Friday, October 25, 2013

Scooby-Doo (Media Legacy)


      Okay, I’ve been reviewing nothing but directly horror movie related material this October, now it’s about time I look at something from my youth, not just a random animated Halloween special either, how about an inter TV show that’s monster themed. Weather or not, you loved Scooby-Doo or hated him, the one thing you can’t deni is that this cartoon truly is timeless. I’m not just saying that because it’s an old show with an iconic character, but because it always finds a way to gain new life for every young generation. Most cartoons have a tendency to grow old, die and be largely forgotten but Scooby-Doo somehow survives over the ages and grows with every new millennium. So what is it, what’s this shows secret special ingredient that makes it so timeless, just how many different forms has it taken over the years and will it ever end? Well, I could spend all day trying to answer those questions, but to keep it simple, I’m just going to cover the Scooby-Doo material I grew up with and come up with my own conclusion as to why his media legacy is so massive.    

    
     As usual it’s best to start from the beginning, the TV show titled “Scooby-Doo: Where are You?” debuted in 1969 under the production of the Hanna-Barbera company. This is the same animation production group that developed such classics as “The Flintstones” and “The Jettisons”. I’ll be honest, even as a kid, I didn’t particularly care for any of their shows, however, in the case of “Scooby-Doo”, it was never one of my absolute favorite cartoons or anything particularly special but I did watch it a lot on Cartoon Network and other stations that would play re-runs of it. There was just something simple and pleasing about this series and its simplistic premise that made it genuinely appealing to watch. The premise goes like this, Scooby-Doo is a dog that belongs to a small group of young adults that solve mysteries, however, every mystery has some kind of monstrous, supernatural overtone. They don’t have any station or headquarters, instead they just have a van called the Mystery Machine, which looks like it belongs in the 70’s with its flower decorations and Hawaiian, tie-dye coloring. Through a series of clues and chase sequences set to musical numbers that are very out of date, the team catches their monster which turns out to be some criminal in a monster suit. Yes, it’s a very simple premise but no matter how many times they repeat this formula, it still held my attention. I always loved guessing who the villain was going to be and it was still fun to see how each mystery unfolded.


     Even though this show wasn’t directly related to Halloween, it was still heavy on ghosts, witches, monsters and I think that played a big part in keeping this show so captivating to watch. It was like a small part of my favorite time of the year could be felt all year round, instead of being confined to one brief time of the year. The Ghosts and monsters were all very cheesy looking, yet so appealing at the same time. Something about their designs were so classy and anyone who grew up with the show can name every one of them. There was the Black Night ghost, the swamp witch, the phantom shadows and the always famous Creeper. A personal favorite of mine was "the space kook" which was an alien in a space suit that had a glowing skull in the helmet, that’s awesome.   

   
     I suppose I should take a moment to talk about the main characters. Scooby-Doo is our star, his intense fear of the monsters usually leads to lots of slap stick comedy and that’s really all there is to this character, he has no distinct personality (not a very fun one anyway) and his only real trademark is mispronouncing words with that gruffly dog voice of his. He might just be the most boring and one dimensional classic cartoon character ever, complete opposite of characters like Garfield, which I loved but never cared for his show, isn’t that an odd twist? At his side is another comedic clod named Shaggy, if he’s not running away from something, he’s eating food. That was his running joke, he loves to eat non-stop, yet he’s one of the skinniest characters I’ve ever seen, shouldn’t he be the size of a house by now? Fred is the generic leader, with very little personality but the voice actor Frank Welker is quiet good in the role and he’s the only voice actor that has continued to supply the voice of his character with every new Scooby-Doo show. Velma’s the smart character who always solved the mysteries, without her, the team is doomed.



      At last there’s Daphne, “who” according to most of my childhood friends is one of the most attractive animated woman ever. Well, I certainly didn’t find her “attractive” but I will say that she’s a very colorful character to look at. Most of the settings and backgrounds in this show are dark, murky and gloomy, which makes Daphne’s brightly colored design stand out. Over the years, other shows have tried to sex up her image by giving her skimpy cloths, however, the shows would only get more colorful over time, which diminished her ability to stand out. She’s also an unfortunate product of the time, in other words, she got captured a lot. In fact, she’s joined the ranks of characters like Princes Peach and Louise Lane who’s only function is to get kidnaped over and over again. Even the live action movies acknowledged how tired this gimmick has gotten.    


      In 1972, there was the first spin-off series of the classic TV show titled “The New Scooby-Doo Movies”. Don’t let the titled fool you, they weren’t movies, instead they were hour long episodes that would always feature a popular celebrity helping the gang solve mysteries. This was one of my least favorite Scooby-Doo shows that I watched as a kid because they were just too long and the celebrities always distracted from the main characters. These celebrities would include Sandy Duncan, Cass Elliot, Don Knotts, the Harlem Globe Traders and the Three Stooges. Even “The Addams Family” had a special crossover with Scooby-Doo and the gang. The most recurring gust characters were actually Batman and Robin. Seriously, Batman and Robin would frequently team up with Scooby-Doo to battle monsters and popular Batman villains like Penguin and The Joker. All these Scooby-Doo/Batman episodes were later realized on a DVD titled “Scooby-Doo meets Batman”, which has to be the strangest crossover title I’ve ever heard. I mean its one thing to have “The Jetsons meet The Flintstones” or to have popular Marvel hero’s join forces in “The Avengers” but despite being detectives, Scooby-Doo and Batman just seem so distant from each other. 


      While we’re on the subject of crossovers, I have to mention an episode from the animated TV series “Johnny Bravo”. Now this was one of my favorite cartoons that I watched all the time as a kid, it was so wild and so funny, I couldn’t get enough of it. The episode titled “Bravo Dooby Doo”, had Johnny Bravo meeting Scooby-Doo and the gaining. It’s a hilarious crossover involving the group working together to solve a mystery involving a ghostly scarecrow. All the Scooby-Doo members are perfectly in character and even the animation style for them is traditionally sketchy looking which clashes perfectly with Bravo’s more modern and colorful look. Having these characters play off each other is a real joy, they make fun of each other’s trademarks and there’s some perfectly timed slapstick comedy. Plus this episode features one of my favorite lines ever spoken in a cartoon. Johnny crashes into Velma, causing them to both lose their classes. Velma crawls around on the floor and says “My glasses, my glasses, I can’t see without my glasses”, then we cut to Johnny who’s also on the floor looking for his dark shaded glasses saying “My glasses, my glasses, I can’t be seen without my glasses!” That in a nut shell is why Johnny Bravo was so funny. 
    
     Beginning in the mid 1970’s, ABC took over the series and aired “The Scooby-Doo Show”. Despite the new title and the new intro, not much changed from the original series. The episodes still followed the same format, they went back to a half hour run-time and the characters were all the same. This series did at least feature Scooby-Doo’s very first Halloween special, featuring the Headless Horseman as the villain, that was kind of fun. The only new addition to this show was a brand new character named Scooby Dumb, who’s like a grayer version of Scooby-Doo but less cowardly and far sillier. I don’t know why but as a kid I really enjoyed this character. Whenever I asked my friends what they thought of Scooby Dumb, they’d always respond by saying “What, who’s that?” So for better or for worse, no one ever seems to remember this guy, too bad, he’s at least better then the next character introduced to the show.



      The “Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo” show premiered in the late 1970’s and marked the arrival of Scooby-Doo’s nephew named Scrappy, who would be a new primary character for many of the following shows. There’s an old saying that if something isn’t broke, they shouldn’t try to fix it, because the result is one of the most hated cartoon characters of all time. The five original characters may not be that special, but they all had their own simple charm that held the show together. Scrappy on the other hand was just an annoyance. There were many other “Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo” shows that followed throughout the 80’s and didn’t feature the complete main cast, it was only Scooby, Shaggy, Dannie and Scrappy from this point on.

      In 1985, there was yet another new Scooby-Doo show titled “The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo”. This series was a breath of fresh air because it was nothing like any of its previous adaptations. All the monsters, wizards and ghosts were all real and there weren’t as many mystery's  This show was like an adventure serial, with our four main characters (Scooby, Shaggy, Dannie and Scrappy) traveling to different parts of the glob to concur ancient evil monsters and demons. A central reoccurring character in this series is a dark wizard named Vincent Van Ghoul, who’s voiced by none other than the horror movie legend himself, Vincent Price, now that’s awesome. 





      In the late 1980’s there was a trilogy of animated movies that solely featured Scooby, Shaggy and Scrappy, which continued to focus on supernatural creatures, real monsters and they felt more like horror, comedy adventures. The first of these three movies was titled “Scooby-Doo meets the Boo Brothers” (1987). This was one of my favorite animated Scooby-Doo movies that I watched all the time as a kid. The plot focused on an elaborate treasure hunt in which the trio follow a crazy string of clues to find a lost fortune, along the way they confront skeletons, ghosts, a killer gorilla, a hunter with a gun and countless other ghouls that are also seeking the treasure. A comedic trio of ghosts called the boo brothers then get caught up in the mess, it's crazy.  

   The second film titled “Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School” (1988) is almost like the “Hotel Transylvania” of our generation, featuring the doubters of all the classic monsters, like the doubter of Dracula, the doubter of the mummy, etc. There being educated in a monster school, which the Scooby-Doo trio happen to stumble across, then they find themselves caught in a scary adventure to protect the children from an evil which that plots to control the girls. So in an odd, funny twist, Scooby-Doo and the gang are protecting monsters that they usually run away from. The third film “Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf” (1988) isn’t worth talking about, it’s just “Speed Racer” with monsters, no joke, the whole movie is Scooby-Doo racing monsters. 
   

      1988 saw the debut of another Scooby-Doo spin-off series titled “A Pup named Scooby-Doo”. This show went back to the basic formula, Velma and Fred were back in the picture, Scrappy was no-where to be seen and the episodes once again revolved around a mystery that needed to be solved and a villain in a monster costume. However, unlike the other shows, this one featured the characters as kids and the animation was very different. In fact, this show was done by the same talented animation team that would later bring us such classic cartoons likeTiny Toon Adventures”, “Animaniacs”, “Pinky and the Brain” and “Freakazoid! I have to admit, of all the different Scooby-Doo cartoons I grew up with “A Pup named Scooby-Doo” was my personal favorite. The comedic tone, brilliant writing, brisk pace and running gags made this show a million times more fun to watch then the classic and it would be the last Scooby-Doo series I grew up with as a child. 


      More direct to video movies started in the late 90’s and I did see some of the early flicks. The first four direct-to-video films differed from the original series format by placing the characters in plots with darker tones and pitting them against actual supernatural forces. The first of these flicks titled “Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island” (1998) was actually quite good. As you'd expect from the titled, the movie involves zombies, which were all real zombies, no villains in masks. The story is actually quiet smart, there's some good twists, the soundtrack rocked, the danger was legitimate, and there were even moments that came close to being scary. If you take Scooby-Doo out of this film, it would still make for a really good animated Halloween special. 



     The following film titled “Scooby-Doo and the Witches Ghost” (1999) was another decent animated flick, with a fun collection of new characters, including the Hex Girls who provided most of the music. I hate to admit it, but most of their music is kind of catchy. The plot revolves around a wizard voiced by Tim Curry who plans to resurrect his fallen ancestor that happens to be a witch. The film concludes with one of the most action packed climaxes you'll ever seen in a Halloween cartoon. Seriously, this finally is packed with hex casting ghosts, a psychotic Tim Curry, killer Jack O Lanterns, monster trees and a ferocious giant turkey....wait, what? Two more films followed titled “Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders” (2000) and “Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase” (2001). These were the last films to be made by the Hanna-Barbara studio, further animated movies were distributed by Warner Brother’s animation alone. I never bothered to watch any of the new films or research how many have come out, I’m honestly not interested, but from what I understand, one new animated Scooby-Doo movie comes out each year, so there’s probably more than thirty total. 

   
      The TV series titled “What’s new Scooby-Doo” debuted in 2002, I was just getting out of elementary school, starting middle school at the time, so cartoons were no longer my thing. I do remember looking in on this show for curiosity sake but nothing special stood out, it was just a modern version of the original show. The only thing I really remember was the new theme song, which admittedly was a very catchy theme song. Throughout the 2000’s there have been tones of other Scooby-Doo adaption’s, more animated spinoffs, live action spinoffs and it further proves that Scooby-Doo is a never ending phenomenon that will never end. I’m not going to talk about any of the new shows because I didn’t grow up with them. 


      I suppose I should mention the two theatrical, live action Scooby-Doo movies that came out in the early 2000’s. The first live action film simply titled “Scooby-Doo” debuted in 2002 and while it certainly isn’t a good movie by any means, I don’t think it’s completely terrible either. It has some small imagination, there’s some awesome set pieces featured in this flick and Matthew Lillard is actually quite good in the role of Shaggy. Let me put it this way, the movie is tolerable, especially in comparison to all the really bad live action movies based on classic cartoons like Yogi Bear (2010), Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007), Garfield (2004), The Smurfs (2011), The Flintstones (1994), Inspector Gadget (1999) and The Last Airbender (2010), now those were truly awful movies. The same thing applies for the 2004 sequel titled “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed”. It wasn’t a good movie but I’ve seen far worse and at least this film had a fun collection of monsters from the classic TV show, as well as some slightly entertaining action scenes. 

   
       This concludes my trek through the media legacy of Scooby-Doo, a simple show, with a simple premise, yet it exploded into a television phenomenon that’s still going on to this day. It was exhausting to put all this together but it’s also a lot of fun the go through the long running history of something that I have some nostalgia for, even if it’s a small dose of nostalgia.    


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