is Scooby-Doo and the members of Mystery Inc. Adding a slight horror-spin to Saturday morning cartoons, their adventures saw them solving spooky mysteries at various locations. And while they never really confronted anything supernatural, their wacky shenanigans made for an entertaining watch for both kids and adults.
This franchise has been the subject of rebooting for as long as it’s existed, with new incarnations rolling out one or twice every decade to varying degrees of success. Some are so good that the formula feels fresh again, while some are so bad that we question why Warner Bros. is still messing with it. Now, the classic characters get a CG-animated update that brings them headlong into the 21st century.
Now, Scooby (Frank Welker), Shaggy (Will Forte), Fred (Zac Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfriend), and Velma (Gina Rodriguez) are looking to expand Mystery Inc. from their personal club to a full fledged business. But that will have to wait as the gang find themselves entangled in their biggest mission yet. Scooby and Shaggy become the targets of the maniacal villain Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs). They pair are rescued and recruited by the legendary Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg), his sidekick Dynomutt (Ken Jeong), and their assistant Dee Dee Sykes (Kiersey Clemons). With their help, the gang is off to stop Dastardly from bringing about an apocalyptic event, as Scooby discovers that he is destined for more than he could’ve ever imagined.
Scoob! is, as said above, Scooby-Doo for the current age. This means that for some, this might not be the Scooby-Doo their looking for. Despite early promise, the film quickly spirals downward in a whirlpool of pop culture references, rote storytelling, and unappealing visuals. Some may be able to forgive it thanks to its abundance references to the franchise’s past, but hardcore fans may walk away disappointed at seeing these characters act like hollow shells of their former selves.
This doesn’t mean that all of the movie gets away unscathed. As a reboot to the series, we are treated to an opening sequence that showcases how Mystery Inc. first met each other. This is, without a doubt, the best part of the whole film. It’s a heartwarming opening that’s so good, it gives you hope that the rest of the movie will be just the same.
But right as this portion ends, the movie’s promise slowly comes to an end too. Immediately, we are treated to a scene that’s 85% references to other movies, Internet culture, and a celebrity cameo that feels eight years too late. And this is only one scene. There are mountains of pop culture jokes that take up the vast majority of the characters’ dialogue. As such, we almost never get to here these characters say their iconic catchprashes. Instead, we get jokes about Netflix and Tinder that feel very out of place.
This also isn’t helped by the voice cast, who don’t ever nail their roles. Much of the original cast has been replaced (except for Scooby), and despite their potential to fill the roles, nobody ever truly comes alive. They’re so bland in their deliveries that they feel like they were being recorded at a table read rather than a sound booth. Efron especially sounds mostly bored with Fred, and Forte can’t quite reach the high bar set by Shaggy’s previous voice actor Matthew Lillard.
The only actor that manages to have some sort of success is Isaacs as Dick Dastardly. While this portrayal of the classic Wacky Races character is nowhere near as fun as that show, Isaacs is the only one who feels like he actually enjoys playing his character. He almost never sounds bored when speaking, and makes the character one of the more watchable moments of the film.
Aside from the bland acting, the portrayal of the characters is probably going to make some people mad. The Mystery Inc.’s classic personalities are mostly thrown to the side in favor of making them typical, social media obsessed millennials. Even Scooby and Shaggy’s obsession with all things food is used more as a blink-and-miss sight gag rather than being who they truly are.
Also, there’s nothing visually appealing about this movie. The gang’s transition to CG-animation ends up looking wooden. Various shots attempt to recreate the cartoonish look of the original traditional animation, but when put into a more realistic environment, it just looks weird. The people look like plastic figures that barely move, while background characters look like they haven’t finished rendering. When compared to the standards of 3D animation, there’s nothing in this movie that truly jumps out.
The script is also all over the place. Rather than work with the franchise’s formula, the movie opts for an uninspired and convoluted adventure story that doesn’t really have a mystery to it. It feels more like a mishmash of superhero and blockbuster clichés rather than a true Scooby-Doo story, so much so that it’s actually easy to forget you’re watching a Scooby-Doo film.
There’s also nothing happening that can make us root for the characters. Sadly, like many movies like Star Wars: Episode IX and Captain Marvel, the film feels the need to hold a child’s hand and tell them “nothing bad will happen to Scooby or Shaggy.” If the characters are about to go into a perilous battle, someone gives a long-winded explanation on exactly how they will make it out unhurt. There’s no stakes, and therefore, we have no reason to hope that they’ll make it to the end.
Like most big movies today, it’s biggest interest is setting up for future sequels. This is meant to be the first installment in cinematic universe revolving around classic Hanna-Barbera characters. However, this film makes the same mistakes as Universal’s defunct Dark Universe. It unloads everything all at once rather than focus on its own central characters, and it ends up feeling like the studio cares more about what could lead to a sequel or spin-off than the movie their making right now.
Scoob! very quickly squanders the potential it had by diverging from what makes Scooby-Doo so iconic and devolving into a third-rate Avengers rip-off. It almost makes sense that this was released straight to VOD, because it looks and feels more like a cheap, home video release rather than a theatrical blockbuster. It makes even more sense when you realize that the director, Tony Cervone, specializes in doing home released Scooby-Doo and Tom and Jerry films. As much as it would be awesome for these characters to get modern treatments, this is certainly not the way to do it.