It’s the newly shortened handle that gets you, right? “Scooby-Dooby? Pfft. That’s a child’s name. I’d like to be taken seriously now, thank you, so I prefer ‘Scoob.’ (‘Mr. Doo’ is my father’s name.)” Does the shortened title hint at a sort of darker, revisionist redo for the Mystery Inc. bunch? Will we discover that those snacks, the one everyone’s sixth-favorite cartoon dog (seventh if we agree that Goofy hails from the genus Canis) keeps munching on, has opioid-level addictive properties? And that his stoner icon/oversize-sandwich connoisseur buddy Shaggy once shot a man in Reno just to watch him die? What, exactly, is Velma hiding, and why can’t she see without her glasses?!
Or is the more compact moniker Scoob!, exclamation point duly noted, simply an easier way to rebrand-reintroduce a Saturday-morning-cartoon title that means a lot to Gen X’ers and millennials, but maybe not so much to today’s rug rats? Like a lot of new movies based on old entertainment for kids, this goofy, colorful animated take on Scooby-Doo and the gang relies on a time-tested, four-pronged attack. You get pop-culture references, the more meta the better: punchlines involving Tinder and podcasts and toxic masculinity are good; if you can have someone describe Shaggy’s voice as “a middle-aged man’s idea of how a hippie talks,” that’s bonus points. You get celebrities, i.e., the dulcet tones of Zac Efron, Mark Wahlberg, and Gina Rodriguez, plus Will Forte doing a passable imitation of Casey Kasem’s puberty-still-in-progress Shaggy lilt. (Scooby is voiced by Frank Welker, who also did the original Seventies toon’s Fred.) You get poop jokes — in this case, pterodactyl poop, because listen, go big or go home, except you’re already home, as Warners is releasing this straight to VOD, and let’s face it, parents, you’re renting this because you really need those kids to chill out for a bit.
And you get nostalgia, specifically aimed at moms and dads for whom that bongo bada-bada-bada-ba-zing sound effect, to denote running in place, is a bona fide Proustian madeleine. There are a ton of those here, as well as a library’s worth of Hanna-Barbera yoinks and bloops, which feels both weird and warming when they’re soundtracking the movie’s industry-standard, eerily smooth digital animation. But there’s a lot of Hanna-Barbera here, period, which brings us to what might be the real reason that Scoob! exists. The animation house was purchased by the Turner Broadcasting System in the 1990s. Later, after a merger, their catalog was absorbed by Warner Animation. Which means that the studio was sitting on a lot of characters created by the animation giants … so why not take advantage of that? They’re already making a movie about Scooby-Doo. Why stop there? It’s a guh-guh-guh-great opportunity for an intellectual-property universe build-out!
So, yes, there’s Scoob, Shaggy, and the rest of the team in the psychedelic van. And there’s Blue Falcon (Wahlberg), who’s a bit of an arrested-adolescent boob, and Dyno-Mutt (Ken Jeong), borrowing the lanky dude and his dog so they can nab Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs). The villain has hatched a plan involving Muttley, naturally, as well as ancient Greece and the skulls of Cerebrus, which will hopefully get kids into learning more about mythology? [Narrator’s voice: It will not.] Captain Caveman puts in an appearance — you can find out who voices him on IMDb, but trust us, it’s better if it’s a surprise — and if you look closely, you’ll notice some Laff-A-Lympics and Hong Kong Phooey shout-outs. Regrettably, Scrappy-Doo does not make an appearance, though that will not stop the powers that be from greenlighting a spinoff titled, we assume, Scrap! if this is successful enough.
Look, no one is expecting Citizen Scoob here. This is not cinema, it’s a $19.99 48-hour distraction. There are giant monsters and spaceships and superheroes and robots that can turn into either chainsaw-wielding mecha-scorpions or cutesy droids for the kids, plus some platitudes about friendship. There’s a Marvin Gaye needle drop, a joke about latent homosexuality, and an Ira Glass cameo for the adults. Both camps will love the pterodactyl poop. The original cartoon’s credit sequence, redone with modern computerized shininess, is indeed a gas to witness. The rest is basically corporate synergy, canine shenanigans, and hot air. Zoinks, indeed.