Second Breakfast Octoberween: A Comprehensive History of Scooby-Doo, Part 3

SecondBreakfast-01“It was a tumultuous time for our nation. The clear beverage craze gave us all a reason to live, the information superhighway showed the average person what some nerd thinks about Star Trek, and the domestication of the dog continued unabated.

Homer Simpson’s concise scene-setting of the early 1990s is only somewhat corroborated by the perpetuity of Scooby-Doo’s pop culture presence. Truth be told, the 1990s were not all rays of sunshine and, you know, other forms of natural light. 1988 found Scoob and the gang at a low point, having just endured nine years of Scrappy-Doo in center ring. Well, after that rough decade had finally ended, someone at Hanna-Barbera scratched his head and thought, “Oh, shit, you know what? Maybe it was Scrappy. Maybe that’s where we went wrong.”

So, they finally recognized their mistake, and in doing so, recognized what made the franchise so darn good in the first place: a lovable group of characters solving mysteries about cooky old realtors dressed as hideous monsters, and at last they decided to return to this basic premise, but not without one more change. In 1988, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo hit television screens across America, introducing everybody’s favorite mystery-solving talking dog to the perplexing ‘80s fad of babyfication, whereby already familiar cartoon characters were rebooted as baby versions of themselves. This happened to the Looney-Toons, the Muppets, the Flinstones, Tom and Jerry, and later the WWE[1]. Yes, somehow this seemed like the best way to move on from the Scrappy-Doo years. To reiterate, the problem with the show was an annoying puppy character, so the solution was to make all of the characters that age.

Warner Bros. Mm, something really wrong with Fred's eyes in this still.

Warner Bros.
Mm, something really wrong with Fred’s eyes in this still.

Despite how innately ill-advised this idea may seem, the execution turned out surprisingly well. A Pup Named Scooby-Doo ended up being exactly what the character needed to wash away the sour taste of Scrappy-Doo: a genuine dose of fun, taking an inherently gimmicky premise and turning it into something pretty decent. They revive the old formula, and because the characters are children, their basic personalities are reduced to their most archetypal traits, but it’s fun to watch, and let’s be honest with one another: it’s not as if Fred, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby were particularly well-rounded characters before this show aired. The best addition to the scene in this incarnation is a red-headed bully named Red Herring, whom Fred suspects first as the culprit for nearly every mystery the kids investigate. That sounds like a joke that would wear thin fast, but it does a decent amount for Fred’s development, surprisingly. I kind of love that there’s this one bully that he’s desperate to put away, but can never implicate in anything serious. Or maybe I’ve just been watching way too much Scooby-Doo lately. I’m not sure if I should be at a point where I consider that strong character development.

Warner Bros. Fred's getting into some heavy stuff in the series.

Warner Bros.
Fred’s getting into some heavy stuff in the series.

A Pup Named Scooby-Doo ran for four consecutive years, from 1988-1992, making it the longest uninterrupted incarnation of the show to date. Its success boded well for the character’s revival in the go-go ‘90s[2]. What did the coming years hold for everyone’s favorite mystery-solving talking dog? A whole lot of nothing. 1994 saw the release of the TV movie Scooby-Doo: Arabian Nights, which… you know, happened. It was a thing. Then there was another extended silence until Scooby and the gang made their big comeback in 1998’s Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island. This TV movie has become a beloved classic amongst Scooby fans, such as they are. Zombie Island begins by splitting up the gang only to reunite them ten minutes later as they embark on a quest to find a real monster, not just some old weirdo in a Halloween costume. Sure enough, they stumble upon some voodoo cat-people deep in the bayou and have to lift a zombie curse, or something along those lines. The movie features pumped up late ‘90s animation, a surprising amount of zombie violence, and generous serving of nostalgia. For all intents and purposes, this is the first official outing of the original Mystery Incorporated since before Scrappy’s introduction in 1979. That’s nearly twenty years, kids. Zombie Island was such a huge success, it singlehandedly revitalized the Scooby-Doo franchise. In the years immediately following, three more much-loved TV movies came out[3], and the hugely successful revival What’s New, Scooby-Doo? aired on Kids WB. Remember the days of Kids WB? It was a shaky couple of decades, but the early years of the new millennium saw a happy reboot to the character. There were golden years to come…

Warner Bros. Yes, nothing revitalizes a beloved children's show quite like zombie violence.

Warner Bros.
Yes, nothing revitalizes a beloved children’s show quite like zombie violence.

But more on that next week. This week I need to address the other thing that happened in the early 2000s: the live action movies. In 2002, the first live action Scooby-Doo movie, entitled, creatively, Scooby-Doo, was released into theaters. During my research, the only really recurring comment I encountered was, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer stars as Daphne,” and while this is certainly true, there’s a lot more to say about this film[4]. Now, I remember when this movie came out, there were a lot of people who argued that making a live action Scooby-Doo movie featuring a 2002-quality CGI cartoon dog as one of the main characters was an inherently bad idea, and having now re-watched it for the first time since I think 2002, I am inclined to agree with them. The Scooby-Doo movie is marked by an overreliance on CGI, fart jokes, and… no, actually, pretty much just those two things. This is CGI fart jokes: the movie. The one sort of clever thing it does is its twist reveal of Scrappy-Doo as the villain, exacting revenge on Mystery Incorporated for cutting him out, but unsurprisingly, the idea was better than the execution, and in the end, we’re left with yet another vulgar, mean-spirited CGI mess[5].

Warner Bros. Fred and Daphne are apparently oblivious to whatever's terrifying the other characters.

Warner Bros.
Fred and Daphne are apparently oblivious to whatever’s terrifying the other characters.

Nonetheless, the movie was a huge box office smash, more than tripling its budget in worldwide earnings. So, naturally, it got a sequel. Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed came out in 2004 and was a dreadful flop, barely turning a profit in theaters. Oddly enough, I kind of prefer it to the first one. It cuts out most of the vulgarity (although sadly not quite enough of it), and the narrative is a more traditional Scooby-Doo mystery, featuring a lot of classic ghosts from the old series[6], and also a surprisingly rounded supporting cast including Seth Green, Peter Boyle, Tim Blake Nelson, and Alicia Silverstone[7]. Due to the sequel’s failure to repeat the original’s success, there was never a third one… or was there?[8]

Anyway, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, it’s pretty much clear sailing through the first decade of the new millennium. Next week I’ll recap the animated movies, spend some time on the rejuvenating powers of What’s New, Scooby-Doo?, and, I dunno, probably some other stuff.

Warner Bros. Mm, and we'll just move on from that.

Warner Bros.
Mm, and we’ll just move on from that.

[1] No kidding. Camp WWE, it’s a thing.

[2] Yes, the go-go ‘90s. I went there.

[3] Those would be Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost, Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders, and Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase. The first one features the voice talents of Tim Curry, a lifelong Scooby-Doo fan.

[4] Let us not forget this movie’s important role in the burgeoning love between Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddy Prinze, Jr., who played Daphne and Fred, respectively, and at one point in the film, not respectively. It was weird. There was a body-swapping situation. Never mind.

[5] Tim Curry was originally cast in this movie, but dropped out after he learned that Scrappy-Doo would be in it at all, because he hated the character that much.

[6] Although, if this and Cyber Chase taught me anything, it’s that my favorite Scooby-Doo villains are not necessarily everyone else’s. Why does the Tar Monster resonate with so many people? That’s a horrible episode.

[7] Fun fact: both of these movies were written and co-produced by James Gunn, who went on to write and direct Guardians of the Galaxy. Everyone has to start somewhere.

[8] No, there wasn’t, but there were two direct-to-DVD spin-offs featuring Pup Named Scooby-Doo-aged characters. They’re… uh, not good.

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