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Of all the properties to try and develop into a massive shared continuity superfranchise, Hanna-Barbera seems an unlikely candidate to say the least. Yet in a way, it’s actually kind of genius.

From the beginning, one of Marvel’s greatest strengths and glaring weaknesses has been its reliance on live actors. Part of the thrill in seeing the next MCU chapter is in seeing which characters will pop up. It’s those crossovers — however inane — that strengthen the connections between movies and reward the longtime fans who’ve sat through the end credits of every film since the beginning. On the other hand… well, actors get older. Oftentimes, they want more money, they’re not available for some project or cameo, or they’re not happy with how things are being run.

That’s significantly less of a problem in animation.

With an animated film, we could get a sprawling cast of name actors, each of whom would only need a few hours or days in a recording booth. No costumes, no makeup, no stuntwork involved. And if one of the actors is unavailable or quits the project, they can be replaced by a soundalike with far less disruption to the end result.

Unfortunately, this comes with a significant downside: The turnaround time for animation is much longer. In Pixar’s entire history, only twice — in 2015 and 2017 — have they ever been able to roll out two films in one year. Good luck matching the two-or-three-per-annum pace that Marvel’s been consistently keeping since The Avengers.

But why Hanna-Barbera? Well, for one thing, while their best work is commonly associated with the ’60s and ’70s, Hanna-Barbera’s most recent golden age is actually a lot closer than you might think.

In 1991, after a string of flops and financial troubles, Hanna-Barbera was purchased by Turner Broadcasting, which would debut Cartoon Network the very next year. This was of course the home to such classic ’90s childhood staples as “Johnny Bravo”, “Dexter’s Laboratory”, “The Powerpuff Girls”, and “Courage the Cowardly Dog”, all of which were animated by… wait for it… wait for it… Hanna-Barbera Studios. And of course the Network screened classic episodes of “Tom & Jerry” and “The Flintstones” in between new episodes of “Cow and Chicken” and “Ed, Edd, and Eddy”.

At a time when ’90s nostalgia is all the rage, the classic “Cartoon Cartoon” lineup seems the most obvious choice for revival. And yet any child of the ’90s (like me, for instance) who grew up with fond memories of those shows will have equally strong memories of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons that shared the same airwaves at the time.

Alas, ever since William Hanna died in 2001 (Joseph Barbera died only five years later), the various IPs at Hanna-Barbera have been increasingly irrelevant and the corporate overlords at WB have been just as desperate to find new ways of making them profitable. (To wit: The long-running “Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera” ride at Universal Studios shut down in 2002 precisely because the brand was waning in popularity.) Of course, I’m sure it hasn’t helped that most of Hanna-Barbera’s more beloved IPs are only getting more dated.

Take the Jetsons and the Flintstones, for example — do you really want to bring another animated sitcom (or even a reboot of one) into a world that already has The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, and something like a dozen animated series from Seth MacFarlane? Do you want to see another Smurfs cinematic franchise so soon after the last one crashed and burned? Ditto for Yogi Bear — does anyone even remember or care that he got a movie in 2010? Don’t even get me started on all the inherent difficulties in rebooting “Tom and Jerry” as a CGI film franchise for modern families.

So what we’re looking for is a Hanna-Barbera cartoon that’s iconic and well-loved — especially amongst the nostalgic Cartoon Network set — that could potentially introduce the lesser-known Hanna-Barbera properties that haven’t aged quite so poorly. Thus we have a movie that serves as a launchpad for a potential Hanna-Barbera superfranchise.

Put it all together and what did we get? Scoob!

First and foremost, the animation kicks all of the asses left, right, and center. The movements are smooth, the attention to detail is flawless, and the character designs are inspired. It truly is remarkable how the filmmakers so perfectly adapted the iconic ’70s characters into modern CGI. Bless these filmmakers for sticking to the cartoonish style, without even the slightest attempt at realism.

Speaking of which, the filmmakers threw in classic retro cartoon sound effects, which pleased me to no end. From start to finish, it’s perfectly obvious that the filmmakers deeply cared about the source material, right down to the montage made in heartfelt imitation of the “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” opening intro of old.

That said, this is very clearly an update set in the modern day. In fact, Shaggy is clearly shown to be using a smartphone as a child and as a twenty-something, which begs the question of when exactly this is all taking place. Personally, I prefer to think that this is all taking place in a floating timeline, like the original show, but I digress.

The point is, the characters use modern technology and search engines to speed up a lot of the detective work. We also get a ton of modern pop culture jokes and referential humor, even self-referential humor. Some of the jokes are groaners — in particular, Simon Cowell (of all people!) shows up to play himself, and it’s milked as a running gag that runs on for way, WAY too long. But then we have the multitude of jokes that left me in stitches. One particular crack about Shaggy’s verbal tics had me literally rolling on the floor.

Then we have the voice cast. Amanda Seyfried and Gina Rodriguez are respectively solid as Daphne and Velma, and Zac Efron does a decent job playing Fred as a self-parody.

The shakiest of the leading voice cast is easily Will Forte. To be entirely fair, Shaggy spends most of his running time opposite Scooby-Doo, here voiced once again by Grandmaster Frank Welker. These two characters have such universally known and instantly recognizable voices, yet only one of them here is voiced by the same actor who’s been the character’s voice for the past twenty years. Moreover, Will Forte is trying to hold his own against the greatest voice actor alive today, and that’s a losing proposition no matter how you slice it.

But the far bigger problem is that inevitably, the Shaggy/Scooby friendship is the crux of the plot. As the film unfolds, Shaggy’s jealousy (I’ll explain a bit more in a moment) leads to the character’s heartbreak and a strained relationship between the two. Put simply, the filmmakers are trying to stay faithful to the original character while putting the character through a kind of pathos and development that he was never originally built for. Forte does his best to square that circle, and the predictable plot makes it a bit easier, but the cracks are still showing.

Which brings us to the premise. After a brief origin story prologue to establish the friendship theme and the origin of Mystery Inc. (read: the Scooby gang), a schism forms in the gang. Basically, Fred is established as the muscle/driver, while Velma is the brains of the operation and the tech expert. Even the traditionally useless Daphne is recognized as the diplomat of the group, by far the most socially adept and emotionally perceptive member on the roster.

But what the hell did Shaggy or Scooby ever do for the team, other than eat everything in sight?

Thus Shaggy and Scooby go their own way and blunder into their own adventure. Long story short, it turns out that Scooby is the MacGuffin of the picture, leading to an ancient treasure that could bring about the apocalypse if it’s ever unearthed. In other words, the crisis of the plot has been contrived in such a way that Scooby is easily the most important character in the plot, and Shaggy is made to feel like he has no importance whatsoever. He just happens to be Scooby’s best friend, and it takes him too long to realize that’s enough to make him extremely important. Though not before he screws everything up out of spite and jealousy a couple of times.

The villain, incidentally, is “Wacky Races” mainstay Dick Dastardly. Of course there’s no way to underplay a character with a name like “Dick Dastardly”, and Jason Isaacs voices him with aplomb. But what’s interesting here is that Muttley — Dastardly’s canine sidekick — is absent right up until the climax. I won’t go into details, but suffice to say that his absence helps to give Dastardly a measure of vulnerability without completely breaking the character’s over-the-top nature. Nicely done.

Elsewhere, we have Blue Falcon and Dyno-Mutt. Traditionally (to the best of my memory, it’s been a while), Blue Falcon of the source material was a straight-laced no-nonsense Blue Boy Scout with no personality to speak of, while Dyno-Mutt was the goofy idiot sidekick. Mercifully, the film changes it up quite a bit.

This iteration of the Blue Falcon (voiced by Mark Wahlberg) is actually Brian, son of the original Blue Falcon. Put simply, he’s an egomaniacal blowhard poser who goes through the superficial motions of being a superhero because he’s too much of a cowardly weakling to live up to his father’s legacy. (Imagine Gilderoy Lockhart with daddy issues and you’re on the right track.)

By contrast, Dyno-Mutt is supposedly the actual, original Dyno-Mutt, who has to be the more competent member of the duo and clean up after Brian until Blue Falcon Jr. decides to grow a spine. Between the character’s endless versatility and Ken Jeong’s hilarious performance, I was pleasantly surprised to see Dyno-Mutt — of all characters! — running away with the show.

So what we’ve got here are three very different friendships between three very different human/dog pairings. You’d think this would be relevant in some way during the climax, when it turns out that the treasure is being guarded by freaking Cerberus. No such luck. Wasted opportunity, that.

Rounding out the supporting cast is Kiersey Clemons, a bona fide firecracker in the role of Dee Dee. No, not the “Dexter’s Lab” character — this badass is the hotshot pilot of the Falcon Fury, our heroes’ mobile base of operations. She’s traditionally a supporting character for Captain Caveman, who makes a brief appearance here with the voice of a pitifully miscast Tracy Morgan.

With all the characters and crossovers out of the way, it’s time to address the big problem with this plot: Scooby-Doo is the namesake character, he’s the MacGuffin of the film, and that’s pretty much where his involvement ends. In fact, none of the Scooby Gang have any significant impact on the plot until the climax. Up to that point, it’s Dick Dastardly and Team Blue Falcon that make all the big decisions and get all the pieces where they need to be.

In terms of theme, this is very much a story about the Scooby Gang learning to overcome their petty differences, understand the unique and vital role that each of them plays as part of a team, and rediscover the value of their friendship. In terms of plot, this is really just a conflict between Blue Falcon and Dick Dastardly, as one is plotting (however inadvertently) to destroy the world while the other is plotting to stop him, and the whole thing ends with a huge climactic battle as the fate of the planet hangs in the balance. And hell, even Blue Falcon gradually has to learn how to work with his colleagues and admit his own faults, rather than hog all the glory and pass all the blame.

I must also stress that never, at any time, is there ever even the least bit of doubt as to who the villain is. Any major question is resolved within minutes, by virtue of whatever various plot contrivances. There’s even a “death” fakeout that’s immediately and totally reversed by a (pretty much literal) deus ex machina within two minutes.

In summary, this is not a mystery movie. This is a superhero movie. In every way that counts, with every relevant turn and twist of the plot, this was obviously crafted in imitation of modern superhero films. For a Scooby-Doo movie, that doesn’t make any sense. For a movie aimed at kickstarting a new shared universe superfranchise in imitation of the MCU, that makes a lot of sense.

Let’s end on a couple of miscellaneous notes. I should address the music. I was generally good with it, and the song selections help to augment a lot of the humor quite nicely. Yet I have to take exception with the inclusion of “Bombs Over Baghdad” in a PG-rated Scooby-Doo film. That’s like if Bad Religion made a cameo on “Paw Patrol”.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the shapeshifting mechanized henchmen built and employed by Dastardly. It’s a transparent attempt at copying the Minions, yes, but this one actually works. Not only do these robots have personality, but they’re halfway competent, they pose a legitimate threat, and the transforming gimmick makes them interesting to watch. Very nicely done.

Scoob! suffers from the same problem we’ve already seen in pretty much every other attempt so far at trying to be Iron Man and The Avengers all in one movie: The filmmakers tried to cram too much into too little screentime (freaking 90 minutes, in this case!) and it breaks the plot. Yet in a funny way, the overly predictable plot with all of its transparently convenient shortcuts actually helps to keep the film on the rails and easy enough for a child to follow. Unfortunately, this means that this was never going to work as any kind of mystery plot, which is a huge letdown for what’s supposed to be a Scooby-Doo story.

That said, the animation is all aces, the voice cast is pretty solid overall, and the jokes land more often than they miss. I sincerely applaud the filmmakers for taking risks and reinventing the characters, making them distinctly modern in a way that doesn’t feel like they’re pissing on any legacies.

This is very definitely a movie to be enjoyed at home with your kids. Whether or not that’s enough to launch or sustain a superfranchise remains to be seen, but successful franchises have been built off of less.

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