I love the slogan (‘mystery loves company’) for this new animated spin on the long-standing Scooby-Doo franchise and also that it uses the original ‘Scooby-Doo Where Are You?’ theme song other iterations have been suprisingly hesitant to deploy – but it has the feel of something made to further monetise IP rather than to have fun with.
Intended as the first theatrical outing for Mystery Inc since the two live-action features, this had – thanks to circumstances beyond its control – to make its debut in many territories as a VOD item, which means it has to stand next to non-theatrical franchise stuff like live-action items Scooby-Doo: The Legend Begins and Daphne and Velma, the terrific two-season cartoon reinvention Mystery Inc, and the unexpected gem of Scooby-Doo and Batman The Brave and the Bold, all of which are somehow more likeable than this over-busy ground-clearing exercise whose not-so hidden agenda seems to be to start up a Hanna-Barbera cinematic universe by splitting up the Mystery Machine gang to bring in versions of second-tier characters (Dyno-Mutt, the Blue Falcon, Captain Caveman) and pitting them against big bad Dick Dastardly (voiced by a well-cast Jason Isaacs), who has conveniently lost his usual sidekick Muttley in Hell but replaced the snickering moth-eaten hound with a horde of burbling, cute-scary transforming robots who work very hard not to be ripoffs of the Minions though that’s pretty much exactly what they are.
The end credits throw in a ton of other H-B characters, like Jonny Quest and Frankenstein Jr, but I get the impression a raft of their better-known creations – Yogi Bear, Top Cat – are unavailable to them because the rights have been sub-licensed. It opens with another stab at an origin story – we’ve had a ton of them, including A Pup Named Scooby-Doo – as lonely, new-in-town Shaggy (Iain Armitage) hooks up with a nameless stray dog at the beach and then falls in with the rest of the gang at Halloween (Velma is dressed as Ruth Bader Ginsberg, which is one of the funnier ideas) and thwart a typical villain-disguised-as-a-ghost baddie. There’s something a bit off about this – we first meet Scoob as he steals a meat lump from a kebab shop and is chased by a cop, undermining his typical sweet/cowardly image, and later developments where he drifts away from his best friend when the Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlburg) – actually, the retired superhero’s feckless son – gives him a super-powered suit.
The script feels as if it started out with an actual parallel plot – Shaggy (voiced by Will Forte, replacing the much-missed Matthew Lillard) and Dastardly are both estranged from their dog sidekicks and reunited in the climax – then that got lost in the search to toss in more cameo stuff, with Captain Caveman (Tracy Morgan) especially beside the point, with an odd failure to make much of the inclusion of three contrasting dog sidekicks (Dyno-Mutt, clever adjunct to an idiot hero, is the other) who somehow fail to share scenes or make any connections. Okay, so the filmmakers probably reckoned the audience would just enjoy more one-off silly jokes (not all terrible) and a climax involving a big bad (Cerberus) escaping from the underworld and rampaging kaiju-style through Athens than subtextual underpinning … but this is still a scrappy mess (mercifully Scrappy-free, though) beside The Brave and the Bold. Frank Welker does the Rooby-Roo voice but his usual role of Fred goes to Zac Efron, with Velma given an almost subliminal latina makeover by Gina Rodriguez and Amanda Seyfried doing what she can with Daphne. Directed by Tony Cervone, who’s done previous team-up and crossover projects – sending Tom and Jerry to Oz (twice), and arranging collisions like Scooby-Doo! And Kiss: Rock and Roll Mystery and The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age Smackdown.