Reviving much-loved pop culture characters can be a challenge.
Too much homage to nostalgia, to the much-loved but well worn tropes that defined the characters in the first place and you’re simply consigning them to an increasingly small niche and possibly eventual creative stagnation and obliterative irrelevancy.
Too much new stuff and you might as well be creating them from scratch, alienating long and loyal fans while simultaneously failing to catch the attention of the very people, the new generation, who may give them a fresh spin on the zeitgeist merry-go-round.
Not an easy ask in anyone’s language.
But the people at Warners Animation, who have given us in Scooby Doo’s latest incarnation Be Cool Scooby Doo! have managed it with aplomb, giving us characters we know and love, with many of their defining attributes intact while at the same time, infusing a whole new sense of post modern fun and silliness into the mix.
Here’s three things in particular I enjoyed about Scooby Doo’s latest move to reclaim the pop culture universe as his own (with all the Scooby Snacks he can eat, of course) …
Everyone’s the same … but they’re not
First off, Scooby Doo, Shaggy and Velma are very much as you remember them.
Scooby and Shaggy are the scaredy cats (or dogs) of old, afraid of their own shadows, more inclined to run from solving a mystery than rush to figure out who’s behind it. They still love their food – the eating gags now though are increasingly over the top, such as the battle hilarious that ensues between Scooby and Shaggy, and the catering staff on a cruise shop – they still as clumsy and silly as ever, and thus as adorable.
Velma too is still the super-intelligent, ultra-conscientious nerd, anxious about a world that she is innately skilled and qualified to bring to account. She’s adorkably sweet but every bit as socially awkward as ever.
It’s Daphne and Fred that have been given the big makeovers.
Fred is no longer consigned to the occasional suggestion, having shed the “bro” tag to become the one who actually put the team together in the first place. He is much more a leader, a thinker than the one who always seemed to have driving duties down pat and not much else.
Daphne is the one who’s had the biggest changes made. Still the trust fund princess in part, she’s been allowed to develop a ton of personality quirks and by a ton, I mean a TON. She’s voices her feelings and thoughts through puppets, feels compelled to try out a running narration for their adventures she and the gang embark on and has a mysteriously antagonistic relationship with the wildlife of the sea.
And you know what? It’s made an amazing difference to her character, fleshing her out in ways that the original series never quite managed. She and Fred are now vital members of the team and not the straight players to Velma, Shaggy and Scooby.
They’ve kept many of the things we love …
For instance the goofy, Keystones Cops-esque chase scenes remain. The food obsession is there. The solving of an impenetrable supernatural mystery? Check.
In other words, they have honoured much of the legacy of the show without encumbering the new show with too much of the old baggage. Velma is, as you might imagine, still the engine room of the mystery solving; however the others get a look-in now such as Fred who is key to solving more than a few mysteries.
The key phrase that finishes off the show always makes an appearance – “And I would’ve gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for you meddling kids.” However, much of the time it’s delightfully and deliciously subverted with the villains, once unmasked either giving up halfway through the phrase, admitting that they wouldn’t have got away with it all or everyone wandering off in disinterest and boredom as Velma concludes yet another long winded recitation of the clues, none of which are immediately apparent to the viewer or anyone else for that matter, are outlined.
It is business as usual yes but with a freshness and willingness to subvert and play around that gives them a new life and makes their inclusion meaningful rather than nostalgically tokenistic.
And brought in a whole lot of new stuff …
There’s a fantastically Mel Brooks feel to proceedings.
From hilariously nonsensical conversations with a tribesman named Rick, who is the last of his kind and insists the team are constantly mispronouncing his name and that of his nearly-vanished peoples’ chicken god to humourously inept secondary players such as the park ranger who’s a complete pushover or the overly-ambitious security guard who’s idea of laying in wait for the bad guys involved hiding in bushes and under chairs in plain view, it’s all very silly, winningly so.
Scooby Doo was always good with the slapstick and that remains in the chase scenes and much of the physical humour that still percolates through the show.
But now they’re accompanied by witty observational humour, Family Guy-esque interludes that add to the episode in question rather than detract from it, and a willingness to take a break from the mystery solving to just be downright goofy. The asides, witty wisecracks and jokes come thick and fast and they work pretty much all of the time.
Be Cool Scooby Doo knows how to have fun with itself, as much as celebrate what it always was, making this one of the most refreshingly amusing reimaginings of the show, and it’s had a few in its time, a welcome addition to modern cartoonry that looks to have a lot of life, and monsters, ghouls and gargoyles, in it yet.