Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Rated PG, 94 minutes
Directed by: Tony Cervone
Scooby-Doo is a character who’s stood the test of time. It began as a slapstick Saturday morning cartoon in 1969, was developed into two fairly successful self-aware live-action features in the early aughts, and then returned to its classic animated roots for three series in the past decade. The franchise is once again reinvigorated, this time with the eponymous animated feature SCOOB!, a lively, laugh-out-loud funny, super charming romp that captures the spirit, heart and humor of the original iconic series. By making this story less of a spooky mystery and more about the scheme of a Hanna-Barbera baddie, the refreshing sheen sparkles. It’s perfect for the whole family.
The tale opens on Scooby and Shaggy’s meet-cute in Venice Beach. Young Shaggy (voiced in his youth by Iain Armitage and as an adult by Will Forte) has been struggling to make friends, and stray Scooby (voiced by Frank Welker) is looking for one to save him. Their friendship is immediate and it’s not long until fate brings the rest of the gang together on Halloween night. With new pals Fred (Pierce Gagnon/Zac Efron), Daphne (Mckenna Grace/Amanda Seyfried) and Velma (Ariana Greenblatt/Gina Rodriguez), they uncover a neighborhood haunted mansion is actually a criminal front. Since they had so much fun working together to unmask a villain, they decide to form an ace detective agency, Mystery Inc.
As the years go by and they mature and grow, so does their business. A shocking number of spooks have been apprehended thanks to those meddling kids and their dog. They’re overdue for expansion, which takes capital – money they don’t have. However, the Scooby Gang’s business plans are put on hold when Scooby and Shaggy are saved from a gaggle of deadly mechanical minions sent by the demented Dick Dastardly (voiced perfectly by Jason Isaacs). Their rescue was orchestrated by their heroes Blue Falcon (voiced by Mark Wahlberg), his robot pooch Dynomutt (voiced by Ken Jeong) and brainy badass Dee Dee Skyes (Kiersey Clemons). As Fred, Daphne and Velma piece together the mystery of where their missing members went, the Superhero substitute Scooby Gang enlists Shaggy and Scoob’s help in discovering Dastardly’s evil scheme.
Screenwriters Matt Lieberman, Adam Sztykiel, Jack Donaldson and Derek Elliott inject a sense of frivolity into the Scooby Gang’s hijinks, properly mixing in meta-humor with the action. Even though this isn’t an origin story, it’s heartening to see that what brought these characters together in the first place was kindness and empathy. They also brilliantly speak to dog adoption. The scene where Shaggy welcomes his new best friend home is tender and touching. Plus, it’s fun to see some of the Easter Eggs peppered in (like their reference to Iwao Takamoto, who designed Scooby-Doo in the 60s) and how the dog got his name, definitively answering the question of which came first: Scooby’s name or Scooby Snacks.
There are a few things going on thematically, but the story is easy to track and holds sentiments that might help kid viewers struggling with similar issues, giving them a set of tools to work through their problems. The primary theme revolving around Shaggy and Scooby’s bond examines how fear impacts a friendship. It might be set in extreme circumstances, but it’s resonant nonetheless. The lesson their mission shows them – that everyone has value and a function on a team – is comforting. The secondary theme follows Blue Falcon, who’s desperately searching for a savior moment to uphold his father’s legacy. While he’s keen on stopping the antagonist the entire time, it’s not until the end of act two when he’s at all concerned about finding his hero moment. Lastly, Fred, Daphne and Velma’s initial conundrum about securing financing with two liabilities in their company falls by the wayside almost immediately. That’s fine given they’d be jerks if they ditched the two bumbling boobs. It’s nice that they miss Shaggy and Scooby’s contributions to their group dynamic when they’re inevitably separated.
Despite engineering a narrative that includes standard Marvel-ish ingredients like a MacGuffin-driven plot and a releasing of a dangerous beast/ end of the world climax, the filmmakers deliver an action-packed adventure that’s as entertaining as it is engaging.
SCOOB! is available to own ($24.99), or rent for 48-hours ($19.99) starting on May 15.