Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Purchase or Pass: The New Scooby-Doo Movies

What is it about Scooby-Doo?

No, really, I’m curious – why exactly has this been such a popular, enduring franchise? 

I am as fond of Scooby and the gang as any baby boomer that grew up on Saturday morning cartoons, but I find it hard to identify any outstanding qualities in the show that validate its continued prominence for 50 years. 

This video collects all of the opening credit sequences to all of the Scooby shows. It’s more than 20 minutes long – and it doesn’t even count the dozens of direct-to-DVD movies, beginning with 1998’s Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, or the two live-action films from 2002 and 2004.

Some of these versions tried to add layers of depth to the stories or more mature personality aspects to the characters (such as 2010’s Mystery Incorporated), but fans seem divided on whether that’s necessary. Most prefer the basics: Fred driving the Mystery Machine (and usually getting lost or running out of gas), Daphne tripping over something that triggers a trap door, Velma losing her glasses, Shaggy in desperate search of food, and Scooby mixing occasional moments of bravery with consistent cowardice.

And running. Lots and lots of running.

Familiarity accounts for some of why my generation remains loyal – if you grew up with the Scooby gang it’s somehow reassuring to know they are still having new adventures. But in this current age of edgier kid shows I have no answer to why today’s kids enjoy Scooby-Doo mysteries as much as I did back when the Beatles were still together.

New to the Blu-ray market is The New Scooby-Doo Movies: The (Almost) Complete Collection

It’s a vast improvement over the first DVD released for this 1972-1973 series, which left out about half the episodes. Here, you get all but one – “Wednesday is Missing,” featuring The Addams Family. Rumor has it that its deletion was due to John Astin holding out for more money, but you can’t always believe the internet.

If you bought the first set you’ll certainly want to upgrade here. I did, though even as a kid this was far from my favorite iteration– the shows are longer (about 42 minutes) to accommodate the guest stars, but the plots certainly are not any more intricate. Still, this is from the pre-Scrappy era, which automatically places it within the upper echelon of Scooby shows.

What strikes me most in watching it now is the downright strangeness of the guest star selections. Were kids in the early ‘70s really excited to see Scooby-Doo meet Phyllis Diller or Jerry Reed? 

The team-ups with Batman and Robin were a better fit (and are two of the highlights of the set); in fact most of the shows featuring other animated characters – Josie and the Pussycats, Jeannie and Babu, Speed Buggy – have a more organic feel, as if they all existed in the same universe already. 

With other guest stars, the results are decidedly hit-and-miss: Don Knotts (two episodes, both awful), Davy Jones (dull, though it does feature one song from the former Monkee), Jonathan Winters (better than expected), Sandy Duncan (delightful), Sonny & Cher (dreadful – you can picture Cher rolling her eyes at her corny dialogue as she reads the script) and Dick Van Dyke (breezy fun).

In watching them again after many years, I was surprised that my favorite episode was one that didn’t seem to have a chance of succeeding. The guest stars were cartoon versions of Laurel & Hardy, whose heyday was the 1920s and ‘30s. Both members of the iconic comedy team had passed away, so their voices were not original. And yet, everything seemed to work – story, setting, sight gags – even the monster of the week had a few original tricks up its sleeve before his inevitable unmasking. It made me curious to check out the previous cartoon shorts featuring Laurel & Hardy. 

The show looks great on Blu-ray, but don’t expect the same dramatic upgrade in sharpness and definition that was apparent on live-action series like I Love Lucy and Star Trek: The Next Generation. There are a couple of extras but nothing to write home about.

So purchase or pass? If you’re a Scooby-Doo fan, you’ve probably already bought it. If not, this isn’t the best place to get started. 


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  2. Speaking of cartoon shows, Mr. Hofstede, have you seen episodes of the 1992-97 "X-Men" cartoon series (unofficially known as "X-Men: The Animated Series") other than the ones that you reviewed for your 2006 book "5000 Episodes and No Commercials: The Ultimate Guide to TV Shows On DVD 2007"? If so, has your overall opinion of "X-Men: The Animated Series" changed since the book came out? The way I see it, the show's adaptation of "The Dark Phoenix Saga" is pretty faithful (though not ENTIRELY faithful) to the original version that played out in the comic books during the 1979-80 period.

  3. Speaking of Davy Jones, he was the subject of a recent episode of the Reelz TV series "Autopsy: The Last Hours of..."

  4. I guess I was a kid from the early 70s who loved seeing these guest stars, as this was my favorite version of Scooby Doo.

    I remember being surprised to hear John Astin's real voice. I was first familiar with the Addams family from the 1973 cartoon series (where Jodie Foster voiced Pugsley), and I was expecting the 1973 cartoon voice, which Lennie Weinrib did. Weinrib's Gomez voice to me resembled Johnny Carson's Art Fern character, so hearing John Astin's real voice surprised me here.