Judge Paul Corupe prefers animated Globetrotters that do showboating algebra.
With 1969's Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, the animators at Hanna-Barbera hit on a unique mix of suspense, comedy, and mystery. Scooby-Doo and his ragtag group of teen sleuths quickly became a success with the Saturday morning cereal-chomping crowd, and after the original run of the show ended in 1970, H-B decided to capitalize on their hit and retooled the show in an hour-long format as The New Scooby-Doo Movies. Shows in this 24-episode season teamed Scooby with a host of animated guest stars who would help Mystery Inc. investigate each new case of ghostly misdirection. As Warner Brothers makes their way through the Hanna-Barbera vaults, some—but not all—of the episodes from The New Scooby-Doo Movies have found their way to DVD in The Best of the New Scooby-Doo Movies.
Facts of the Case
Self-confident Freddy, klutzy Daphne, brainy Velma, perpetually hungry coward Shaggy, and their anthropomorphic talking dog Scooby-Doo are the young sleuths who make up Mystery Inc. In their flower-powered custom van, the Mystery Machine, this teenage detective agency prowls the countryside in search of suspicious spooks and phony phantoms. Each episode, the gang finds themselves chased by a ghost or monster in a suitably creepy setting, but through some comedic hijinks and quick thinking, they invariably discover that the real perpetrator is a criminal in a clever costume, trying to scare nosy onlookers away from the base of their illegal operations.
A "best of" set and not a complete season as you might expect, The Best of the New Scooby-Doo Movies features 15 of the 24 episodes from what essentially amounts to Scooby's third season, spread over four discs:
• "The Ghastly Ghost Town" (with The Three Stooges)
• "The Dynamic Scooby-Doo Affair" (with Batman &
• "The Frickert Fracas" (with Jonathan Winters)
• "Guess Who's Knott Coming to Dinner" (with Don
• "The Spooky Fog" (with Don Knotts)
• "The Ghost of Bigfoot" (with Laurel & Hardy)
• "The Ghost of the Red Baron" (with The Three
• "The Ghostly Creeps from the Deep" (with The Harlem
• "The Caped Crusader Caper" (with Batman &
• "The Lochness Mess" (with The Harlem
• "The Mystery of Haunted Island" (with The Harlem
• "The Exterminator" (with Don Adams)
• "The Weird Winds of Winona" (with Speed Buggy)
• "The Haunted Candy Factory" (with "Mama"
• "The Haunted Carnival" (with Dick Van Dyke)
The original two seasons of Scooby-Doo, Where are You?, previously released in an earlier animation wave from the fine folks at Warner Brothers, are easily the best produced for the character, a fitting showcase for one of Hanna-Barbera's finest concepts. Although each show pretty much followed the same standard template, even today, the early episodes remain extremely comfortable, like your favorite pair of slippers. I can't say why H-B decided to offer viewers a drastic new twist with The New Scooby-Doo Movies, but needless to say, it rarely works as well as the original, excellent series.
With only a few dozen shows under Scooby's collar, it's alarming to see how quickly the show's writers ran out of ideas, as they shamelessly reuse and recycle ideas, plots, and even jokes during this season. Four of the fifteen episodes here take place at a haunted mansion, while another three transpire at a haunted amusement park, and three feature haunted mine shafts. Almost all of the remainder of the settings (ski resort, swamp) have appeared before, as have most of the concepts behind this season's surprisingly underwritten scripts. In short, these episodes feel like third-generation imitations of the first season, with stories stretched perilously thin over the new, extended running times. The result is that these episodes are only as good as their particular guest stars, which makes this a very sorry entry in the Scooby canon indeed.
The Three Stooges, who make two appearances this season, are hands down the worst guests of all. Voiced by new actors and clad in matching yellow jumpsuits, a crackdown on cartoon violence completely neuters everyone's favorite knuckleheads, who are left grasping for comedic straws—bad puns, childish behavior, and lame sight gags. I'm sorry, but if nobody's nose gets caught in a plumber's wrench, then it's not the Three Stooges. The same can be said for Laurel and Hardy, who are rendered terminally unfunny as bumbling cartoon characters cowering in the corner with Shaggy and Scooby. In other cases, the very nature of the guests throws the show's time-tested structure into chaos. When Scooby meets up with Batman and Robin in "The Caped Crusader Caper," they find themselves battling the Joker and the Penguin, with not a ghost or a hideously masked smuggler to be found. Even worse, many of the shows from this season are so focused on their guests that they fail to introduce potential suspects for the "whodunit" aspect of the show—very frustrating for those who like to solve along with Scooby.
Sometimes, however, the cosmic forces align, and The New Scooby-Doo Movies pulls off a halfway decent show. The Harlem Globetrotters are ideal comedic guests who have a group dynamic that meshes well with The Mystery Inc. gang. All three of their episodes are set highlights, including the excellent "The Mystery of Haunted Island." In addition to using the team to advance the story, this episode is one of the few that isn't mercilessly padded, fitting the mystery into the first half-hour and then switching focus to hijinks at a basketball game at the end. The always enjoyable Jonathan Winters episode is a near classic, as Winters contributes the voices for both himself and Maude Frickert in "The Frickert Fracas." This set's big surprise is Dick Van Dyke's natural and humorous voice acting performance in "The Haunted Carnival," another stand-out for Scooby's ill-fated third season.
Wait a minute—Dick Van Dyke? Laurel and Hardy? Cass Elliot? These are curious choices for guests in a Saturday morning cartoon program aimed at children, who may not be familiar with these stars. Maybe that's why many of the season's guest stars weren't real-life celebrities at all, but tie-ins with other H-B cartoons. Besides guest spots by well-known series Speed Buggy and Josie and the Pussycats (not included on this set), H-B had also been producing an animated Laurel and Hardy since the late 1960s, and the short-lived The Harlem Globetrotters, which featured animated versions of the real life players (but not their voices), had premiered in 1970. After their guest spots here, they would later be brought back as shape-shifting heroes in 1979's The Super Globetrotters.
Obviously, the biggest problem with The Best of the New Scooby-Doo Movies is that Warner has left off almost half of the show's episodes. Let's take a look at what was omitted:
• "Wednesday is Missing" (with The Addams Family)
As to why Warner Brothers went this route instead of just releasing the whole season as expected, the most logical answer seems to be rights issues. It's certainly possible that there were problems with the music in Jerry Reed's episode, or perhaps Paramount wanted too much for The Addams Family, who also starred in their own H-B cartoon series during the 1970s. Maybe re-licensing all the celebrity cameos was too cost-prohibitive—this might also account for this box set's disproportionate price tag. Still, neither of these justifications explains the exclusion of no-brainers like Josie and the Pussycats and even the Sonny and Cher episode, which found its way to a VHS release in the 1980s. What gives, Warner?
The transfer is on par with most of the other entries in the Hanna-Barbera
animation line—riddled with dirt and source artifacts, but still highly
watchable, with bold colors and a crisp appearance. Sound is also quite good
considering it's only in mono; music and dialogue are always clear, but like
many of these sets, recorded a little low. Now we get to the DVD extras, always
a point of contention on these H-B releases: The Best of the New Scooby-Doo
Movies has easily the worst selection of supplemental features on any of
these sets yet, none of which are particularly worth watching, or in the case of
the "limited edition" cel, keeping. "The Hanna-Barbera Kennel
Club Roasts Scooby-Doo" is a five-minute comedy bit laced with highlight
reel clips that features Huckleberry Hound, Astro, and Hanna-Barbera's other dog
characters affectionately teasing their canine cousin. Smells like Cartoon
Network filler to me. "Uptown with Scooby-Doo and the Harlem
Globetrotters" features Otis Key and Michael Wilson, two current
Globetrotters, pretending to gab it up with Scooby and their animated
forefathers via clips, and teaching the viewer acrobatic basketball tricks. I'm
not exactly sure what the point of this is, and it's a pretty specious inclusion
as an extra.
Despite the fact that this incarnation of Scooby-Doo is plagued by poor scripting and a distinct lack of originality, it was followed up four years later by The Scooby-Doo Show, a new half-hour show that returned to the formulaic—but distinctive—course charted by Scooby-Doo, Where are You?. Here's hoping that a (complete!) season set of this version is already in the works, and we might be able to push this lackluster DVD aside and get a proper Scooby fix before party crasher Scrappy-Doo makes his inevitable appearance.
Guilty—and they would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for those meddling DVD reviewers!
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