It’s the job of a critic to approach every new assignment with an open mind, allowing for the potential of a film, any film, to surprise you and re-invigorate your love for the medium. Sometimes, this imperative is a banner you wave with great enthusiasm. Other times, it’s more like a stress ball you squeeze, your jaw set with grim resolve, as you hustle off to a screening of what sure looks like will be a bad movie. All of which is to say that we tried to give Scoob!, the latest in a series of films and TV series spun off from Hanna-Barbera’s stalwart ’70s cartoon, a fair shake. And there was one line in the movie—something about Americans knowing more about superheroes than they do the metric system—that was actually pretty amusing. But setting aside that single joke, any hopes one might have of the film exceeding the low expectations set by its unnecessarily punctuated title should be abandoned forthwith.
Chief among Scoob!’s crimes is its attempt to launch a Hanna-Barbera shared cinematic universe, a move that seems both craven and kind of quaint now that—Marvel’s success aside—the entire concept of shared universes lies bruised and bleeding in the arena of popular opinion. So while we begin with another much-derided cliché of modern blockbuster filmmaking—the origin story, complete with a scene, a lá Solo, where we learn the mind-numbingly dopey source of the title character’s name—most of the film isn’t really about Scooby (Frank Welker) and his pal Shaggy (Will Forte) at all. (It also keeps up the pretense that Shaggy’s vocal fry and constant munchies are inborn personality traits rather than chemically-induced ones, but this being a PG-rated kids’ movie, that should come as no surprise.) Scoob!, as it turns out, is more of a ticker tape parade of potentially bankable IPs, all of them retro enough that younger parents may not recognize them at this point.
We’ve got the film’s primary antagonist, Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs), accompanied by the Minions-esque sidekicks—here, cute, shapeshifting robots—that have become de rigeur in kids’ movies. Then there are our secondary protagonists: the superhero team of Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg), Dynomutt (Ken Jeong), and Dee Dee Skyes (Kiersey Clemons), repurposed here from the Captain Caveman cartoons. Speaking of, Captain Caveman (Tracy Morgan) does show up eventually, as do Atom Ant, Jabberjaw the shark, and Grape Ape. (Those last three only appear in the end credits, like Nick Fury at the end of an MCU movie.) Simon Cowell also appears, voicing himself dining with the gang at an L.A. coffee shop early in the film. His name comes up in the dialogue several times after that; he must have sold his likeness to Warner Bros.
Fred (Zac Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried), and Velma (Gina Rodriguez) are in the mix as well, although the film keeps the core crew separated for much of the film until lessons about friendship have been satisfactorily learned. Similarly, the gang’s signature schtick of riding around solving mysteries is sidelined to brief vignettes at the beginning and end of the film, although the Mystery Machine itself gets quite a bit of screen time. The majority of the plot sounds like an acid trip when recited in print, and is mostly inconsequential besides, so suffice to say that it starts out with pretty standard superhero-vs.-supervillain stuff, and coasts by on unearned pathos and tepid one-liners throughout the second act. Finally, after some nonsense about Scooby-Doo being the dog equivalent of a living descendant of Christ, we land on a confrontation with Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the entrance to Hades in Greek myth—which seems bizarre and random, until you remember Warner Bros. also bought the rights to Clash Of The Titans from MGM back in 1996.
Quite a few well-known names are cited in the previous paragraphs, and one might consider their participation in this project to be a transgression on the level of Scoob!’s erratic attempts at world-building. But A-list celebrities taking voice roles in C-list animated projects has been common practice in Hollywood for a while now. So has soundtracking these movies with upbeat Top 40 hits like DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win,” making its fourth appearance in a feature film (sixth, if you count the trailers for Sing and The Peanuts Movie). You can’t even get mad at the script for its half-hearted gestures towards self-aware commentary; writers must keep themselves entertained, after all, when churning out one of the many drafts a film like Scoob! goes through before production begins. That being said, the film’s use of the phrase “large adult son” is unforgivable. There’s also a scene where Scooby-Doo has trouble pronouncing Dastardly’s first name, leading to Isaacs shouting, “Dick! Dick! Dick! Dick!” over and over again. Do with that information what you will.