Chief Justice Michael Stailey was once Vincent Van Ghoul's personal assistant. His allergy to brimstone forced him to quit.
Our reviews of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated: Season One, Volume 2 (published October 9th, 2011) and Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated: Season One, Volume 3 (published October 9th, 2011) are also available.
Daphne: "Did you do something different with your bangs?"
As a lifelong fan of the Scooby-Doo franchise (the show debuted in 1969, a year after I was born), I was a huge fan of the original series, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, whose 26 half-hour episodes ran in syndication for years. That fondness was enhanced by The New Scooby-Doo Movies (1972) which added celebrity guest stars (both actual and fictional) to its now hour-long mysteries, and cemented itself in the cultural zeitgeist. What made the show resonate with so many people is that it operated on multiple levels; little kids loved the wacky animated antics, and older kids were drawn to the comedy-infused mysteries. Much like the best animation today, its stories didn't pander to the lowest common denominator, due in large part to the show's creators Joe Ruby and Ken Spears. Unfortunately, when their success took them down different paths (Planet of the Apes, The Krofft Supershow, Thundarr the Barbarian), Scooby and the gang wound up in the hands of talented people who weren't as interested in keeping the bar set so high. And yet throughout the years and the many oh-so-painful iterations of these characters—The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, The Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Puppy Hour, Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get A Clue!, and countless direct-to-DVD adventures—I've held out hope that someone would come along, recapture the magic, and tap the potential the franchise has always held…even if I had to write it myself.
My zealousness wasn't misplaced.
Enter Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone, who cut their teeth on the biting satire of Tiny Toon Adventures, Pinky and the Brain, and Animaniacs. Infusing their experience and humor into a series most people were now using as nothing more than an electronic babysitter, they've given us the show I always knew was possible.
Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated is a genius use of the franchise, from its highest highs to its lowest lows; everything is canon and nothing is off limits. Despise Scrappy-Doo? So does the gang (As Fred says, "We swore we'd never speak about it again.") Wonder whatever happened to Flim-Flam? Daphne will tell you. Think you've seen the last of Vincent Van Ghoul? Think again. More important than easter eggs for fans, Brandt and Cervone have grounded the series in Crystal Cove, the kids hometown. No longer are they independently wealthy, wandering nomads whose adventures find them in an Arizona ghost town one week and Shanghai China or the Scottish highlands the next. These are high school kids with teenage problems, who happen to love hanging out together and unraveling the insanity taking place in their own backyard. Plus, they have families to contend with. Fred's dad (voiced by Gary Cole, Office Space) is the mayor who wants nothing more than to leverage Crystal Cove's paranormal history to drive tourism. The same goes for Velma's parents (Frances Conroy of Six Feet Under and Kevin Dunn of Transformers: Dark of the Moon) who own an occult bookstore and the town's "Spook Museum." (You can imagine how upset they get with the kids for debunking their primary source of income.) Daphne's parents are members of the Crystal Cove elite, and her four sisters each highly successful in their own chosen professions. Shaggy's folks are aging hippies who care more about their own artistic pursuits than what their slacker son and his talking dog are up to. And remember that non-descript sheriff who always showed up to arrest the bad guys at the end of each episode? Well, he now has a name (Sheriff Bronson Stone) and a fully fleshed out personality, courtesy of Patrick Warbuton (Rules of Engagement). All combined, it gives the series a much needed foundation to play off and enables the writing team to slowly reveal their ace-in-the-hole, an even darker mystery buried deep within the history of Crystal Cove itself.
I say all that to tell you this: Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated operates on the same level as Joe Ruby and Ken Spears original; Cartoon Network's target audience of 7-12 year olds love it on one level, and those of us who grew up with the series enjoy it for entirely different reasons. Watch as a tenuous romantic relationship ebbs and flows between Velma and Shaggy, only to be sabotaged by Scooby. See Daphne struggle with her feelings for Fred, who's as thick as a brick when it comes to women, but is addicted to his traps as much as some guys are to porn. The monster of the week conceit is still what drives the show, but its the added meat on the bones that makes it all the more sweet.
What's not sweet is Warner Bros. continuing price-point release strategy. Yes, some genius marketing folks decided that DVD impulse buys were the way to capture their target market, so releasing four episode volumes at $9.99 would be the way to go. I understand the reasoning, but prefer to invest in complete seasons. Then again, when you can find all these episodes online or on-demand, the need for material product is becoming a non-issue. But since I'm reviewing Volume One, let's discuss what's on it…
• "Beware the Beast From Below"—The requisite establishing episode lays out the ground rules and character relationships for the series, couched in a mystery of a monster who drains the life of his victims by cocooning them in gelatinous slime. The gang blows their deductive reasoning and captured bad guy has to explain his motives. The creature has a bit of fright factor, so be cautious with the little ones. The first piece of the overarching mystery is revealed, as Mister E. (Lewis Black, The Daily Show) teases our heroes with "The Curse of Crystal Cove."
• "The Creeping Creatures"—Neighboring Gatorsburg is besieged by Gator people and the gang is lured into yet another mystery. Unfortunately, they may be in over their heads, when the Mystery Machine's engine is stolen and they're forced to spend the night with monsters who want them dead. The fright factor is quite high on this one, as Act Two plays like a mini horror movie. While I love what the writers are doing with these stories, the creatures the gang comes up against possess powers and abilities which are never fully explained.
• "Secret of the Ghost Rig"—With a monster reminiscent of Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive, a phantom trucker is running locals off the road, which may or may not have something to do with Mayor Jones re-election campaign. At the same time, crystal door knobs are disappearing all over town. Coincidence? Meanwhile, Daphne's parents try to fix her up with heir to a ladder company (James Arnold Taylor doing a dead-on David Spade impersonation), someone more befitting her social status. This episode introduces the nose-less Skipper Shelton, as voiced by John O'Hurley (Seinfeld).
• "Revenge of the Man Crab"—A Beverly Hills 90210 cameo kicks off this tale of a giant Man Crab who's kidnapping Crystal Cove beach lovers. When the beastie attacks the annual beach volleyball tournament and a bikini-clad Daphne is snatched, the gang must calm a freaked out Fred and formulate a plan to solve this mystery. Another piece of Mister E.'s puzzle is revealed, as we spend more time with K-GHOUL DJ Angel Dynamite (Vivica A. Fox, Independence Day), who may have more to do with this than anyone suspects. Look for another '90s TV guest appearance by David Faustino (Married with Children) as Bud Shelton, corporate mascot; and a fleeting glimpse of Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm at the 2:08 mark.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the show's stylized animation goes a long way towards giving the franchise a 21st century feel. More graphic-novel-meets-anime than what you find on the majority of today's television animation, the angular character design and beautifully painted backgrounds make this one slick looking series. The colors pop, the blacks are solid, and the CGI is not nearly as obtrusive as we've seen from Warner Animation. The Dolby 2.0 stereo balances a techno-influenced score with a wealth of action ambience. A 5.1 surround would have really iced the cake, but the audio serves the show as well as can be expected. What's surprising is the five full language tracks and four subtitle fields made available, offering far more than most feature film releases. Then again, Scooby is a worldwide cultural icon.
Bonus materials? Ha…not a chance. Previous full and partial season releases from the Scooby archives had a hard enough time pulling together new material, I wasn't expecting Warner Home Video to do anything for this volume installments. And I was right. Keep your fingers crossed for the full season or complete series release. Just don't hold your breath.
Having done my analysis upfront, we'll spend a little more time talking individual episodes on subsequent release reviews. My admiration for some stories is bound to waiver as the series progresses (let's just say what should have been a crown jewel tale was unforgivably botched), but my love for this franchise has never been greater. Let Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated be the standard by which all future Warner Animation is judged. And I'm talking directly to you, Bruce Timm and the DC Superhero production team (whose recent direct-to-DVD adventures have been less than stellar).
Rock on, Mystery Inc.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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