Happy fiftieth anniversary, Scooby! We’ve loved seeing you sniff the ground for clues, nibble on Scooby Snacks, and set traps for villains. You’ve been a loyal Great Dane, and a memorable big eater.
It feels wonderfully delightful to partake in a franchise that has existed for half a century. Normally we’d have this talk about how capitalism is exploiting our taste for nostalgia. The thing is that mysteries are timeless. So is a comedy, when cartoon dogs are involved. We know Scooby-Doo was made just for the money. At the same time, we get a load of stories that make them wonderful.
From Saturday Morning Cartoons to Scooby-Doo Movies
The best part about Scooby-Doo is that there is a piece of fiction for any taste you’d like. If you prefer the campy popcorn of the 1950s, reboots like What’s New Scooby-Doo? provide it along with stunning animation. If you want even campier material, the live-action movies with Sarah Michelle Gellar exist. But what if you prefer the darker implications? You have Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated, a good portion of the direct-to-video movies, and even a crossover with Supernatural. No, we are not kidding about that last part.
Scooby Doo, Where Are You? started as a silly cartoon where a bunch of teenagers drove around the country and found monsters. Each villain tended to be an opportunistic human that posed as a monster to get money, or inheritance. The Creeper was revealed to be a corrupt bank manager that would embezzle from his branch, while The Ghost of Hyde was a common jewel thief. Later incarnations would add characters such as Scrappy-Doo, and I think I’m the only person who liked seeing a puppy that would tackle the danger.
One element was constantly emphasized; with rare exception, the humans were scarier than most of the monsters. Humans drive the action in the show and endanger innocent lives. When real monsters appear, they may be dangerous but for the most part are misunderstood.
The writers knew that to deal with some of the horrifying circumstances, like a ghost leaving the gang to drown underwater, you needed a lot of comedy. That’s where Scooby and Shaggy made their mark. They would engage in comedic slapstick, serve as bait in exchange for Scooby Snacks, and inevitable trip up the villains. Their dynamic would even get lampshaded in the special Scooby-Doo Goes Hollywood, where Scooby tries to quit the mystery gang to become a serious actor; he gets laughed out of a studio executive’s office after showing some tentative pilots, with his fans all clamoring him for him to return because they need him to be a goofy dog.
All the laughs make a difference. We get a reprieve from our world, and a moment to see a world where the “meddling kids” face corruption and embezzlement. What’s more, we learn how to face our world by watching a gang and a Great Dane set traps for monsters.
What the Scooby-Doo Characters Teach Us
Scooby-Doo at its core is about laughing in the face of danger, even when you face terror. You may feel scared out of your wits, but fear doesn’t have to inhibit you. In fact, fear may teach you when it’s okay to bail and run, knowing you can’t win a fight. Then you come up with a plan to defeat the villain from a distance. You face the murderous beings, trap the monster, and unmask them so their human faces enter the light.
Shaggy and Scooby always enter the darkness in fear as bait; even though most of the time they know it’s just a human in a costume with some trickery, they cannot ignore the primal instinct to scream and run. But they keep facing danger. Even in the original incarnation, Scooby tackled The Ghost of Mr. Hyde head on to save Shaggy and even helped him navigate through a dangerous swamp. That took courage and uncovered Hyde’s real identity.
This bravery was reinforced in the direct-to-video movies Where’s My Mummy? and The Goblin King. In the former, Shaggy and Scooby cry when they hear Velma has been cursed, and willingly face down a mummy queen to save her. In the latter, the duo is conscripted to help rescue a fairy princess from a greedy magician and risk their lives to rescue a talking pumpkin. The pumpkin praises them for their courage even though they didn’t have to save them. Shaggy and Scooby defer the praise because they aren’t aware of their own strength. And in this movie, there isn’t a rubber suit or wires; they are facing real magical creatures!
The duo’s chemistry is what makes the Scooby-Doo premise work; acting despite cowardice, and making us laugh at our nightmare. Despite this chemistry, I argue that when you take Scooby and Shaggy from the other Mystery Inc. members, you lose the grounding elements. Velma, Fred, and Daphne are more realistic in that they look at the logical reasons for a ghost or monster to appear. They can take a step back and analyze their primal fear as well. Velma finds the smoke and mirrors that make the rubber suits fly, while Daphne and Fred do heavy legwork to find clues.
Scooby-Doo Villains Vs. Meddling Kids
I was always confused as a child when villains referred to Mystery Inc. as “meddling kids”. They seemed too tall to be children, and besides which, they all seemed to have drivers’ licenses. Freddie drives everyone to various locations, suggesting they don’t have to go to school. It got even more confusing when A Pup Named Scooby-Doo came out.
Mystery Inc. now appears more like “kids” though they are probably in their early twenties. Like Nancy Drew in mystery books, who spent her adulthood driving to various places to solve mysteries, they have no responsibilities like bills to pay and such, until the DTV movies. Fred never talks about student loans, having to pay rent, or needing a proper job. The Mystery Machine runs like she’s never needed an auto shop job, and at points has more contraptions than the Batmobile.
Being kids, Mystery Inc. also has a lot more fun uncovering crimes. They shrug off most of the victories or losses because all too soon, the next adventure calls. If they lose a job? On to the next one! Is Velma’s crush the villain? She has other crushes.
As mentioned, it’s the humans who pose a greater threat in this world than the actual monsters do. And we have seen a variety of real monsters, from ghosts to vampires to aliens and even sentient computer viruses. Yet Mystery Inc., when faced with the worst of humanity, stared them down and brought them to justice. They prove there are still good people, who will make things right.
The Next Scooby-Doo Reboots in 2019
Who else is excited for the Return to Zombie Island? Fans loved how the movie forced Mystery Inc. to confront their own mortality as well as the undoubted existence of the supernatural, and how for once they lost in canon. Now they’re going to return to the place of trauma, and confront more ghosts. Or zombies, in this case.
We also have Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? It’s a homage to The New Scooby-Doo Movies, where various celebrities guest-star, like Weird Al and Sia. I do want to see this one but the problem is it’s only available on Boomerang streaming or you have the purchase the episodes on YouTube. I’m not sure when it airs on Boomerang, but I am pumped!
As long as there are mysteries to solve, Mystery Inc. will always entertain us. Scooby and Shaggy will face the monsters and save their friends, while Velma, Fred and Daphne set the traps. And we will sing the theme songs we like, as adults who aspire to be like those meddling kids.