Second Breakfast Octoberween: A Comprehensive History of Scooby-Doo, Part 5

SecondBreakfast-01Look, I don’t watch a ton of TV[1]. It takes a lot to get me invested in a TV show, because it is a considerable time commitment, and if I plan on devoting that many hours of my life to watching something, it had better be good[2]. So far this decade, I have only watched a handful of new shows in their entirety. Of those, only three of them have been for kids, because, for me, it takes an extra something to get hooked on an animated show… and I’m definitely not the target demographic. The writing has to be really good for that to work out. I gotta give shout-outs to Phineas and Ferb and Gravity Falls, for being some of the best damn TV I’ve seen, animated or otherwise, but today’s article is about the third and most groundbreaking beast.

2010 saw yet another reboot of Scooby-Doo[3], entitled Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated. As reboots go, this was the most radical in the character’s history. Although bringing back the core characters—Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and Scooby—and keeping them in their original costumes and behind the wheel of the beloved Mystery Machine, Mystery Incorporated did away with the old formula. Rather than touring the country (or globe), solving mysteries, the gang remains in their home town of Crystal Cove, a sleepy coastal tourist trap with an unusual surplus of monster-sightings, most of which are, indeed, just cranky realtors in Halloween costumes. The kids have received a degree of local fame for their persistent meddling, but have also attracted the attention of a much more sinister entity. As their normal everyday mysteries begin to unveil the clues of a larger, more genuinely supernatural mystery, the freshly-branded Mystery Incorporated must put their detective skills, bravery, and friendship to the test in order to resolve this new threat and, hopefully, stay alive.

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

Defined by its overarching über-plot, surprisingly complex character development, and haunting aesthetics, Mystery Incorporated brought something completely original to the Scooby-Doo franchise. Actually, I am not the first to write on this show for this blog. There’s an article of Saturday Morning Cartoons in which Aubrey outlines seven reasons why Mystery Incorporated is just so damn good, and I have a really tough time arguing with any of them. It’s a good list. You can reduce all of the entrants to one common denominator, though: good writing. The writers of Mystery Incorporated always manage the perfect balance between funny and serious[4], they make us believe in the relationships of these kids and their talking dog, the mysteries are interesting and, occasionally, exciting, and at the end of the day, you never feel like you’ve wasted time watching Mystery Incorporated.

If I had written this article two years ago, Mystery Incorporated would have made the perfect final installment. It would allow us to end on a high note, sure, but something about it also ties the whole franchise together. Every episode is filled with references to previous incarnations[5], the show brings back old characters including the Hex Girls, Vincent Van Ghoul, and even Jonny Quest. They use the Scooby-Doo mythos[6] to provide insightful commentary on the horror genre, with special attention paid to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, Wes Craven, David Lynch, and John Carpenter. Finally, and most importantly, they provide the fulfilling depth of character that the members of Mystery Incorporated have always deserved.

Warner Bros. Plus, Baba Yaga is the monster in one episode.

Warner Bros.
Plus, Baba Yaga is the monster in one episode.

I know this is just a kids’ show, but it has been running since 1969, and has become a major force in pop culture. People recognize Scooby-Doo like they recognize Mickey Mouse[7], and after a point, doesn’t a character like that deserve to have some effort put in on his behalf[8]? Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated has been described as “Twin Peaks for kids,”[9] and really earns that praise. Let’s unpack that phrase. It does earn comparisons to Twin Peaks, obviously taking quite a lot of inspiration from the 90s cult classic[10], but not wasting that inspiration exclusively on empty references. It captures that eerie sort of charm, that sense of haunting mystery, and the love of character. The second part of that sentence fragment, “for kids,” is arguably the more important. Mystery Incorporated is for kids, and its unparalleled success with children has taught TV stations a few valuable lessons: 1) The children of today still have the attention span needed to follow an ongoing plot, even without recaps; 2) It’s okay to scare children—sometimes they need it just as much as adults do; 3) It’s okay to try something new with an old product, to take chances, if these changes fit organically with the essence of the original. I firmly believe that without Mystery Incorporated, there would be no Gravity Falls.

Warner Bros. There's some freaky stuff in this show.

Warner Bros.
There’s some freaky stuff in this show.

So, while Disney clearly learned a few really important lessons from their competition, Mystery Incorporated did not have quite the same impact on its creators. In the years since the show ended, Warner Bros. has released several animated movies, which greatly recall those of the What’s New era, both in animation and story, although obviously a little bit less quintessentially early 2000s. Some of these are quite a good bit of fun, like the cleverly-named Scooby-Doo and the Spooky Scarecrow, Scooby-Doo! Frankencreepy, and Scooby-Doo! Moon Monster Madness, which is in every conceivable way a bizarre combination of BioShock and Alien with Scooby-Doo characters in the mix. The highlight of these is 2014’s Scooby-Doo: WrestleMania Mystery, in which Scoob and the gang team up with JOHN CENA and several other WWE superstars to capture a monster that’s been terrorizing WrestleMania. It’s dope[11]. Between that and a recent team-up with the band KISS, I kinda hope this signals a reboot of The New Scooby-Doo Movies[12].

Meanwhile, as of 2015, Cartoon Network has aired yet another reincarnation of the beloved character with Be Cool, Scooby-Doo. It’s nothing special, and the animation style is very weird, but it returns to the old formula reminiscent of the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, and has a surprisingly good sense of humor, so I can’t really fault it. In many ways, this was the appropriate follow-up to Mystery Incorporated, which only ran for two seasons because it told such a contained story. Any attempts to continue it or mimic the style would have suffered by comparison, so I’m glad they returned to the original formula. At least it’s better than the unspeakably bad Shaggy and Scooby Get a Clue.

Warner Bros. Like I said, it's a little weird.

Warner Bros.
Like I said, it’s a little weird.

Anyway, we find ourselves now at the end of our history. Having now written about 6,000 words on a talking dog, I think I can safely say that I’ve provided a decent overview of the history of Scooby-Doo since 1969. There have been highs and lows, memorable monsters and forgettable messes, Vincent Price cameos and Scooby-Doo’s extended family. Scooby-Doo has filled several roles over the decades, but one thing remains: kids love him, and I have a feeling they will continue to do so in the years to come. So, if you’ve got a small kid or are just feeling nostalgic, flipping on an episode of Scooby-Doo[13] is a great way to get in the mood for some Halloween fun.

In case you were curious, this article contains the word “mystery” and its variants twenty-three times.

[1] Said the guy who just spent a month writing about one of the longest-running cartoons in history.

[2] Ignore the last four articles I’ve published, in which I detail the several hours I’ve spent watching bad TV. That reflects nothing except a good work ethic.

[3] Bear in mind that this is a product that underwent nine reboots in the years between 1979 and 1988.

[4] Funny and scary, that should be, because if I saw this show as a little kid it definitely would have freaked me out. There are a few episodes… I’m looking at you, Death House.

[5] One of Crystal Cove’s tourist attractions is a haunted museum containing the costumes of the villains the kids have unmasked over the years, as well as displays for previous allies Scrappy and Flim-Flam.

[6] Is mythos the right word? Am I using that a little too generously?

[7] And I bet more people can remember one of Scooby’s adventures than one of Mickey’s.

[8] Even if he is a talking dog with a binge-eating problem.

[9] Incidentally, so has the aforementioned show Gravity Falls. Apparently I have a type.

[10] Even referencing it a few times. Towards the end of the series, Scooby even goes to the Black Lodge.

[11] And is the first of two team-ups between Scooby and the WWE, although curiously the second one isn’t about wrestling, but rather features the wrestlers in a cross-country Mad Max-style race.

[12] You’ll recall those from the 1970s, featuring celebrity guest stars such as Batman, the Addams Family, Dick Van Dyke, and the Harlem Globetrotters.

[13] From Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, What’s New, Scooby-Doo?, Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated, or in some select cases The Scooby-Doo Show.

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