Published on October 26th, 2020 | by Kim Kurtenbach0
Because Your Kids Have Seen Scooby Doo, Where Are You? So Many Times
Oooooh! Halloween is coming! Time to dust off all the horror movies, obviously, but what about the children? Won’t somebody please think of the children!
You can’t eat your cake and have it too. That’s the sentence, the saying, the idiom that lead investigators to Ted Kaczinsky – The Unabomber. Someone took noticed because just about everyone else in the English speaking world says, You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Either way, it’s a perfectly bitter response to all kinds of compromise in life. Like with kids. Absolutely shit-tonnes of compromises when it comes to kids. Rarely do you really want to do the same thing. But as I spend more time with my 6-year-old nephew, I have made many an observation and even found a perfect moment that proved to stump that old turn of phrase.
Screen time for kids is part of life. My sister is stealthy and efficient as an assassin when it comes to moving her kid from activity to activity; building, playing, working, learning and exercising, but eventually the iPad comes out. Somehow, I feel better if it’s tv and something that I think is cool, like Star Wars, the Flintstones, or Scooby-Doo. He likes them all, but Scooby Doo, Where Are You? (1969-1970) is where we really connect. Trouble is, I’ve seen those so many times that it’s a bit of worn nostalgia, and I wish there were fresh episodes to share with the kid.
I know what you’re going to say: Scooby-Doo was once on the Guinness World Record list for most prolific cartoon when it hit 350 episodes. But some of those episodes (maybe even most) were underwhelming, just like their successor to the record – The Simpsons (1989).
Some pretty weak-sauce versions came in various forms over the years. I don’t know what the hell they were trying to do with the animation in the recent Scoob (2020) or Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue! (2006) but you can bin all that garbage. And I was never much for Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo (1979) or A Pup Named Scooby-Doo (1988) where (as with everything at the time teenage/adult characters were re-imagined as elementary school kids.
I’m not alone in my opinion that these were sub-par, because The Gang all but disappeared for most of the 90’s. Then came the live-action movie in 2002, and even that made fun of Scrappy-Doo. A sequel followed in 2004, and both are appropriately reviewed on IMDB as 5/10.
Freddie Prinze Jr. played Freddie Prinze Jr. in a terrible blonde wig and ascot; Sarah Michelle Gellar played Sarah Michelle Gellar in a silk scarf. They were each quite awful, but at least it got better. Linda Cardellini played Velma, nailed the voice, and got a lot of the character captured just right. But, we were really there to hang out with Shaggy and Scooby, meaning that Matthew Lillard had the most difficult job of everyone. All eyes were on Lillard while his eyes were on (presumably) somebody in a spandex suit with little white balls glued to it. His impression of Shaggy’s voice is so precise, he remains the voice for all the cartoons to this day. One of the villains was some sort of 50% discount, punk-rock version of a Mola Ram. Another was Mr. Bean. Both movies were strange but adequate and, if nothing else, they testified to the popularity of the characters. It’s extremely risky to turn anything from tv into a Hollywood movie, but these movies made returns of $275M on $84M budget and $181M on $80M budget respectively. Respect. Scooby-Doo was reborn, again.
More cartoons, more toys, Shaggy became and vegetarian and he took Scooby rollerblading, but none of it really made the new cartoons cool. The original series succeeded where these and the movies failed, mostly because it’s difficult to stretch a 20 minute story into a 100 minute movie. If you disagree that it’s almost impossible to adequately fill the time, then you explain why Sugar Ray was in the first movie. Not for me, thanks. I prefer a certain type of Scooby-Doo that mixes spooky mysteries with all the baffling scenarios, innuendos and puzzling family life of these meddling kids.
Example: I watched an old episode of Scooby-Doo the other day that began its cold open with The Gang out on a sailboat. By themselves. In the dark of the night. Near the Bermuda Triangle. That means several parents gave zero thought or concern to their teenagers being out on uncertain waters in the pitch black night on a sailboat with no motor. Do you understand? Now, Shaggy’s parents…okay. They clearly don’t give a shit about their dope-smoking weird son. I’ve always assumed that Shaggy is in his mid-to-late twenties, while the rest of the gang are of or barely past high-school-age. So maybe his parents never cared. But the rest? Fred, Daphanie, and Velma? They have at least – at bare minimum – one parent each. How do I know? Because they’re not orphans. How do I know? Because orphans don’t grow up to wear ascots. No orphan has ever grown up to value silk scarves as a intricate and significant style of dress. Daphanie is too posh to be an orphan. She’s clearly missing some private school activities to hang out with The Gang. Velma is maybe an orphan, but it’s more likely her parents are obsessively academic professors that are ‘too busy with important work for such matters’ (parenting). She dresses like it, and she’s obsessively motivated to be the smartest person you’ve never met. This is what I want to think about while I watch Scooby-Doo. It’s fascinating! My nephew giggles when Scooby and Shaggy make double-triple-decker sandwiches with an olive on top and eat them in one bite. And you know what? So do I.
Finally, Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? (2019), comes along. This time it catches me a pleasant surprise. As the title implies, you’re to guess the guest star each episode. There are stand-up comics, familiar voices from other shows, actors, musicians and athletes. It’s reminiscent of the idea executed in the late 70s or early 80s when The Gang would meet up with celebrities of the time. The problem, now, is that those celebrities are without context to kids of today. The Three Stooges, The Harlem Globetrotters, Don Knotts, Jerry Reed, Dick Van Dyke…these examples are a little vague to most people under 40, so your 9-year-old will certainly be blank stares when you try to enthusiastically explain, That’s Mr. Furley!
This time around, the WB really gets it right. The animation is modern classic. The artists honour the originals is shape, colours and themes but use modern techniques to really expand the world behind the main characters. Backgrounds, textures, motions and details are applied in the same way a 4K restoration enhances old movies that haven’t been released or remastered in decades. It all looks like sharp, brilliant episodes from 1970 and we’re back to following The Gang as they move across a type of dystopian America that is littered with old abandoned amusement parks, haunted castles and cursed theatres. We get to wonder how the Mystery Machine got to England, or Japan, or any of the places it shows up. Scooby gets a voice capable of comprehensible dialogue, as well as retaining his usual catch-phrases and classic utterances. The writers have a ball poking fun at the tropes that make Scooby Doo everything that it is. It’s all makes perfect sense!
Thanks to Scooby-Doo and Guess Who, my childhood and that of my nephew’s collided in a time-warp. He giggled. We snacked. I wondered if maybe Shaggy is the orphan in the group. No wonder he and his best friend – heck, man’s best friend – are inseparable and in it together to the end. As we sat together eating cake and watching Scooby-Doo, I realized that the kid doesn’t love sugar so much he can finish his portion of dessert. And so, I got to eat my cake and have his too. Or whatever that saying is.