Ignore the weird Simon Cowell gags. Despite its rocky start, Tony Cervone’s “Scoob!,” eventually moves past squeezing in gags about modern tastemakers (do kids even know who Simon Cowell is?) to become a loving, if silly, introduction to the stars of Hanna-Barbera’s wide-ranging animated universe. Part origin story of the Mystery, Inc. team (Scooby-Doo and the rest of them, for newbies), part Hanna-Barbera homage, the animated feature is a charming enough diversion that adds to the appeal of the original show.
While the choice to move “Scoob!” from theatrical release to a premium VOD home has been met with far less outrcry than the same decision on the part of “Trolls World Tour,” the film deserves just as much attention. If nothing else, all those locked down eyeballs might suddenly feel inspired to dig deeper into the Hanna-Barbera back catalogue, which has many gems to offer. While “Scoob!” mostly functions as a new-school entry into the world of the titular dog and his human pals, it’s also populated by a variety of other erstwhile cartoon stars, from Dynomutt and Blue Falcon to Captain Caveman. And, yes, all of them get more screen time than the oddly life-like rendering of Cowell that haunts the feature.
Opening just before the formation of Mystery, Inc., Cervone’s film (which somehow boasts six screenwriters) recognizes early on the power of its furry hero, introducing him as a pup on the cusp of greatness. He’s alone (and so is tween Shaggy, voiced by Iain Armitage as a youngster and a well-cast Will Forte as an adult), but that’s about to change. Young Shaggy has no friends, and puppy Scooby (he remains nameless, at least until Shaggy and a well-placed box of Scooby Snacks appear) is in the same boat. Brought together by their shared desire for a friend (and a big ol’ sandwich), what’s to come for both “Scoob!” and its hairy stars is quickly laid out.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
In short order, Scooby and Shaggy are united, the rest of their meant-to-be pals arrive, and they even take on their first apparent supernatural case. The patterns of their ostensible crime-fighting haven’t changed: Many viewers will recall how most of the scary stuff the team fought was actually fake and a way to cover for something nefarious but still very real — and the prescribed roles of the gang follow suit: Fred is the muscle, Daphne the charm, Velma the brains, and so on.
“We’re not going to make a habit out of this!,” one of the tween crime-fighters announces, but of course, they are, with all the traditional silly jokes and twisted mysteries that requires. Mostly rendered in charming, throwback style — again, it’s hard to convey just how out of place Cowell looks, both literally and figuratively — “Scoob!” soon imagines its stars as young adults, eager to turn their obsession for sniffing out mysteries and bad guys into a real business. It’s not an easy ask, and when worries about how to grow their childhood dreams into something real tear them apart, Shaggy and Scooby are soon thrown into an entirely new adventure.
So far, so Hanna-Barbera, and as Scooby and Shaggy find themselves battling possibly evil robots and keeping company with their own animated heroes, “Scoob!” turns into something of a tour through the “Scooby Doo” world and a far greater animated universe. While Fred (voiced by Zac Efron), Daphne (voiced by Amanda Seyfried), and Velma (voiced by Gina Rodriguez) try to get their friends back, Scooby and Shaggy are essentially hosting a high-energy trip through some of the lesser toons of the Hanna-Barbera world. That the film is so clearly aiming to set up a new cinematic universe is obvious, but most of the match-ups are fun enough (and with smart upgrades) to feel like a good idea that will just so happen to make a ton of money.
Mostly, Scoob and Shag hang out in a massive spaceship with Blue Falcon (voiced by Mark Wahlberg), the superhero offspring of their favorite childhood hero, something of a dim bulb who can’t quite live up to his dad’s legacy. At least he’s got Dynomutt (voiced by Ken Jeong) to keep him in check, along with Dee Dee Sykes (one of the “Teen Angels,” imagined here as a new-wave superhero, voiced by Kiersey Clemons). Soon enough, it’s clear that the big bad the superheroes are fighting is the same one their pals back on Earth are looking for, who just so happens to be the classic meanie Dick Dastardly (voiced by Jason Isaacs).
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Yes, it’s all a bit silly and oddly plot-heavy — including a very generous dose of classic mythology — but it feels like a classic Scooby-Doo mystery, and it’s clear that everyone involved with the project has nothing but love for the universe they’re trying to retrofit for the modern age. Some inclusions go down less smoothly: Tracy Morgan is very amusing as Captain Caveman, but the film’s brief visit to a secret prehistoric world feels shoved in just to accommodate the character. Why not queue up a visit to Jellystone Park, all the better to add more bear heroes into the mix? (We assume that will be a part of the film’s inevitable sequel.)
Still, these are welcome characters and amusing storylines, aligned with classic tales about doing good things and keeping close to the people who mean the most to you. If that inspires a longer journey into the wacky world of Hanna-Barbera — more Teen Angels! — it’s a case worth taking on.
“Scoob!” will be available to rent or buy on premium VOD on Friday, May 15.