Scooby-Doo and the rest of Mystery Incorporated have appeared in something like 40 films in addition to their dozen or so television series since 1969. But Scoob and the gang never made it to the big-screen in animated form. That was supposed to change with Scoob! which was designed as a blockbuster reboot of the long-running kids franchise — until the coronavirus pandemic sent the movie straight-to-VOD like so many other Scooby-Doo mysteries.

Premiering at home might not have been the worst decision for Scoob! On the big screen, this film would have looked like very small potatoes, even with an excessive amount of guest stars from the Hanna-Barbera library and a ham-fisted attempt to capture the zeitgeist by shoving most of the classic characters to the side and adding a bunch of superheroes into the mix.

Yes, Scoob! is much more of a two-hander, or at least a one-hander-and-one-pawer, with Shaggy (Will Forte) and Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker, the original voice of Fred and the regular voice of Scooby since 2002) dominating the story. A prologue reveals how Shaggy and Scooby first met as kids, and even where Scooby got his wacky name and signature blue-and-gold collar, in case those were things you ever wondered about. Fast-forward ten years and Scooby and the Mystery Incorporated crew are looking to expand their business — only to find that the timid and clumsy Shaggy and Scoob are too much of a liability for their potential investors.

Warner Bros. Pictures

That sends Scooby and Shaggy careening off on their own, and into a team-up with the old Hanna-Barbera heroes Blue Falcon and Dynomutt, who’ve been revamped so Falcon is the bumbler (voiced by Mark Wahlberg) and his dog sidekick (Ken Jeong) is the competent one. They’re also partnered with Dee Dee (Kiersey Clemons) from the old Captain Caveman show, and together they’re on a quest to stop Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs), best known as the sniveling baddie from the Wacky Races cartoon, from collecting some mystical trinkets and unlocking a gateway to the underworld.

There are plenty of homages to Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, including a new version of its original credits sequence and lots of exaggerated sound effects that could have been lifted straight from the Hanna-Barbera archives. Still, even with all the throwbacks, Scoob! doesn’t really feel like the old shows. The laidback vibe of kids fighting supernatural threats and bad cases of the munchies has been replaced by enormous action setpieces. Fred (Zac Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried), and Velma (Gina Rodriguez) are barely in the film. In their place are a lot of high-tech gadgets, and a ton of schtick involving Blue Falcon, who inherited his mantle and might not be cut out for crimefighting. Instead of updating the material, Scoob! mostly exchanges it for other stuff. Good old Fred doesn’t even get to wear a neckerchief.

Warner Bros.

Redesigned costumes aside, Scoob! at least looks fairly good. Director Tony Cervone, an animation veteran who directed many direct-to-video Scooby-Doo films, finds a CG visual style that honors the elastic physics and angular characters of old 2D animation. (The new version of Dynomutt is particularly fun to watch as he unfurls his extending limbs and gadgets.) Without question, this is the best the Scooby-Dooers have ever looked. And the new Mystery Incorporated voices are good when they’re onscreen. Efron makes a suitably starchy Fred, and Forte nails the spirit of Shaggy without doing a slavish imitation of Casey Kasem.

The movie just doesn’t seem that interested in doing anything with them beyond polishing up some dusty IP for another shot at the mainstream. Look, I’m the guy who once wrote an op-ed called “Scooby-Doo Is Dumb,” so I’m definitely not the target audience for Scoob! But I’m not sure there is a target audience for Scoob! Who would it be? Folks who claim to like Scooby-Doo, but don’t care for most of the actual characters or the fact that the supernatural ghouls and monsters are always just dudes in rubber masks? Die-hard Dynomutt and Blue Falcon fans? This is a mystery not even Mystery Incorporated could solve.

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