Appellate Judge Michael Stailey would've gotten away with this review if it weren't for those meddling...oh, wait, he did get away with the review.
Our reviews of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! Volume 1 (published January 29th, 2009), Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! Volume 2 (published April 30th, 2009), Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! Volume 3 (published September 1st, 2009), and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! Volume 4 (published November 20th, 2010) are also available.
"Solving mysteries is our hobby!"—Shaggy, "Spooky Space Kook"
Pop culture icons are a fascinating concept. There is something inherent in the collective human consciousness that (for good or bad) grabs hold of a particular person, character, phrase, or performance and reverberates around the country—sometimes even the world. On September 13, 1969, CBS introduced us to four teenagers and their pet Great Dane, who just happen to inexplicably stumble upon and solve mysteries on an almost daily basis. For the first time, Warner Bros. gives Scooby fanatics something we've long been clamoring for—the first two seasons of Scooby-Doo, Where are You!, complete and uncut, on DVD.
Facts of the Case
Life for animated teens in the late '60s was pretty sweet! At least for Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy. You had your own wheels; an endless supply of time, energy, and money; no meddling parents; no job to worry about; and your very own talking dog. What more could you want?
How about mystery, intrigue, and suspense?
Be careful what you wish for!
Friends for life, these four super-sleuths and their trusty canine companion dubbed themselves "Mystery Inc." (though never officially) and set out on an indefinite road trip, righting wrongs, solving crimes, unraveling mysterious goings on, debunking cultural myths and legends, and somehow always finding time to chill out with a late night beach BBQ or a visit to the local malt shop.
Who are these incredible do-gooders? Let's go behind the veil of super-stardom and find out as DVD Verdict presents The DVD! True Animated Story…
• Frederick "Freddy" Jones
• "Danger Prone" Daphne Blake
• Velma Dinkley
• Norville "Shaggy" Rogers
• Scoobert "Scooby-Doo"
Evil doers beware! These five amateur detectives have quite the amazing track record. Heck, they were the America's Most Wanted of their day. Although, I shudder to think of the criminal animosity that has built up over the years as a result of their actions. No wonder they're always on the road. Makes it harder for the bad guys to find them!
Back in 1969, CBS Daytime programming chief, Fred Silverman, wanted to change the stagnant face of Saturday morning TV, moving away from the over-mined superhero genre and into a format that had long played well with children of all ages: mystery. His original concept was a blending of old time radio detective shows with the zany characters and situations of The Many Loves of Doby Gillis. Some also claim the series draws inspiration from British author Enid Blyton's 1940s Famous Five novels, in which Julian, Dick, George, Anne, and Timmy the dog stumbled upon mystery and adventure in the English countryside.
Approaching cartoon kings William Hannah and Joe Barbera with his House of Mystery concept, Silverman began working with writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, as well as character designer and Disney expatriate Iwao Takamoto to develop a proposal for the network. The end result was Mysteries Five, a Laguna Beach based teen rock band who, along with their trusty sheepdog Too-Much, would travel the California coastline playing beach parties and school dances, while continually running into monsters and mysteries in ghost towns, haunted mansions, deserted islands, and mountain resorts. The tales would be serialized in 15-part, 15-minute segments, each ending with a cliffhanger.
Sadly, our Mysteries Five heroes, Geoff, Mike, Kelly, Linda, WW, and Too-Much never saw life on the small screen. It turns out CBS president Frank Stanton deemed the concept too frightening for children, and the proposed series was shot down. Not one to give up easily, Silverman went back to Hanna-Barbera to consult with Ruby and Spears. Inspired by Frank Sinatra's scat riff in "Strangers in the Night" (Scooby-Dooby-Doo), this reworking would center on the teen's canine companion—now a Great Dane named Scooby—and tone down the fright factor with more classic comedy. CBS approved the change and green lighted the show for a fall 1969 premiere.
Once the excitement of the approval died down, Ruby and Spears realized more changes would be needed to make the series work. Fifteen minutes just wasn't enough time to tell the stories they had in mind. Out went the music group, one of the characters, and their names. The plot was extended to 22-minute, self-contained tales in which they were able to split up the team and focus on a smaller number of characters. Always wondered why Fred and Daphne went off together? Well, after completing the first five episodes, Joe and Ken found Shaggy, Velma, and Scooby were more enjoyable to write for. A short time later, they began shipping Velma off with Fred and Daphne to focus exclusively on the antics of the boys—a format that would continue through the history of the series's many incarnations.
Joe Ruby and Ken Spears wrote all but four of the series's two season, 25 episodes (those penned by fellow HB writer Bill Lutz) before jumping ship for rival animation studio DePatie-Freleng (Pink Panther). In their absence, Hanna-Barbera created The New Scooby-Doo Movies, which featured famous guest stars voicing animated, mystery solving versions of themselves (Don Knotts, Mama Cass, Phyllis Diller, Sonny & Cher, and more). This incarnation also lasted only two seasons (24 episodes), with CBS re-running Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! for the 1973 and 1974 seasons.
When Fred Silverman left CBS for ABC in 1975, the network lost interest in Scooby. Quick-thinking Silverman and young programming exec Michael Eisner (yes, that Michael Eisner) bought the rights to Scooby-Doo, re-hired Ruby and Spears, and created The Scooby-Doo Show, paired in an hour-long slot with their new series Blue Falcon and Dynomutt. The shrewd move paid off in a big way, as Scooby and the gang became ABC's most profitable animated property for the next 15 years.
What has made Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! such an enduring piece of Americana? First and foremost, this was something different. Here is an animated series that's accessible to all ages, never talking up or down to any one segment of its audience. The younger crowd (6-12) loves the screwball comedy, the teens love the mystery, and the adults love having cartoons they could watch with the kids without being compelled to perform a self-induced lobotomy. Granted, not every episode is a gem, but each adventure offered up something new, evolving these characters beyond their two dimensional limitations.
The vocal talents of Frank Welker (Fred), Casey Kasem (Shaggy), Nicole Jaffe (Velma), Stephanianna Christopher and Heather North (Daphne), and the great Don Messick (Scooby) gave their personas life, depth, and history. It's great to discover that Shaggy was a high school track star and amateur ventriloquist, Daphne has an uncle that's a famous film director, Velma dabbles in the occult, and Freddy is strangely proficient with a lasso. Unlike most series of its time, Scooby-Doo has a canon that grew with every adventure, one that writers continue to draw from even to this day.
Instead of analyzing each of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!'s 25 episodes, I thought it would be more interesting to focus on the series as a whole and the observations made re-watching this series (in its entirety) as an adult.
Season One: (September 1969-January 1970)
Showcases some of the best-remembered adventures, but certainly not the best written. Loaded with continuity flaws, cleanup errors, stilted dialogue, and uneven characterizations, writers Ruby, Spears, and Lutz were working out the kinks and establishing a format that would eventually become legendary. The same opening and closing credit sequence runs for the entire season.
• What a Night for a Knight
Season Two: (September 1970-October 1970)
Learning from mistakes made on their first production run, the Hanna-Barbera team crafted some of the best and worst episodes of the series's run. A new opening title sequence and theme song gave notice that the show's creators were not going to give us more of the same. While the characters designs remained true to form, we bear witness to a number of improvements, including varied camera angles and movement; cleaner, brighter, and wackier animation; more sight gags (especially with Scooby, Shaggy, and food); increasingly elaborate chase sequences (including the famous multi-door gag) underscored by a featured song; and a new voice for Daphne (Heather North, who has remained with the series off and on to this day).
• Nowhere to Hyde
1. Every Episode Takes Place at Night…Beach parties, boating, surfing, road trips, pizza runs, museum visits, et cetera. Some make perfect sense ("Let's stop for the night"), while others are like, huh?
2. The Mystery Machine is One Hell of a Vehicle…Designed by the British Secret Service, perhaps? Well, you explain how this standard American non-conversion van can go from completely empty to having a fully stocked kitchen ("Spooky Space Kook") and a high tech tracking system ("Decoy for a Dognapper"), as well as being able to store a huge fun house mirror and extension ladder. It's a mystery to me.
3. Breaking the Law…The gang has mastered the art of breaking laws in nearly every episode. Trespassing, breaking and entering, and destroying private property, all in the best interests of society, right? Good thing they solved those mysteries.
4. Making Enemies…There must be a prison full of two-bit criminals biding their time in the slammer and plotting their revenge on our teen heroes. No wonder they're always on the road.
5. Who's Paying for All This?…Long before the days of credit cards for teens, these super sleuths traveled the country in a van, stayed in various hotels and resorts, stopped at every malt shop, and never once held down a steady job. Wealthy parents? Another mystery.
6. Temporary Insanity…On occasion, Shag and Scoob have been known to set aside their rampant, irrational fears and go after ghosts and monsters ("Hassle in the Castle," "A Clue for Scooby-Doo," "The Backstage Rage," and "A Gaggle of Galloping Ghosts"). There really must be something to those Scooby snacks.
7. Just Plain Weird, in an X-Files Sort of Way…Bluestone the Great had time to create a fake Shaggy head? ("Hassle in the Castle"). Ape Man has a Scooby-Doo mask? ("Never Ape an Ape Man"). Kids visiting the circus have Scooby-Doo balloons? ("Bedlam in the Big Top"). The Mummy has time to create a cement casting of Scooby? ("Scooby-Doo and a Mummy, Too"). The swamp boat has enough power to dredge up a fully loaded armored car buried deep in the swamp? ("Which Witch is Which?"). Where are Mulder and Scully when you need them.
8. Sloppy, Sloppy, Sloppy…Hanna-Barbera has never been know for their quality control. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! is no exception. Perspective? Nah. A full sized bi-plane can easily maneuver its way through a museum and standard doors ("What a Night for a Knight"). Daphne's voice from Velma's mouth ("What the Hex is Going On?"). Shaggy's voice from Fred's mouth ("The Backstage Rage"). The Mystery Machine must have come over from the UK, with the steering wheel on the opposite side ("Bedlam in the Bigtop"). Just how many people can climb a ladder at the same time? ("The Backstage Rage"). Watch in horror as faces and bodies change shape and size from scene to scene ("Which Witch is Which?").
First use of "Zoinks!": "Hassle in the Castle"
Best of the Best
10. "What a Night for a Knight"—The very first episode. A
Presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame format, unfortunately, it doesn't appear as if Warner Bros. invested much time or money in restoring the source prints. Loaded with dirt, grain, and scratches, this collection doesn't look any better than what is currently running on Cartoon Network. Same goes for the audio. The 1.0 Mono track is adequately serviceable, but it would have been nice to see this animated hall-of-fame treasure given the five-star treatment, perhaps even stripping off the often annoying and completely unnecessary laugh track.
Hopefully you were not holding your breath for a bevy of bonus features, as Warner blows yet another opportunity to create a definitive collection. What they did was give some Hanna-Barbera interns a video camera and sent them off to create a few short Scooby-Doo tribute pieces. Oh brother…
• Scooby-Doo's Ultimate Fans (12 minutes): Collector Brent
Cooper, voice artist Scott Innes, and current Scooby chief Scott Jeralds are
profiled for their memorabilia collections.
At best, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! is a trail-blazing series and an American icon that defined the animated mystery format for generations to follow (Jabber Jaw, Clue Club, Goober and the Ghost Chasers). At worst, it's empty-headed cartoon fun and fodder for comedic ridicule. Either way, the series has left an indelible imprint on pop culture and spawned a marketing franchise that shows no sign of slowing down. It's unfortunate that Warner Bros. is blinded by the almighty dollar and refuses to preserve the series in the manner to which it is due. However, don't let this deter you from making Scooby-Doo, Where are You! The Complete First and Second Seasons a permanent addition to your DVD collection.
This court would like to hire Mystery Inc. to unravel the mystery behind Warner Bros. continued decisions to release long-awaited classic material on DVD with little forethought or effort. Well, that and the various unqualified phrasings for the series's official title. Looks like we have yet another mystery on our hands. Court adjourned.
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