I’m “biast” (con): …but it didn’t need a reboot
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
I wasn’t gonna watch the new Scooby-Doo movie. I was a fan of the original late 60s–early 70s TV show, but I was a kid then and it’s not a cartoon with adult appeal beyond the most perfunctory of nostalgia-fueled curiosity. Plus Scoob! simply looked dire.
But I watched it. I paid 20 damn bucks for a streaming rental. (Press screeners were limited to very select critics.) Why? Why did I do that? What an idiot I am.
I plead professionalism. This is what I’m telling myself, anyway. Scoob! is only the second shoulda-been-a-multiplex-wide-release movie that has been sent direct to home viewing because of the closure of cinemas during the coronavirus pandemic. (The first was last month’s Trolls: World Tour.) The future of cinema exhibition — the entire experience of Going To The Movies — is literally at stake: If this business strategy works, will it kill movie theaters for good? This is the terrified buzz of the industry at the moment. I’m not sure that most casual moviegoers are even aware of the issue — or if they are aware, whether they care. Most people who aren’t critics or ardent cinephiles only see a couple of movies on the big screen each year anyway. Most people who watch movies are already watching them at home.
But it is my professional duty to examine this controversial matter and have an opinion about it. And here it is: What’s shocking about Scoob! isn’t that we didn’t get to see it on a big screen. What’s shocking is that anyone thought this was worthy of such a presentation in the first place.
This is a disgracefully terrible movie, even grading on the “it’s for kids!” scale (which I never do anyway, because kids don’t deserve junk any more than grownups do, but if I did, this still wouldn’t pass muster). The animation looks cheap, like it was knocked off for a 90s cable show even though it’s also clearly modern CGI. It’s both a reboot and an origin story for the gang of paranormal investigators and their talking dog, set in today’s world, so it’s lacking that groovy Summer of Love vibe but fails to find a mood that feels 2020ish. (No, Harry Potter references do not count. Nor does Velma Googling to advance the plot; that’s a bad thing about contemporary movies. And dear god, is there a “joke” about Tinder in a children’s movie? *facepalm*)
Scoob! was intended to be a summer tentpole because Warner Bros. had one of the worst ideas in the history of movies: it wanted to launch a Hanna-Barbera shared-universe franchise, and this was meant to kick it off. So this isn’t only just (barely) a Scooby-Doo movie. It’s also a Blue Falcon movie; he’s a sort of vaguely Iron Man–esque superhero in a flying suit, and if anyone remembers Blue Falcon at all, it’s because of his talking-robot-dog sidekick, Dynomutt. The bad guy is Dick Dastardly, an unfunny cliché of a mustache-twirling villain, who also has a talking-dog sidekick called Muttly. Yes, there will be a sequence in which Dastardly has to screamingly insist on his preferred shortened version of his forename: “I’m a Dick! I’m a Dick!” (I am embarrassed for voice actor Jason Isaacs [Star Trek Continues, The Death of Stalin] here. I remind you again that this is a movie for children.)
No, Dastardly is not actually Old Man Withers from the amusement park wearing a mask who would have gotten away with his greedy plan to sell to developers if not for those pesky kids. (That was a great thing about the original cartoon: it promoted reason and scientific skepticism, if only accidentally! There were never any actual ghosts or monsters, at least as far as I recall, never anything truly supernatural. There were just rich bastards trying to get richer. Though subsequent incarnations of Scooby-Doo did feature elements that were genuinely paranormal.) Dastardly is just a standard villain the likes of which you might find in a same-old superhero movie. And Blue Falcon is a generic superhero. It’s like Scoob! doesn’t even want to be a Scooby-Doo movie at all. It’s just a random, scattershot collection of pulp junk, cheesy sci-fi, and — yes — paranormal crap, assembled by six screenwriters who apparently don’t actually understand or even like any of the genres they’ve mashed together.
In the midst of this spectacularly dumb and pandering mess, we also get some fucked-up gender dynamics: The “heroes” — Shaggy (the voice of Will Forte: Extra Ordinary, Booksmart), Scooby-Doo (the voice of Frank Welker: Aladdin, Smurfs: The Lost Village), and Blue Falcon (the voice of Mark Wahlberg: Mile 22, All the Money in the World) — are all useless doofuses, and proud of it. The women — Velma (the voice of Gina Rodriguez: Ferdinand, Deepwater Horizon); Blue Falcon’s assistant, Dee Dee Skyes (the voice of Kiersey Clemons: Flatliners, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising), and to a lesser degree Daphne (the voice of Amanda Seyfried: Anon, Gringo) — are all supremely competent and do all the work, including frequently fixing messes the doofuses — also including Fred (the voice of Zac Efron: The Disaster Artist, Baywatch) — have made. Is there a hint of satire in any of this? I suspect the screenwriters — all men — believe that having one of the women shout “toxic masculinity!” at one particularly annoying point constitutes such. But it doesn’t.
The lesson of Scoob!: Ineffectual idiot men inevitably get all the credit as heroes — get hailed as legends, to boot! — even as competent women do all the work. All the usual “it’s for kids!” garbage we’re assailed with here — the attempts to be heartwarming among all the poop jokes, for instance — are inoffensive next to this sexist poison. We need to be inoculating kids against this, not feeding it to them. Our sons need to get their shit together, and our daughters shouldn’t be expecting to have to do it for them.
If anything is going to kill movies, it’s movies like Scoob!: charmless cash-grabs mired in dated conventions that can’t be bothered with the slightest stab at originality. Find some new stories to tell, Hollywood, and tell them better.