Less than 60 seconds into “SCOOB!” a police officer utters the phrase, “grand theft gyro,” and at that point, it’s clear just what kind of movie you’re about to witness.
Scooby-Doo and Co. have entertained children and adults alike for over five decades, solving mystery after mystery and unmasking crooks right and left. Usually these revelations are made on television, but Mystery, Inc. has made an occasional appearance on the big screen, too. Now, the Mystery Machine is once again rolling its way into another feature film, and considering the gang’s last big-screen adventure came in 2004, the biggest mystery in need of solving is how to make Scooby-Doo relevant for a whole new generation of viewers.
In 2020, that calls for a cinematic universe. Instead of focusing on the characters audiences have grown to love over the last 50-plus years, “SCOOB!” tries its hand as a not-so-subtle backdoor introduction into the Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe. As a result, your favorite group of crime-solving hippies are pushed to the back burner as Warner Bros. and director Tony Cervone throw literally everything at the wall in hopes that something will stick.
Unfortunately, the result is not much. Ruh-roh.
The whole crew is back, and Warner Bros. has put together a star-studded voice cast to bring them to life, with Zac Efron voicing Fred, Amanda Seyfried as Daphne, Gina Rodriguez as Velma, Will Forte as Shaggy and franchise veteran Frank Welker returning as Scooby-Doo.
After years of solving cases out of the Mystery Machine, it’s time for Mystery, Inc. to set up shop in a real brick and mortar building, but for that, they need an investor. Enter Simon Cowell.
Yes, for some peculiar reason American Idol star Simon Cowell is included in “SCOOB!” – marking just one of the film’s many dated pop culture references. But Cowell refuses to fund the gang as long as the burdensome Shaggy and Scooby are involved, so with hurt feelings, Shaggy and Scooby leave their friends behind. That’s when things take a turn.
Dejected and on their own, the duo is attacked by Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs), an evil explorer searching for some series of McGuffins that will allow him to pillage the ancient treasure of Alexander the Great. But in order to do so, he needs Scooby-Doo – the last remaining ancestor of the Greek legend’s faithful canine companion, Peritas.
Scooby and Shaggy are rescued by a host of Hanna-Barbera heroes including Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg), Dee Dee Skyes (Kiersey Clemons) and Dynomutt (Ken Jeong). From there the quest is on to thwart Dastardly’s evil plan, save the world, travel the globe, and meet as many Hanna-Barbera characters as possible.
This movie is truly all over the place – both literally and figuratively. In a matter of 94 minutes the gang travels from Venice Beach to the middle of the desert, makes a stop at an abandoned amusement park, drops by a mystical, prehistoric island and ultimately ends up in Ancient Greece. This whiplash-inducing globe trotting is a product of a story so hellbent on showing you everything that it never stops to actually develop anything.
At the film’s start, it seems like that might not be the case. We see the origin of Scooby and Shaggy’s age-old friendship along with the foundation of Mystery, Inc. and the gang’s first case as tweenagers. It’s actually a genuinely heartwarming origin story. But once the film flashes back to the present day, all that emphasis on character development goes right out the window, because there’s a cinematic universe to build!
One of the most pressing issues with “SCOOB!” is its inability to determine a target audience. Obviously, Scooby-Doo has always been catered towards children, and while brightly colored cartoons and flashy action sequences are often enough to do the trick, the script raises questions. Beyond a few slapstick moments, there aren’t many jokes here that will land with younger viewers. Instead, pop culture references like Cowell’s appearance or Shaggy and Scooby’s random rendition of “Shallow” will pass right over their heads – but they don’t hit the mark with adults, either. “SCOOB!” is so overly concerned with inserting as many meta references as possible that its writers never stopped to realize that in 2020 both dabbing and “All I Do Is Win” are extremely dated.
One thing “SCOOB!” gets right, though, is its animation. In an age when animation has seemingly become one-style-fits-all, Warner Bros. Animation has added a new twist on the classic cartoon style. After creative successes like “The Lego Movie,” “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” and “Smallfoot” each brought their own animation style to the screen, it’s no surprise that “SCOOB!” does the same.
As “SCOOB!” attempts to stretch a Saturday morning cartoon into a feature-length film and capture a new audience, it ends up overstuffed with far too many plots, characters and references to make any sense. The resulting jumble feels disingenuous to the franchise’s core characters and principles as Warner Bros. attempts to test the waters for future projects. Despite its flashy style and impressive voice cast, there’s not enough substance here to justify dropping $20 to stream “SCOOB!” at home.
Star Rating: 1 out of 5
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Charlotte, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.