Kernel Rating: 2 out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 94 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 7+. This reboot of the iconic cartoon series attempts to match the vibe of the original, in which four teenagers and their dog solve mysteries. There are some scary sequences, like a “ghost” chasing the teens around a haunted house, and a mythical three-headed dog being brought back to life using its skulls; the dog then goes on a destructive rampage. But most of the fantastical elements are either disproved or solved quickly, and although there are some menacing creatures like robot scorpions that brandish lasers and chainsaws, no characters get hurt. Otherwise, friends fight and insult each other before making up; characters talk about their loneliness; there’s some bullying; and the group’s foe threatens to kill or entrap them. Otherwise, some flirting, crude jokes and puns, and bathroom humor.
By Roxana Hadadi
Scooby-Doo and his friends Shaggy, Thelma, Daphne, and Fred have been pop culture mainstays for the past 50 years, and rebooting such a beloved concept is a tough task. The latest attempt, the animated film “Scoob!”, makes an attempt at reinvigorating the franchise for today’s younger viewers, but doesn’t quite pull it off. Despite some exciting sequences, particularly one at an abandoned amusement park, the film’s choices of pop culture references are a little strange.
“Scoob!” is setting itself apart from the Scooby-Doo franchise by providing a backstory for how the Great Dane who can speak English and the boy who is his best friend met. On the boardwalk of Venice Beach, California, an already-oversized puppy commits “grand theft gyro” by stealing a spit of meat from a restaurant. After being chased by a police officer and hiding under two mounds of sand, the puppy meets Shaggy, a lonely young boy who doesn’t have any friends. Shaggy is pretending those very mounds of sand are his picnic companions, and he’s overjoyed when he realizes they’re actually a puppy. He names the dog Scooby Doo after a box of Scooby Snacks, takes the dog home, and gives him a special collar with his initials “SD” on it.
The friendship will last decades, and will expand. After being saved from bullies on Halloween by new friends Fred, Daphne, and Velma, the group discovers a real knack for solving mysteries. Years later, in their teens, Fred, Daphne, and Velma want to go pro. They think Mystery, Inc., can be a real business, and they have a potential investor in “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell (one of the film’s strange incorporations of the real world). But Cowell doesn’t like Shaggy (voiced by Will Forte) or Scooby (voiced by Frank Welker), and he forces Fred (voiced by Zac Efron), Daphne (voiced by Amanda Seyfried), and Velma (voiced by Gina Rodriguez) to choose. Will they stick with Scooby and Shaggy, or do they want to go pro?
The decision doesn’t go Scooby and Shaggy’s way, but after they separate from their friends, they’re tumbled into another mystery. After being scouted by real-life crime solvers the Blue Falcon (voiced by Mark Wahlberg), his dog sidekick Dynomutt (voiced by Ken Jeong), and their partner Dee Dee (Kiersey Clemons), Scooby and Shaggy are asked to help hunt down the villainous Dick Dastardly (voiced by Jason Isaacs), who is traveling around the world to find the skulls of the mythical three-headed dog Cerberus. By bringing Cerberus back to life, Dastardly wants to open the gates to the Underworld—and potentially put the entire world in danger.
Some of the updates to “Scoob!” feel like they are tailor-made for the viewing interests of today’s younger audiences, but they land to varying success. The superhero duo of Blue Falcon and Dynomutt, for example, doesn’t quite gel with the more low-budget, practical crime-solving techniques of Shaggy and his friends. That difference becomes a plot point, but it still feels out of step with the narrative. Similarly, there are jokes here about Cowell, the Hemsworth brothers, Ira Glass, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the Backstreet Boys that seem all over the place; the film is mostly so geared toward younger viewers that these references, clearly meant for adult audiences, stick out. And the fact that Shaggy is given a backstory that focuses on his loneliness and anxiety does him a disservice. His entire arc becomes tied to his insecurity, and without any other personality traits to round him out, the character who is so integral to this narrative feels curiously empty.
Still, there are some fun moments throughout that feel more akin to the larger Scooby-Doo franchise. The first mystery the group solves involving a haunted house feels like an enjoyable throwback, and Jeong is clearly having fun voicing the sarcastic Dynomutt. Although the animation style sometimes looks quite unfinished—certain characters look more like blobs of color than fully realized individuals—the big action sequences have some punch and life to them. A scene where Scooby and Shaggy face off against an army of mini robots that can transform into scorpions inside an abandoned amusement park makes good use of the Ferris Wheel, fun house mirrors, and rollercoaster. A short jaunt to a mystery island with dinosaurs also adds another amusing diversion.
Altogether, though, “Scoob!” sometimes feels like a collection of random elements tangentially related to mystery solving rather than a cohesive narrative about the characters we already know and recognize. “Scoob!” neither sets itself apart enough nor fits fully into the existing Scooby-Doo universe, and the result is a movie that only intermittently works.
“Scoob!” is currently available for purchase or 48-hour rental through Prime Video, Apple TV, Comcast, DirecTV, Vudu, Google and YouTube, Verizon, and more.