VOD film review: Scoob!
Brendon Connelly | On 03, Oct 2020
Director: Tony Cervone
Cast: Will Forte, Mark Wahlberg, Jason Isaacs
Watch Scoob! online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Virgin Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
Remakes and reboots always seem to be a top ten argument topic for film buffs on the internet. One popular and over-repeated wrangling point is that remakes should be for good ideas that didn’t quite work the first time around. Meanwhile, the film industry itself prefers a policy of remaking old hits, trying to get a second bite of what has already proven successful. The long and tangled history of Scooby-Doo, in all of his varied incarnations, supplies plenty of ammunition for both sides.
Because no matter how charming and rich in potential the original Scooby-Doo, Where are You? series might have been, there’s no denying it left lots of room for improvement. Tight budgets, absurd production schedules and the restrictions of late-60s children’s TV combined to create a show that was sometimes clunky and certainly repetitive – both in terms of its plotting and at the more micro-scale, with frames and animation cycles frequently reused.
Over the subsequent 50 years, there have been many remakes and reboots of that original series. The most newly released is Scoob! – by no means the first feature-length adaptation but the first to be fully animated and intended for cinemas. It both has a lot to live up to and decades of promise to deliver upon.
Fifteen years ago, Scoob! might have been a genuine high point of Scooby media. Unfortunately, it’s coming after two very successful TV series – 2010’s Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated and 2015’s Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! – that really set the Scooby bar high.
Mystery Incorporated – which can currently be streamed with Amazon Prime in the UK – gave us a belated Buffy-fication of Scooby-Doo. It has an overall arc, as well as monsters of the week, and it’s decorated with interwoven strands of genre-savvy and relatable, up-to-date characterisation. It’s funny, exciting, and probably won’t be easily beaten for Scooby-Doo buffs who want something a little more substantial.
Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! – which airs on CITV in the UK – plays with a far cartoonier style, and is very much a series rather than a serial. It’s easy to dip into Be Cool at random for a one-off, gag-packed adventure. It’s an extremely formulaic show, which has always been part of the Scooby-Doo appeal, and playing with familiar catchphrases and basic plot structure are all part of the point. It’s modern and nostalgic all at once, and it works because the cast are superb, the jokes are funny, and the underlying formula is extremely clear yet supple.
Scoob! attempts a little of all of the above, and while it’s sometimes successful on most counts, it fails at least as often. Jokes fall flat, plot points don’t add up, and riffs on the formula end up stale rather than fun in-jokes. In between all of this, some gags are delightful (little Velma’s Halloween costume is awesome) and some tiny bits of business are quietly inventive.
When Scoob! works, it’s OK. It really is. It’s very often fine for a bit, until it face-plants again, before getting back on its feet for a little more stumbling along. Another draft of the screenplay would have gone a long way to sorting out this tangle of cop-out mediocrity and half-hearted ambition.
It’s often said that the best family films will appeal to both children and adults on different levels. Scoob! might instead be divided along lines of appeal for Scooby-Doo die-hards and everybody else. It’s likely enjoyable for most fans to see more from these beloved characters, even in these generally underwhelming renditions – the exception, incidentally, is a rather winning Velma, who (despite being very much a supporting character) gets the best vocal performance, courtesy of Gina Rodriguez, and has the opportunity to do at least a bit of detective work.
Talking of the vocal performances, only Scooby himself is cast with an actor from the shows – the ever-dependable Frank Welker – and movie star names were called in for the rest of Mystery Inc. They’re mostly OK, but they simply aren’t as on-point or convincing as any of the numerous TV casts. Not employing Matthew Lillard as Shaggy is the most egregious failing; Will Forte’s performance is more than solid, it’s just significantly and obviously lesser than the performance Lillard has been delivering on TV of late.
Fans can get a kick out of the (many) callbacks and references to classic episodes, and be drawn in closer to the action whenever a bit of the Where Are You? soundtrack kicks in, but to the average eight-year old, none of this is likely to have any effect. Neither are the numerous inclusions of characters and lore from other Hanna-Barbera shows, from a Hong Kong Phooey arcade game to the film’s antagonist, slickly manifest as Jason Isaacs’ effortlessly oily Dick Dastardly.
As a story, Scoob! is an absolute mess. Despite the title, Shaggy is very much the protagonist, but he’s absolutely not able to resolve his own plot without being superseded by the others, and there are some nonsense get-out-of-jail-free clauses in Dick Dastardly’s scheme that dissipate the stakes and make a mockery of whatever story the filmmakers thought they were telling. Shaggy’s relationship with Scooby-Doo is rather undernourished throughout, despite being in the spotlight for much of the duration. There’s a running joke about Simon Cowell that starts life as a misguided version of a fairly practical plot point – he’s there to put pressure on the gang’s bonds of friendship – before grinding the audience’s patience into dust.
For all of the good work done by pretty much every department in bringing Scoob! to life, this film doesn’t have the courage of its convictions, and takes the wrong shortcuts far too often. Thankfully, there’s lots of Scooby-Doo in the world already, with new episodes and a fresh TV movie coming in the next few weeks, that however much audience might not be satisfied with Scoob, it needs to be nothing more than a gentle dip in the overall Scooby-Doo story.