Tuesday, September 1, 2015

So You’re New to Scooby Doo

     Last week in my article about Hellboy, I mentioned what a great addition the series would be to anyone’s annual Halloween Movie Marathon. Yes, I realize September has only just started today, and yes, it’s too soon to be talking about Halloween. But the moment I saw Kroger’s two-month-early decorations go up last week, I realized that, as I no longer live in a college dorm but an actual house, I may get trick-or-treaters this year. And doggone it if I ain’t excited to cover my front door in fake bats and candy-corn!

     So in the spirit of fangirling over Halloween a bit too early, I’m going to take a walk down memory lane and tell you about a cornerstone of old-fashioned ghost stories, which apparently not everyone grew up with! (Man, all these years and I’m still surprised when someone says they haven’t seen something classic… then again, I’m one to talk. I still haven’t gotten around to watching all of Braveheart or E.T. in one sitting) (Stop glaring at me through your screen like that).

     Allow me to give you a thorough, spoiler-free explanation of everyone’s favorite talking great dane, Scooby-Doo!

Hogwarts Scooby Doo, A History

     Everything started in 1969, when parents were beginning to complain to animation studios about the increasing amount of violence in children's television shows. Eager to please, the powers that be with Hanna-Barbera commissioned a show from two of their top animators, Joe Ruby and Ken Spears (who also created, among other shows, Alvin and the Chipmunks. Not the trashy modern movies, mind you, but the original show). Ruby and Spears originally played with the idea of a teen band with a bongo-playing dog, who solve mysteries between gigs. That concept eventually morphed into Scooby Doo  the 5th Greatest TV Cartoon of All Time, according to TV guide.

     The original show aired from 1969 to 1976, then went to ABC from 1976 until 1986 when it was canceled. It was so popular that it inspired an entire slew of mystery-and-animal-sidekick-based cartoons, like Josie and the Pussycats and Speed Buggy. As the show evolved, audiences were treated to chase scenes set to pop music; new characters like Scrappy-Doo and Scooby Dumm…

     …and fantastic guest stars like the Harlem Globetrotters, the Adams Family, and even Batman and Robin to name just a few!

     After that, the rights got passed between the CW, Warner Bros., Cartoon Network, and eventually came to rest with Boomerang along with many other Hanna-Barbera shows. To this day, Cartoon Network and Boomerang still feature reruns of the original show.

     However, the show didn't manage to make its rounds among the networks without having countless shameful reboots created over those long years. Whereas most of the original series featured criminals masquerading as monsters, reboots like The All-New Scooby and Scrappy ShowA Pup Named Scooby-Doo, and The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo featured mysteries that were caused by 'actual' monsters and ghosts.

     Despite the protests of many fans who preferred the mind-over-matter, no-such-thing-as-ghosts logic that the show first started with, these new sagas stuck around for quite some time… and even inspired a pair of [awful] live-action feature films, two direct-to-video films, some video games, and even a few stage plays.

     Most recently, rumors have been circling that Boomerang is preparing a reboot, entitled Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! to air in October of this year. So far, the only footage to be found looks like the original show was mixed with Gravity Falls, and I'm not sure what to think of it at the moment. On the one hand, leaving the more realistic Hanna-Barbera style is a bit painful but perhaps this change means that the new show is going to have plots that are just as entertaining as Gravity Falls or Adventure Time…? Maaaaaybe

The Plot

     The stories, originally set in the late 60s, always follow a gang of four teenagers: Fred (the athletic leader), Daphne (the beautiful damsel in distress), Velma (the near-sighted bookworm), and Shaggy (the wisecracking scaredy-cat) as they're going about their adolescent shenanigans together.

     With their talking dog, who is — of course — Scooby-Doo! (Just think "Astro" from The Jetsons.)

     However, more often than not, the gang will have to put their teenage-ing on hold whenever they run into some sort of mystery that needs solving — be it a haunted suit of armor, a mysterious kidnapping, or a case of stolen jewels! Luckily, they have the perfect vehicle for that sort of thing.

     In order to solve each mystery, these teenagers and their remarkable talking hound must often times go undercover or split up to look for clues (which of course results in some hilarious or frightening encounters with 'ghosts'.

     Fortunately, the clues that the teenagers collect eventually help them to figure out that the spooky monsters aren't really monsters at all, but people trying to perform criminal acts and scare away nosy civilians. The gang will then use their wits and creativity to set elaborate traps (which sometimes work, and sometimes backfire) to catch the culprit(s) and prove that "there's no such thing as monsters."
Even the Vashta Nerada...
     Then the show always ends with the climactic un-masking of the villain, whom the teenagers have often already suspected thanks to the clues they've uncovered. However, some episodes are especially exciting because, even though they know the crime that's being covered up, the criminal isn't who they thought it would be.

The Appeal

     Scooby-Doo is a great family show because it (or at least its original series) shows that there's no such thing as monsters, and that there's a logical explanation for everything. It may not be the most intellectually challenging saga to hit the screen, but every now and then it will earn a giggle with its clever puns, celebrity impressions, or occasional slapstick cartoonery.
Just look at Scooby's face.
He totally knows that this isn't feasibly possible.

     The show's simplistic (read: cheap) animation style also appeals to a lot of viewers nowadays simply for its nostalgic feel. A lot of the frames are recycled over and over, and trapdoors or important artifacts are easy for kids to spot because they stand out from the elaborately-shaded backgrounds. This allows audiences to solve mysteries alongside the gang, which makes the show feel surprisingly interactive.

     Audiences also love Scooby because he and his friends fit a few very basic archetypes (one could argue stereotypes) that lead to some hilarious running gags. For example, Shaggy and Scooby are almost always ridiculously hungry…

     …and each often ends up cheating the other out of food. We all know that one person that we have to guard our plates around.

     The character Velma, while usually very smart, occasionally stumbles into some hilarious predicaments when her glasses are knocked off. (Those of us who are spectacularly-near-sighted know the struggle only too well.)

     Scooby and Shaggy are both practically allergic to danger, and will often try to get out of risky situations by faking illnesses or injuries.

     However, if offered a "Scooby-Snack" or two (the show's version of Popeye spinach), the pair will muster up every last ounce of courage to help their friends and at least pretend to be brave.

     Sometimes they may end up facing real danger, but usually they find out that there was actually very little to be afraid of in the first place.

The Rating

     If this show isn't a G, then frankly I don't know what is. The original Scooby Doo is all about visual gags and family-friendly humor.

     ViolenceOther than a few frightening moments where characters might get kidnapped, dangle from a cliff, or face off against a scary monster (which turns out to be a person in a costume), there's very little to be afraid of here. The villains are all attempting to achieve their goals without the use of gun violence, which is what the show was originally inspired for. 

     SexNone. I'm pretty sure there isn't so much as a single kiss shown anywhere, even between any married couples that the gang encounters.
No hanky-panky here!

     LanguageUnless you count basic puns as an affront to the English language, there's nothing here.
"Hey - hey - guess how thick this fog is, guys!"

     A few characters (usually villains) do call others "cowardly" or "rotten," but the humor on this show is, without a doubt, as squeaky-clean as they come.

The Genre

     Scooby-Doo is a mix of kindergarten campfire stories with a twist of whodunnit detective work thrown in… Not to mention a ridiculously-overused laugh track.

     Some of the classic 60s "horror" music, mixed with the images of the monsters themselves  glowing scuba suits, emotionless robot masks, or green-faced Frankensteins — may be a little frightening for extremely young children.

     Or talking great danes, if you have any.

      Fortunately, it's hard to stay frightened of a 'ghost' when you find out that it was really just a person under a sheet.

     And other than the running gag of Scooby and Shaggy alternating between cowardice and courage, there are very few moral messages that the show handles. The police are always good, criminals are always bad, and there's a logical explanation for everything. Case closed.

     So is it worth it?

The Decision

     I'd say so. It may be a bit difficult to get your hands on much of the original seasons of Scooby-Doo unless you have access to Cartoon Network or Boomerang… but if you're not familiar with the show then you don't have to be worried about catching up. Each episode is entirely independent of the others, which means that you can watch them in any order that you want (and there are pa-lenty to choose from)!

     And if you’re still on the fence, just give it time. The best 'trailer' for the series is actually its original theme song, featuring a montage of monsters and hijinks!

     Or you can always just watch the gang interacting with Batman and Robin for a little while...


          In the end, I'd recommend you hunt around for a few episodes of Scooby-Doo to add to your Halloween Movie Marathon (or just your I-Survived-School-Today-And-Want-To-Rest-My-Brain Marathon). Scooby-Doo is a great show for the whole family, and it'll provide a few good laughs and impressive mysteries for you to solve along the way.

1 comment:


    I have loved it since I was little (not very little though, because, you are right, it does scare itty bitty kids) and I grew up on the original series. I've not loved many of the reincarnations. The ones with the guest stars bored me unless I knew who the guest stars were. But I loved the two Cartoon Network movies they did when the Scooby Gang was in high school. Yeah, there was still the problems with the ghosts actually being real, but The Mystery Begins and Curse of the Lake Monster are still some of my favorites. I also liked What's New Scooby Doo, which felt a lot like the old one. And I liked Scooby Doo, Mystery Inc. until it got really weird in Season 2.