Warner Bros. // 2004 // 85 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // May 19th, 2004
Scooby-Doo and the gang hit the road again!
There's good Scooby-Doo (Scooby-Doo, Where are You!), bad Scooby-Doo (the Scrappy years), and then there's What's New Scooby-Doo?
Credit Warner Bros. for bringing the Mystery Inc. gang back to series television. To be honest, I was intrigued by the prospect of new episodes. Given the animated prowess of the Batman and Superman animated franchises, imagine what could be done with this property! The creative Powers That Be merely scratched the surface with Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island and Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost. Now, here was an opportunity to take this franchise to a whole new level.
The result? They shanked it.
This new Mystery Machine has a tank full of potential and an engine that misfires with every RPM. In modernizing the gang, producer Chuck Sheetz and supervising director Scott Jeralds have dumbed down our super sleuths to the lowest common denominator. During the first few seasons of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! the gang embraced the X-Filian unknown, pursuing each mystery with a mix of casebook curiosity and teenage trepidation. Their time-warped counterparts, however, are jaded cynics who attract the most uninteresting cases and do very little detective work to solve them. As an audience, we wanted to unravel the original mysteries before they did. With these adventures, trust me, you just won't care.
This release, What's New Scooby-Doo?: Safari, So Goodi (Volume 2), includes four episodes from the series's inaugural 2002 season.
"Safari, So Goodi"
The gang is on a video safari in Africa, filming a documentary on native wildlife. (So they're documentarians now?) Mysteriously, the animals are disappearing, replaced with glowing, shape shifting, demon animals (I'm not making this up) who attack any humans in their path. Why are they disappearing? Where are they going? Who is responsible? Who knows! Our didactic detectives are too busy dealing with an undercover police officer masquerading as a T-shirt salesman (complete with pet monkey), a native tour guide safeguarding a secret uranium mine, an uptight Jane Goodall-esque researcher, a lovey dovey couple on their third honeymoon, and Fred's Michael Moore-like directorial aspirations to have time for anything else. Someone please explain to the writers that they have only 21 minutes to set up, unravel, and reveal the mystery.
"Roller Goaster Ride"
The hottest new amusement park with the world's greatest ride designers draws our heroes to Miami for some fun in the sun. Unfortunately, there is a monster on the loose (think green monkey man with a Yeti complex) sabotaging all of the rides. This is really nothing more than a candy-synth-rock-driven montage of zany amusement park attractions; more fun for the writers and storyboard artists than for the audience. By the time the culprit is revealed, you're just happy the episode is over.
"Riva Ras Regas"
Who knew Fred was such a big Elvis fan? It's the Scooby Travel Channel special, as the gang heads to a gentrified Sin City for the casino debut of America's latest pop princess. Upon arrival, they stumble upon the mystery of a David Blaine-like magician who tragically vanished at the height of his career, only to return as a vengeful spirit terrorizing the new owners and talent. While this storyline does have a modicum of interest (and is by far the best of the bunch), I could have done without the seven minutes devoted to Mr. Wacky Pants, the Rip Taylor voiced character.
"It's Mean, It's Green, It's the Mystery Machine"
This is it! The proverbial nail in the coffin and an indicator of just how far off the mark this show is from its origins. On an evening pizza run, Shag and Scoob are attacked by the Mystery Machine. Yes, the infamous team van pulls a Christine and turns an evil headlight on the gang. This mystery leads them to their mechanic, who is an obsessed fan of former flash-in-the-pan pop group The Mystery Kids. In a blatantly ridiculous piece of the revisionist pop culture history, Fred is not the original owner of the Mystery Machine; it used to be the tour bus for this band of Partridge Family wannabes, complete with a Shirley Jones look-alike mom. It's all downhill from here.
Is there any redeeming value to this series?
The voice casting is respectable. Casey Kasem returns as Shaggy, with Frank Welker pulling double duty as both Fred and Scooby. Mindy (Facts of Life) Cohen steps into Velma's knee-highs, and voice-over veteran Grey DeLisle channels Daphne.
Even good casting can't save pitiful characterizations. While Shag and Scoob haven't changed much (Scooby talks less, since the passing of Don Messick), Fred goes from team leader to village idiot, with Daphne stepping to the forefront as the brains and brawn of the outfit. Yes, that's right, danger-prone Daphne has jumped 100 IQ points and trained rigorously in both gymnastics and martial arts. She's even providing insights Velma has trouble fathoming, perhaps because she has embraced her inner techno and adventure travel geek, leaving little time for anything else. Not that there is anything wrong with strong female characters for kids. It's just that dramatic personality departures won't sit well with the Gen-Xers who were weaned on a weekly does of Fruity Pebbles and Scooby-Doo.
This incarnation is squarely geared towards the post-PBS Kids demographic, as evidenced by Rich Dickerson and Gigi Meroni's over-produced Barney-fied musical underscore, Lotto Animation's bargain basement visuals lacking any semblance of depth or dimensionality, and the attention deficit, Ritalin-deprived, paper thin plots of George Doty, Jim Krieg, Dwayne McDuffie, and Ed Scharlach. It's an eye candy tool for nannies across America who need something to mesmerize the kids while tending to the five thousand other things they have been tasked to accomplish.
Presented in 1.33:1 full frame format, the transfer is a picture of digital purity. Coloring book-inspired animation dominates the screen in vibrant primary colors, with blacks used for dramatic effect. The new theme song, written and performed by Simple Plan, is very Blink-182 and the only interesting auditory component of the show. The Dolby 2.0 Surround is nothing more than a glorified stereo track showing almost no use of the rear channels. Then again, considering your audience, why put money into creating an effects-driven environment?
The special features are afterthoughts, tossed in to give the release some perceived weight. Learn the Lingo is a Velma-narrated clip fest highlighting the not-so-unique verbiage used, and Road Trip is an animated travelogue of the places they visit. Finally, the studio trailers. Wow, I'm spent.
The sad truth is, we thirtysomethings are no longer Warner's target audience. Scooby has been co-opted by the studio for the 8-12 year-old masses. If your little ones love Scooby-Doo, go ahead and purchase both volumes. They'll wear the discs out. For the rest of us, go purchase Scooby-Doo, Where are You! The Complete First and Second Seasons and relive those Saturday mornings of old.
You know, it's too bad. This franchise has the untapped potential to be exploited in the realm of high-concept anime (Shinichirô Watanabe, Hayao Miyazaki), something I think would sell very well to people in their 20s and 30s. Maybe someday. Until then, Warner Bros. execs are released on their own recognizance to continue pacifying the minds of America's youth.
This court is adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2004 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Featurette: Learn the Lingo
* Featurette: Road Trip
* Studio Trailers
* TV Tome