Second Breakfast Octoberween: A Comprehensive History of Scooby-Doo, Part 2

SecondBreakfast-01In 1969, Scooby-Doo captured the hearts and imaginations, etc., of children all over the world, or at least definitely in America. As I discussed in last week’s instalment, the original two season run of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? built a dynasty of mystery-solving fun on a foundation of predictability and repetition, as well as a healthy dose of lovable characters and a heaping helping of camp. So much camp. Scooby-Doo Meets Batman: camp[1] central. Unfortunately, the show quickly went downhill as it jumped shark after shark, taking Scoob and the gang to far-flung geographic locations, and introducing new characters[2].

Warner Bros. I-- what the? Who's that?

Warner Bros.
I– what the? Who’s that?

Fortunately, by 1979, the showrunners had learned from their mistakes and returned to their roots. Ha ha. Just kidding. No, in 1979 Scooby-Doo met his young nephew, Scrappy-Doo, and one of the most maligned characters in children’s entertainment was born. It’s hard to say exactly why Scrappy is so horrible and everyone hates him so much. He’s got an annoying voice, and his introduction onto the show is such a transparent attempt to reboot things with a new “cute” characters for kids to like. Say what you will about the original run of the show, but they did not have to struggle to be genuine. Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Fred, Velma, and Daphne are fun to watch. They are naturally fun to watch. Scrappy-Doo is a gimmicky, overly deliberate attempt at fun, and no one likes him. At best, adding him onto the show could have had the same effect as Scooby’s cousin Scooby-Dum. Dum detracts from otherwise strong episodes, but he doesn’t really ruin things altogether. In introducing Scrappy, however, the producers did something entirely different. With yet another rebranding, they dropped Fred and Velma and replaced them with Scrappy. I think the only reason they kept Daphne around was to have a female presence, and they picked her over Velma because she’s “the pretty one.”[3]

As far as I can tell, everyone pretty much hated Scrappy from the get-go, except for perhaps one terribly misguided child. Nonetheless, Scrappy appeared in every incarnation of the show until 1988. That’s nine years. “Every incarnation” might sound like a bit of an exaggeration, because surely they couldn’t have gone through much material in that time, right? Well, in truth, despite my research, I’m not 100% sure how many reboots Scooby underwent during this period, especially if you count all the made-for-TV-movies. I think there are about nine or ten. That’s right, they went through roughly one reboot a year before finally figuring out what was wrong and dropping the character. Most of these are, as I rather explicitly indicated, pretty terrible.

Perhaps the best embodiment of how everything went wrong with Scrappy occurs in the form of a 1984 episode of The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show[4], one of the numerous reboots of the character, focusing on Scooby, Scrappy, Daphne, and Shaggy.  By this point, they had already tried to make Scrappy function as a sixth member of the fully-formed Mystery Incorporated team, but oddly enough, that didn’t work. Failing to recognize why that didn’t work, they decided the best course of action would be to drop the “boring” characters of Fred and Velma. In the episode in question, “Happy Birthday, Scooby-Doo,” Warner Bros. kicks off yet another rebranding, and introduces its bold new concepts to the audience in the form of a clip show and a “mystery” that begins with everyone knowing exactly who the culprit is, despite twenty minutes of ensuing clue-hunting and pondering. To explain why Fred and Velma are no longer part of the squad, the showrunners include them in this episode for one last hurrah, explaining that both characters need to leave for different reasons. Velma’s gotten a job as a government stooge, and Fred’s given up everything—friends, mystery-solving, his beloved van—to become a mystery writer, but has yet to publish anything. Not only are these both depressing futures for these great characters, but Fred is wrongly introduced at the beginning of the episode as Fred Rogers[5], and later referred to with the correct last name, Jones. The quality of the episodes had dipped so monumentally at this point that not only are the writers incapable of getting the characters’ names right, but they can’t even get them wrong consistently.

Before the decade was out, Hanna-Barbera produced three feature-length TV movies starring Scooby, Shaggy, and Scrappy, all of which feature “real” supernatural elements and feel as if they were written independently of the franchise before having a talking dog shoe-horned into the storyline. In Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf, Shaggy is reimagined as a world-famous drag racer, for some reason, without the slightest hint of mystery-solving in his backstory. We join him, Scooby, Scrappy, and his “adoring, but liberated girlfriend” as they try to release Shaggy from the snares of a terrible curse[6]. Also in the same year, Shaggy is for some reason hired as a gym teacher at a girls’ school for ghouls in Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School. This ninety-minute film is almost entirely composed of puns. Endless puns. Repetitive puns. I’m not sure how many times the vampire character says the word “fang-tastic,” but it surpasses “catch-phrase” levels and approaches “that’s the only word I know” territory[7].

Warner Bros. It's a fang-tastic movie.

Warner Bros.
It’s a fang-tastic movie.

The only noteworthy highlight of this era is The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, which is only a highlight because it introduces the character of Vincent Van Ghoul, inspired and voiced by the great Vincent Price. Otherwise, this is a curious installment. As far as I know, it’s the first series installment where all of the supernatural elements are “real.” Scooby accidentally releases the thirteen worst demons on earth from their containment, and it’s up to him, Scrappy, Daphne, Shaggy, and their shark-jumping new protégé Flim-Flam to recapture the hellions, with the help, of course, of the mystical mystic-guy Vincent Van Ghoul. Aside from the oddity of the real ghosts and demons and wizards, etc., and the fact that everything is so incredibly 80s, this would have been a really excellent addition to the canon, had Scrappy and Flim-Flam been replaced with Velma and Fred. Scrappy’s nine-year tenure on the show is almost completely without Fred and Velma, and without them, the gang feels irreparably fragmented. There’s nothing fun or genuine about this era, and Scrappy gets the brunt of that blame. He’s so awful, not even Vincent Price could make up for him. Vincent Price.

Warner Bros. Vincent Price

Warner Bros.
Vincent Price

I have yet to delve into the worst of it, The Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo Puppy Hour, which incorporates more of Scooby’s horrible, unspeakable extended family relations, and, true to its unfortunate name, somehow runs an hour per episode. I… egh… I don’t feel the need to get into that too much. Despite all of these reboots and movies, it took the showrunners nine years to finally realize where the flaw in the formula was. Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf marked Scrappy’s last outing[8] and, the very same year, 1988, a truly unexpected improvement emerged.

Next week my history will continue, picking up where we left off, and carrying through the magical decade of the 1990s! And possibly further, because not a whole lot happened in the 90s.

Warner Bros. Rest in peace, Scrappy. Nobody misses you.

Warner Bros.
Rest in peace, Scrappy. Nobody misses you.

 

[1] Although it is worth noting that 2010’s Scooby-Doo: Camp Scare! did market itself as Scooby’s “campiest” adventure yet.

[2] Dum dum dummmm.

[3] Most concise example of how the producers differentiate between Velma and Daphne: the 2008 movie Scooby-Doo and the Goblin King (which features the voice talents of Tim Curry, Wayne Knight, and Wallace Shawn) takes place at Halloween, so the gang all dress up. Daphne wears a sexy cat costume. Velma’s a pumpkin.

[4] Technically, at this point in the show’s run, it had already been rebranded as The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries.

[5] Rogers is Shaggy’s last name. Fred Jones, Velma Dinkley, and Daphne Blake.

[6] Terrible curse: Count Dracula needs a werewolf in order to complete his squad and enter in the Monsterverse cross-country road race, and figures that turning an already world-famous racer into a werewolf is the way to go.

[7] For all of its shaky animation and writing, Ghoul School nevertheless holds a dear place in the hearts of many fans, mainly due to the undeniable likability of the five girls/ghouls. They probably should’ve just gotten a spin-off show.

[8] Until the 2002 live-action movie brought him back as the villain. Daphne also mentions him in an episode of Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated, before Fred quickly reminds her that they all swore never to speak of him again.

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