Perhaps the most positive result that can come from agreeing to watch “Scoob!” with your kids is that it might inspire them to learn more about Greek mythology. During these dark and troubled times, it’s important to find rays of sunlight wherever you can.
Otherwise, “Scoob!” is a frantic jumble of retro kitsch and random pop-culture references, including one truly strained (and strange) celebrity cameo. The work of six people who share screenplay and/or story-by credits, it’s a confounding and convoluted origin story to a pretty straightforward Saturday morning cartoon, one that’s been around in various forms for the past 50-plus years.
A bunch of teenagers and a talking dog solve mysteries. Invariably, the bad guy behind the scheme is someone they already know, disguised in a mask—and he would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids. The film from director Tony Cervone, an animation veteran with tons of experience in the Hanna-Barbera world, knows that adults (and probably lots of younger viewers) are already aware of these familiar beats and tropes and has some fun with Easter eggs and meta, self-referential gags. Establishing this world with vibrant color and lively energy actually makes it quite appealing off the top; it’s when the actual plot kicks in that things get bogged down.
We begin when Shaggy is a boy (voiced by “Young Sheldon” star Iain Armitage), hanging out at Venice Beach, despondent despite the beautiful weather because he has no friends. The way he meets and amusingly names a wayward, stray puppy Scooby Dooby Doo is genuinely sweet and heartwarming, and more of the gentle, emotionally authentic mood of these early scenes would have been welcome throughout. We also see Shaggy and Scooby connect with the kids with whom they’ll end up forming Mystery Inc. and reveal glimmers of the personalities they’ll all eventually forge: brave Fred, brainy Velma and brazen Daphne, with the nervous Shaggy and sweetly bumbling Great Dane hesitantly bringing up the rear. (Upon meeting on Halloween night, they all promise each other not to make a habit of entering dark, creepy houses. Sure thing.)
But the breezy fun of the team’s beginnings gives way to overbearing, non-stop antics as they grow into young adults and tackle the film’s central mystery. “Scoob!” takes place in the present day, with all the technology and conveniences that affords, but the teens adhere to the franchise’s groovy ethos, down to their clothes, the occasional exclamation of “jinkies!” and the anachronistic, flower-powered Mystery Machine van Fred drives. Legendary voice actor Frank Welker—the original voice of Fred—has been playing Scooby-Doo for years now and does so here, as well. Will Forte (Shaggy), Gina Rodriguez (Velma), Amanda Seyfried (Daphne) and an ideally chosen Zac Efron (Fred) lead the star-studded cast of voice actors who increasingly struggle to make this material interesting.
The actual adventure they go on with vapid and vain superhero Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg) isn’t all that compelling. Shaggy and Scooby get recruited by this preening good guy to defeat the bad guy Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs), who wants to unlock the underworld and unleash the three-headed hound Cerberus upon the unsuspecting masses. The scaredy-cat Scooby-Doo—as a dog himself—is the key to the villain’s plan, as well as to stopping him.
It’s all needlessly, overly busy. My 10-year-old son—who was already such a fan that he’s played the old “Scooby-Doo and the Mystery of the Castle” video game with a joystick shaped like the Mystery Machine—turned to me unprompted about halfway through and said: “Honestly? I liked it better when they were younger.” And we hadn’t even gotten to the interlude featuring Outkast’s “Bombs Over Baghdad,” or the massive detour to introduce a Hanna-Barbera crossover involving a gladiator-style showdown with Captain Caveman (voiced by Tracy Morgan).
“Scoob!” both meanders and frantically scrambles. It’s simultaneously twisty yet overly simplistic. And it wriggles its way out of serious character decisions with some of the most astoundingly lazy writing you’ve ever seen. It’s enough to make you want to yell “zoinks!” at the screen—as well as some other choice words.
Available on VOD today, 5/15.