Scoob!' coming to iTunes on May 15, bypassing theaters and rental ...

The Scooby-Doo property has been around since 1969, but believe it or not, Scoob! is the first full-length, theatrically released animated feature to come out of this brand and it takes the Mystery Inc.’s members on a new, but not entirely satisfying path.

After being told off by Simon Cowell (Yes, that Simon Cowell), Shaggy (Will Forte), and Scooby (The incomparable Frank Welker) leave their pals to go bowling when they are chased by aww-inducing, but deadly robots who are intent on attacking them. They are beamed up to the Falcon Fury where they meet Dynomutt, Dee Dee Sykes, and the adult son of their childhood idol, Brian (Mark Whalberg), who struggles to live up to the expectations placed on him by his father’s tenure as the superhero Blue Falcon (Basically Robin with confidence issues.). They soon find themselves at the center of a grand prophecy where Scooby is the key to opening the gates of hell and must be protected before Dick Dastardly uses him to unleash havoc on the world and retrieve his sidekick Muttley.

Scooby-Doo’s resonance in our cultural lexicon has long surpassed that of it’s Hanna Barbera cohorts. Nearly 50 years later, people are still finding new ways to update the original cartoon and crank out new iterations of the adventures of Scooby, Shaggy, Velma, Daphne, and Fred. To Scoob!’s credit, it does a fine job of breathing new life into a reliable, time-tested formula and greatly expands its scope. 

Scoob! Is set to be the catalyst for a Hanna Barbera cinematic universe (For the rest of this review, I’m just going to refer to this as the HBU for the sake of conciseness)  that would feature the various characters from their catalog of cartoons. That seems like a fun idea and I am curious to see where that potential franchise is headed in the wake of Scoob!, but the results so far are not great. I understand this is only their first outing, but Scoob! fails to see what makes a cinematic universe successful. It’s about steady build-up from one character to another, each film building on that of the previous. I wouldn’t write off this cinematic universe just yet, after all, it is only their first outing, but Scoob! reveals too much of its hand for what is supposed to be an introduction to this new era of Hanna Barbera’s characters. 

Scoob! has an affinity for the series it spawned from. In the opening minutes, we get a faithful recreation of the original show’s title sequence and countless references that only the most seasoned fans will truly appreciate. It is telling that you’ll find way more of the passion for this property in the smaller details and deep in the background of this film and not at the forefront of the story being told and that gets to the root of this film’s greatest flaw. While watching Scoob!, I yearned for the simple, but rewarding thrills found in a traditional Scooby-Doo adventure. They come now and then, but they’re pretty fleeting in the grand scheme of a film that routinely feels contrived and sloppy.

The voice cast is packed, but unfortunately very few of them bring a lot to this film. The entire Mystery Inc. crew are such radically distinct personalities that it seems difficult to distill the essences of those characters in one single voice performance. That said,  I was disappointed with the voice performances of Daphne (Amanda Seyfried), Velma (Gina Rodriguez), and Fred (Zac Efron). The film coasts more on their star power than it does the substance of their performances. They bring very little energy to the film and their performances lack the gusto necessary to correctly bring these characters to life. As usual, Frank Welker is excellent, but he’s also been playing Scooby-Doo for literally decades and has made a career out of transforming into various characters using only his voice. Mark Whalberg’s role is a welcome surprise. He’s really fun and brings a lively, spirited force to Scoob!. In terms of Whalberg’s career arc, it comes pretty out of left field to have Whalberg play an insecure, dimwitted low-rate superhero, but I found him to be pretty delightful.

The title Scoob! seems apt because while it features the entire Mystery Inc. crew, at its core, this is a Shaggy and Scooby story. The plot can sometimes feel like a Mad Libs-like exercise (Seriously, Simon Cowell, the gates of hell and the skulls of Cerberus all find their way into this film’s story), but it’s the bond between Shaggy and Scooby that grounds Scoob! and gives the film a sense of heart. The main thing that this property benefits from transitioning to a feature-length runtime are the degree to which the characters can grow in comparison with a normal Scooby-Doo outing. There are actual emotional stakes when it comes to the growing divide between Shaggy and Scooby and their interpersonal conflict is decidedly more effective than the supernatural one that unfortunately takes a much greater hold on the film.

If you’re a fan of Scooby-Doo, I think it’s pretty likely you’ll enjoy this, but otherwise, if this is a sign for the movies coming our way on VOD in these unprecedented times then I am deeply worried and I can’t say I’d recommend this film especially with its $20-plus price tag.

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