Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Inc. gang make the leap to CG feature animation in Scoob!, a sweet, amusing family flick that was supposed to open in theaters until well, you know, and is now debuting on VOD instead. At a brisk 90 minutes, Scoob! is a nice, light snack for parents and kids stuck at home these days, with enough silly gags for children to get a kick out of and enough knowing references for adults to appreciate.The more one knows about classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons the better as Scoob! is essentially a shared universe film. New viewers will learn enough about these reimagined and contemporized versions of Blue Falcon, Dynomutt, Dick Dastardly, Dee Dee Skyes and the like to get it — this isn’t exactly a complex mythology audiences have to wrap their heads around here — but the greater the knowledge one has of these old toons the more all the references and Easter eggs will be appreciated. The standout among the film’s Hanna-Barbera additions is by far Mark Wahlberg’s obliviously unready yet overconfident superhero Blue Falcon, who plays a much larger role here than some might expect, with Jason Isaacs’ gleefully mean Dick Dastardly a close second.
As for the hotly debated casting of Will Forte as Shaggy, while it’s understandable that some fans may have grown attached to Matthew Lillard’s incarnation of the character (in both live-action and animation) and are upset that a new actor is voicing Shaggy here, it bears reminding that Lillard himself took over the role following another actor’s iconic interpretation and faced backlash online at the time. Forte’s interpretation of the character is fine, perhaps sounding a bit less scratchy than Lillard or Casey Kasem’s voices, but his Shaggy is as sweet, dopey, and easily rattled as his predecessors.
Of the main Mystery Inc. quintet, Fred — ably voiced by Zac Efron — is the character who has been tweaked the most. He has a bit more personality and is less wooden than some past incarnations, his ascot is gone, and while he still does all the driving, Fred’s not exactly the team’s de facto leader here as each member gets their moment to take charge or make an important decision. That said, this movie is decidedly a Shaggy and Scooby story through and through. An extended pre-credits prologue reveals not only how young Shaggy met little Scoob but also how the Mystery Inc. gang came to be and their first ghostbusting mission as kids. Shaggy and Scooby’s meet-cute is as adorkable as you’d hope, with each character filling a void in the other’s life. The movie has a lot of heart and keeps the thematic emphasis throughout on friendship — not just between humans but also between people and their pets.
The film’s exploration of the human-canine bond goes beyond just Shaggy and Scoob to Blue Falcon and Dynomutt and even to villain Dick Dastardly, who fans will recall had his own four-legged sidekick named Muttley in the old cartoons. Dogs, in this story, are there to help transform the characters of their owners. Best friends have their ups and downs even if one is a cowardly teen and the other a talking dog. The movie’s messaging isn’t terribly novel or deep as it is aimed squarely at children and dog lovers so anything beyond the simplistic would arguably belong in a different sort of movie altogether.
Scoob! is also a save-the-world adventure film, complete with superhero allies and a big bad with a robot army. The action is plentiful, with lots of sci-fi gadgetry and vehicular set-pieces thanks to Blue Falcon and Dick Dastardly. The film’s CG animation retains the recognizable traits of the iconic Scooby-Doo characters without making them look like yet another riff on Pixar and DreamWorks’ styles, but 2015’s The Peanuts Movie remains the most faithful adaptation yet of an original 2D cartoon to CG feature animation.