Traditional movie theatres are finally following suit with drive-in theatres, re-opening their doors in many parts of the world (including here in Canada), now that the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be dying down in several key markets (if not all of them). Despite that however, we still have over a month, at best, before any new movie releases actually arrive on the big screen. Considering that the U.S. is still the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic as well, with surging cases that have forced the majority of U.S. states to either pause re-opening or close business venues again, movie theatres included, it’s all but guaranteed that August’s and September’s remaining tentpole movie releases will slip ever further into 2020, if not 2021. Thus, for now, moviegoers that actually are able to attend movie theatres in their area, drive-in or traditional, still have to rely on classic movies from earlier years, or movies that released at the start of 2020, before lockdowns were ordered.
Even then though, some movies that were originally planned for a theatrical release in a pre-COVID world have nonetheless decided to simply go straight-to-VOD, or straight-to-streaming, ultimately bypassing their planned theatrical runs entirely. Universal’s and Dreamworks Animation’s Trolls World Tour kickstarted this trend, following early home viewing ‘premium rentals’ that Universal authorized for Emma, The Invisible Man and The Hunt. The result was a boycott of all Universal movies at major theatre chains, AMC, Regal and Cineworld. A similar, albeit slightly more veiled threat was then made toward Warner Bros., who had already authorized an early VOD release for their R-rated DC action-comedy, Birds of Prey during the global lockdowns, and ultimately went through with a plan to have their animated family blockbuster, Scoob! also forgo its planned theatrical release entirely, in favour of premiering straight-to-VOD. On top of that, Scoob! would also see an early streaming release on WarnerMedia’s freshly-launched, currently U.S.-exclusive streaming service, HBO Max.
This time, Warner Bros. appears to have called several movie theatres’ bluffs, since they’ve so far received no notice of a boycott from the theatre chains that banned Universal movies (for now), and nor have Paramount, Disney or STX, who have also cancelled some planned theatrical releases in favour of sending them straight to home viewing. Perhaps my point about Trolls World Tour really not being worth so much fuss in the end might have finally hit home with Scoob!, another family-friendly animated blockbuster that has some big ideas, but can only take them so far in its final product. Worse in Scoob!’s case however is that it’s aiming to be yet another shared cinematic universe launchpad for Warner Bros., who already host the DC Extended Universe, Wizarding World universe and Godzilla/Kong MonsterVerse among their modern movie catalogues, but now want to add a shared Hanna-Barbera CG universe to their high-profile movie brands.
Ultimately though, despite their cartoons’ many decades of steady fandom, is the world really crying out for a shared Hanna-Barbera cinematic universe, especially when many of these characters were never designed to co-exist together in the same world? Well, maybe that question is moot with the Scooby-Doo franchise, in fairness, since it’s crossed over with everything from Batman to Supernatural (in fairness, this one at least makes some sense), to WWE, to the Harlem Globetrotters, to even freakin’ KISS! Heck, Scoob! even tries to set the foundation for its proposed Hanna-Barbera film universe with an over-arching crossover that the Scooby-Doo franchise already did many years ago during its original TV run, namely with obscure Hanna-Barbera superhero duo, Blue Falcon and Dynomutt, which Scooby-Doo was formerly paired with on the small screen.
In the end, Scoob! serving as the latest big screen reboot of Scooby-Doo, this time wisely favouring CG animation, instead of the last two ill-fated live-action offerings that Warner Bros. churned out during the 2000’s, makes a lot of sense. It also makes sense that Scoob! be used as the main vector through which to introduce any number of Hanna-Barbera personalities to a shared film continuity, considering how surprisingly flexible the Scooby-Doo franchise has been with even the most ludicrous of crossover ideas. Despite that however, Scoob!, while it’s well-animated and enthusiastically voiced, was clearly dumped on VOD and HBO Max for a reason. Even Warner Bros. seems to be aware that this movie is a failed experiment, and probably won’t lead to the Hanna-Barbera shared universe that they were hoping for. Scoob! may be acceptable, but when you’re trying to launch an entire shared universe off of such a boilerplate, forgettable Scooby-Doo movie reboot, “Acceptable” sadly doesn’t cut the mustard.
Scoob! assembles a pretty impressive lineup of A-list talent for its lead roles, giving the Scooby-Doo franchise the Hollywood treatment once again, for better or for worse. The exception is Frank Welker continuing to voice Scooby himself in this cinematic reboot, which he’s naturally great as ever at doing. The only real gripe with Welker’s performance here is that Scooby is almost too chatty in this movie. Scooby as a character usually communicates in one to a few words, so when he has entire, full-sentence dialogue exchanges with Shaggy, it just sounds bizarre, and takes you out of the movie. Welker does what he can with this kind of material, but Scooby just doesn’t sound quite as charming this time around. Not that this is especially noteworthy, when so much of Scoob! disappointingly lacks the unique charm of the Scooby-Doo franchise specifically, at least outside of a cute establishing intro.
Welker’s Scooby is this time complemented by Will Forte in the role of Norville “Shaggy” Rogers, and to Forte’s credit, while he doesn’t sound much like Shaggy often has throughout the franchise, he does still add his own unique comedic flair to the character. Forte’s usual bumbling appeal may have little in common with the timeless Casey Kasem portrayals of Shaggy, but it nonetheless translates effectively to Shaggy’s character, who remains a well-meaning, but cowardly buffoon that more or less lucks into his success. The double act of Forte and Welker headlining most of Scoob! is pretty charming, though it’s also frequently at odds with Mark Wahlberg’s Blue Falcon, a.k.a. Brian, the well-meaning, but inept son of the original Blue Falcon superhero of Hanna-Barbera fame, who doesn’t mesh as effectively with Scooby and Shaggy as one would initially hope. Wahlberg being in an animated movie at all is kind of novel, and he does a decent job to boot, but Wahlberg’s Blue Falcon clearly belongs in a different movie, where he doesn’t have to be hampered by the presence of Shaggy and Scooby, and vice-versa.
On a separate note, the supporting cast of Scoob! is also pretty superb, if also a little under-utilized in the case of Mystery Inc. Gina Rodriguez’s Velma, Amanda Seyfried’s Daphne and Zac Efron’s Fred are all voiced convincingly and with plenty of gusto, but they too often feel like tag-alongs in their own movie. The excessive focus on the Blue Falcon arc will be of immense disappointment to longtime Scooby-Doo fans that just want to see a Scooby-Doo movie, not a Hanna-Barbera smorgasbord that just happens to feature Scooby-Doo characters as the most recognizable personalities. Jason Isaacs at least gets to have a great time voicing villain, Dick Dastardly though, who is in a race against Blue Falcon’s team to get the three skulls of Cerberus. Isaacs is actually one of the highlight performers in Scoob! as well, particularly when Dastardly’s motivations nicely defy their cliches in favour of a fairly decent spin on the old trope of a treasure-hungry villain.
Yet despite how seemingly packed with Hanna-Barbera personality Scoob! can often be, it ultimately fails to fully leverage many of the interesting character ideas that it brings to the table. This is because the movie is clearly trying to smash several cinematic pitches into one, meaning that Scoob! feels like a confused, soulless mess that just isn’t sure how to go about setting the foundation for a shared Hanna-Barbera movie universe. It would have been a lot more prudent to put the Scooby Gang front-and-center in this case, possibly having them pick up a mystery from the legacy of Blue Falcon, even racing Dick Dastardly for the solution, but Blue Falcon and Dynomutt themselves should not be here. Heck, several other featured Hanna-Barbera characters also needlessly muddle and complicate what should otherwise be a fairly straightforward Scooby-Doo reboot, leading to a stillborn attempt to launch a shared cinematic universe that just isn’t sure what it wants to be.
One of the biggest mysteries in Scoob!, ironically, is the fact that it… Has no mystery. Yes, in one of the most baffling writing decisions behind this supposed shared universe launcher, this movie doesn’t actually present a mystery for Mystery Inc. to solve! That seems like a pretty huge oversight, to say the least. Sure, the characters sometimes claim they’re solving a mystery, but when it comes down to it, they’re really not. Instead, Scoob! is a disappointingly unimpressive odyssey through some obscure Hanna-Barbera properties surrounding the much more well-known Mystery Inc. characters, all mashed together around an objective that feels both insultingly simple, yet also needlessly convoluted.
The inciting incident behind this movie is Scooby and Shaggy being alienated by their friends after years of solving mysteries and outing criminals for Mystery Inc., due to being cowards and apparent liabilities. This is actually an interesting idea, putting Scooby and Shaggy in a feature film spotlight, but still allowing Velma, Daphne and Fred to play an important part in the storyline. From there though, Scoob! quickly starts to feel like a mess. After Scooby and Shaggy then get saved (and practically kidnapped) by Hanna-Barbera superhero duo, Blue Falcon and Dynomutt, along with their ally, Dee Dee (another unrelated, equally obscure Hanna-Barbera character), they become involved in a quest to locate the three skulls of Cerberus, which are also being pursued by Dick Dastardly, yet another lesser-known Hanna-Barbera character! So, Scoob! is not a mystery movie. It’s a scavenger hunt. Great.
This could have worked, had an actual mystery element been injected into the quest for the missing Cerberus skulls. Instead though, Scoob! becomes a movie that’s more interested in pushing Blue Falcon’s and Dynomutt’s agenda than it is Mystery Inc.’s, which immediately makes it feel like it’s missing the point of its own franchise. Warner Bros. made the same mistake here that they already made with shared universe vehicles like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, namely focusing on quantity-over-quality, and constantly trying to distract viewers with shared universe potential within a continuity that people don’t even know if they like yet. Adding insult to injury is that most people at least have a fairly good idea of who the major DC superheroes are, but just about anyone would be hard pressed to recognize many of the lesser-known Hanna-Barbera personalities throughout Scoob!. This especially begs the question as to why we should care about prospective future crossovers in this potential movie series, when Scoob! clearly isn’t interested in organically building up to Hanna-Barbera’s under-appreciated back catalogue.
Scoob! is directed by Tony Cervone, who is usually paired as a co-director with Spike Brandt. In the case of Scoob! however, Brandt appears to be absent, leaving Cervone to helm this movie by himself, in a rare change for the usual duo. Cervone has a long history of working with direct-to-video animation for Warner Bros. (ironically putting the COVID-afflicted Scoob! within his usual wheelhouse), mostly for Tom & Jerry, although he did also direct two straight-to-DVD Scooby-Doo movies. As you can imagine, handing Cervone the directing reins on (originally planned) theatrical blockbuster, Scoob! could optimistically be seen as a way to help him break into upper-tier Warner Bros. animated movies… Or, pessimistically, it could be seen as Warner Bros. cheaping out and hiring one of their direct-to-DVD directors in order to create a blockbuster that looks nice and sounds the part, but is otherwise made with minimal effort, as a quick shared universe launcher (which is practically a paradox to begin with).
As it stands, Cervone’s direction in Scoob! is certainly lively and engaging. It does however feel like direction that’s often designed specifically to amuse children with manic visuals, rather than meaningfully engage adults with clever sight gags and characterization, at least beyond a lot of background gags relating to the most obscure of Hanna-Barbera characters. The direction in Scoob! at least looks like it’s trying, but for any viewers older than ten, Scoob! will probably come off like it’s cheesy and trying too hard. The movie’s hyperactive energy can certainly get a laugh sometimes, in fairness, especially when it’s at least upheld by some truly superb voice work. It’s just too bad that Scoob! feels like it has enthusiasm, but also no real vision, beyond trying to reverse-engineer yet another shared movie universe for the Warner Bros. catalogue.
Scoob! is no doubt the biggest waste of Tom Holkenborg, a.k.a. Junkie XL, in a composer role that I’ve ever seen to date. Holkenborg has delivered some truly outstanding, highly memorable musical scores in high-profile blockbusters, especially with some of his earlier work in Warner Bros.’ own DC Extended Universe movies. In the case of Scoob! however, Holkenborg is very clearly slumming it for a cheque. The music behind Scoob! is so bored and non-descript that it almost completely fails to engage you. Even the random pop and hip-hop tunes that occasionally kick up in Scoob!, which is at least true to the music video sequences of the Scooby-Doo franchise’s past, don’t inject enough of Holkenborg’s anarchistic musical charm to really stand out. Like so many other elements of Scoob!, the soundtrack feels like it lacks a cohesive, over-arching vision.
If I can say one thing in favour of the sound design in Scoob! however, it’s the fact that it does at least efficiently capture the tone and feel of classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Some familiar sound effects from Hanna-Barbera’s earliest Scooby-Doo cartoons are used unaltered in Scoob!, and I have to admit that the CG animation doesn’t disturb their magic at all. There’s a huge amount of energy and charm behind Scoob!’s audio design, which is why it’s kind of bizarre that this same energy behind the audio didn’t translate to the music. If nothing else though, Scoob! at least sounds the part as much as it looks the part. It’s just too bad that there isn’t really anything special underneath that auditory polish, especially when you can practically hear Warner Bros. executives scribbling on checklists in every scene, hoping to focus group their way to more Hanna-Barbera movies.
Easily one of the best elements of Scoob! is its CG animation, which Warner Animation Group has predictably done an amazing job on. While they’re best known for 2014’s The LEGO Movie, a surprising groundbreaker in the realm of cinematic animation, WAG has also proven their chops with more traditional CG-animated projects, including the surprisingly decent Storks and Smallfoot. Even then however, Scoob! is definitely WAG’s best visual work since The LEGO Movie, somehow successfully translating the hand-drawn charm of Hanna-Barbera animation to the CG animation medium. The character designs are excellent, and the lively, super-charged animation in general is very colourful and very eye-catching. Needless to say, Scoob! also looks far, far better than the lacklustre special effects on offer in the two previous, oft-despised live-action Scooby-Doo movies.
This is why it’s kind of a shame that COVID-19 led to Scoob! ditching its planned premiere in movie theatres, and ultimately going straight to VOD/streaming. This animation would have been a real delight to experience on the big screen. As much as it may be an unpopular opinion as well, I also believe that Scoob! would have benefited immensely from a 3D presentation, where its sharp, personality-filled animation could have really shone in a way that just isn’t the same on home viewing. Don’t get me wrong, Scoob! remains a superb testament to WAG’s immense CG animation talents on a television or a tablet. Just as that lovable Hanna-Barbera sound design isn’t enough to save a movie that largely fails to stand out however, Scoob! primarily being defined by its appealing animation doesn’t justify so many problems in its aggressively uninspired storytelling.
Scoob! is just the latest in a long, long line of Scooby-Doo reinventions across movies and television, and it certainly won’t be the last. Some may find small comfort in the fact that this animated reboot is at least better than the dismal duo of live-action Scooby-Doo movies that the 2000’s produced as well. Of all the things that drag Scoob! down however, the two biggest are thus; It doesn’t involve a true mystery, which is literally the most important part of any noteworthy Scooby-Doo storyline, and its storytelling in general is spread far too thin due to its shared universe designs, packing in too many personalities and distractions that over-complicate the otherwise simple plot.
To be fair, longtime Hanna-Barbera fans who would recognize the many obscure properties that Scoob! proudly acknowledges for the first time in decades are bound to really get a kick out of so many dormant, underrated personalities getting a second chance at life in this movie. That nostalgic tickling will inevitably soon be followed by the disappointing fact that Scoob! just isn’t good enough to launch a shared Hanna-Barbera universe though. This fate is no doubt exacerbated by Scoob! opting to skip movie theatres entirely as well, instead thanklessly being dropped on VOD, and HBO Max if you’re American, where it can be enjoyed as an acceptable distraction for children, while having little to no merit for adults.
Scoob! is harmless fun at least, and kids will likely take no issue with it. Adults however, particularly those who have loved Scooby-Doo since their own childhoods, will probably be very disappointed at this franchise’s second lease on cinematic life. Even with Scoob! being a clear improvement over the two outright bad live-action movies that preceded it, one can at least say in the defense of the prior two live-action movies that they built themselves around a real mystery (a bad mystery on both counts, but still a mystery!), and focused squarely on Mystery Inc. and their related personalities! Scoob! however just doesn’t feel genuine. It’s soulless, directionless and disappointingly mediocre, something that even Warner Bros. themselves seem to be aware of, since they really haven’t batted an eye at just dumping Scoob! onto home viewing/streaming and forgetting about it, pandemic or no.
Then again, knowing the Scooby-Doo franchise, this failed movie reboot will be quickly bulldozed away, and soon after replaced with yet another TV reboot, or direct-to-video crossover that no one asked for. Middle-earth vs. Mystery Inc., maybe?
- Lots of well-voiced personalities
- Looks and sounds great
- Commendable effort to showcase lesser-known Hanna-Barbera properties
- Overstuffed storyline that inexplicably lacks a true mystery
- Blue Falcon's team hijacks too much of the movie
- Velma, Fred and Daphne are very under-utilized