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Scoob! (2020)

Surely nobody who watched the original TV series Scooby-Doo Where Are You? when it first aired back in 1969 could ever have imagined that the characters would have endured for more than fifty years. Through multiple reinventions and remakes the times have changed, but Scooby, Shaggy and the rest of Mystery Inc have stayed pretty much the same. As part of Warner Media's efforts to make the most of their extensive animation catalogue to find new hits, 2020's Scoob is perhaps the biggest departure for the franchise yet.

The first fully animted feature in the Scooby-Doo canon to be made for cinemas (although it ended up heading straight to digital due to lockdown) the film is produced by Warner Animation Group, with animation produced by Animal Logic (The LEGO movies). Director Tony Cervone makes his debut on a theatrical feature, after having cut his teeth on various direct-to-video Scooby-Doo and Tom and Jerry movies and TV series episodes. The screenplay was written by Adam Sztykiel, Jack C Donaldson, Derek Elliott and Matt Leberman.  Original studio Hanna Barbera (now part of WarnerMedia's sprawling empire) was also a co-producer on the project.

People love to throw the label 'reboot' around, but Scoob is the genuine article- a completely fresh take on the material. The story provides us with a new origin story for the first meeting of Shaggy and Scooby, and then the rest of the gang- all happening when they were children (or a puppy in Scooby's case). Jumping forward 10 years, the gang is about to make Mytery Inc an official business Their plans are derailed when Shaggy and Scooby are attacked and soon find themselves teaming up with Blue Falcon, Dynomutt and Dee Dee Skyes and caught up a race to prevent the 'dogpocalypse'.

As far as efforts to bring 2D characters into 3DCG go, on a visual level WAG have done a commendable job. The main cast are all instantly recognisable, with their designs staying true to their traditional looks. Right down to their distinctive outfits, which retain their basic look and colour-scheme while being slightly modernised. Scooby himself looks spot on, just as goofy and lovable as ever. The characters themselves have generally clean and not-too-flashy designs that do the job just fine without drawing too much attention to themselves. Scooby-Doo has never been a property associated with high-quality animation, so on a technical level, it's certainly a step up.

The movie attracted criticism from fans for replacing the established cast who have been voicing their respective roles for years in favour of well-known names. The replacement for Shaggy, Will Forte has proven himself an excellent voice actor (The Willoughbys, Clone High) and does a decent enough job, but it's not a patch on Matthew Lilliard's perfect recreation of the original performance in both the live-action movies and subsequently in animation. 

Otherwise, as is so often the case with A-list voice talent Zac Efron (Fred), Amanda Seyfried (Daphne) and Gina Rodriguez (Velma) give competent but completely unmemorable performances that sadly don't bring anything that career voice-actors couldn't have done just as well, if not better (except providing a name to stick on the poster). The only returning voice actor is the legendary Frank Welker as Scooby himself, who is, of course, excellent (although a more talkative Scooby takes some getting used to for anyone who hasn't watched any Scooby-Doo in ages).

We see flashes of the 'classic' Scooby adventures- entering a spooky mansion, unmasking a 'ghost'- while they are kids, and with a fantastic recreation of the classic 1969 title sequence. Also pretty great later on is a chase through a spooky abandoned theme park, especially the part in the hall of mirrors. But other than that, for the majority of the time- the problem is that it just doesn't really feel much like Scooby-Doo. 

Mainly, this is probably because they tried to bite off more they can chew. With much fanfare, it was announced that Scoob would just be just the start of a shared Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe. As such, it also features major roles for other characters from the HB roster. At least this is a set of characters with form in that department- Scooby-Doo alone has had dozens of crossovers.

Many writers who have attempted to emulate Marvel's success in world building have come unstuck by trying to rush things and doing too much too soon. With that said, Blue Falcon, Dynomutt and Dee Dee (highly obscure superhero characters from the HB vault) do at least bring some entertainment value.

Cherry-picking characters also allows them to do bring in Dick Dastardly,  although he doesn't look much like his iconic design, there's no sign of his snickering sidekick Muttley and for some reason, he's British now, so you'd be hard pushed to recognise him. Jason Issacs (Mark Kermode says hello) is having a whale of time hamming it up voicing him though, so it's not a total bust.

More successfully, the film is full of easter eggs for fans, from characters and businesses named after those who made the original series, to a Hong Kong Fuey sticker seen in one location- to the fact that Dastardly's ship's design is based on his Wacky Races car. These add something extra to the film without distracting from anything important.

Also contributing to the feeling that doesn't feel much like Scooby is the overall plot itself. Mystery Inc's antics have always been fairly low-stakes and for all their problems, even the live-action movies understood that. Having them deal with a potentially world-ending plot, and a supernatural one at that just doesn't feel very on-brand for this series or Hanna Barbera in general. Dick Dastardly's ambitions have grown a lot bigger than trying to win a race or stop that pigeon. It's more appropriate for a superhero movie than Scooby-Doo. If only more screenwriters realised that not every film has to have that level of threat to feel cinematic. 

It also falls prey to another annoying trend in fictional writing across all media- feeling the need to tie everything into a sense of destiny and making every protagonist 'the chosen one'. Did we really need to know about how Scooby and Shaggy met? Does Scooby really need to be 'the most important dog in the world?' 

Throw in some other odd decisions, like some decidedly off-colour jokes and some really strange cameos (Simon Cowell and his son, Ira Glass) and at times I was left wondering who exactly the film is for.

For the kids who will make up a large part of this movie's audience of course, none of this will matter. There will be plenty of children who will see this as their first experience of Scooby and co.  Taken out of its historical context, Scoob is energetically entertaining and will more than pass muster for fodder for family film night.

As a Scooby-Doo film, it's less successful, and fans hoping for a faithful adaptation will be left wanting. In the effort to bring it up to date and to launch a shared universe, the real spirit of Scooby seems to have vanished somewhere along the way. Which is a great shame, as the rare flashes we see of the gang's everyday adventures hint at what could have been.



IN A NUTSHELL:  Scoob! Is an entertaining enough film in itself but as a Scooby-Doo adaptation it leaves much to be desired. Ruh-Oh!