Ruh-roh! There’s a yet new iteration of the beloved ’70s Hanna-Barbera series “Scooby-Doo” hitting (home) theaters, but no reason to fret, as the animated “Scoob!” (no relation to the 2002 and 2004 live-action adaptations) manages to be a real Scooby Snack. Directed by animation vet Tony Cervone, and written by Matt Lieberman, Adam Sztykiel, Jack Donaldson and Derek Elliot (with a story by Lieberman, Eyal Podell and Jonathan E. Stewart), the new “Scoob!” is clearly intended to scoop up a new generation of fans for the now 50-year-old characters (the star-studded voice cast also helps), but the familiar tone and references to the larger Hanna-Barbera universe will delight longtime fans of the series as well.
“Scoob!” even deigns to offer an origin story for one of the greatest love stories in pop culture: the friendship between pup Scooby-Doo and Shaggy, the hippie dude with an unyielding hankering for snacks, originally voiced by Casey Kasem, here voiced by Will Forte. Iain Armitage lends his voice to the prologue, in which the lonely young Shaggy meets his pup pal (voiced by longtime “Scooby-Doo” voice actor Fred Welker) on Venice Beach. Their best friendship is stronger than even his connection to his friends Fred, Daphne and Velma, whom he meets on Halloween. While searching for some purloined candy in a spooky haunted house, the meddling kids unmask their first villain and are instantly hooked on solving mysteries.
The plot picks up when the teenage gang (Forte, Zac Efron as Fred, Amanda Seyfried as Daphne and Gina Rodriguez as Velma) wants to ramp up operations. Seeking investors, they meet with Simon Cowell (yes, Simon Cowell, in a fairly ridiculous animated cameo) who wants to cut Shaggy and Scooby from the gang. “Friendship won’t save the day,” Cowell sneers, clearly demonstrating a fundamental lack of understanding about the world he’s entered. Shaggy and Scooby drown their sorrows at the bowling alley, where a group of bowling pin robots tries to kidnap them before they’re swooped up by an impressively futuristic jet. The whip belongs to Shaggy’s favorite superhero, Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg) and his trusty steed/”large adult son,” Dynomutt (Ken Jeong), and is piloted by the immensely capable Dee Dee Sykes (Kiersey Clemons).
Cowell clearly pegged Scooby wrong, as it turns out that the purveyor of the perilous pins, the twirly mustachioed Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs), is in hot pursuit of Scooby for his surprisingly famous DNA, which may lead to a whole stash of treasure. Soon Dastardly is in hot pursuit of Blue Falcon, Scooby, et al., with the Mystery Gang members close behind in search of their pals. Meanwhile, Shaggy feels left out as everyone fawns over the newly important Scooby.
“Scoob!” follows the standard chase/fight climax story structure that marks most animated films these days (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it). But it’s also irreverent and punny and often funny, and deeply self-reflective about current pop culture (the ditzy Blue Falcon is obsessed with social media) and the original “Scooby-Doo” tropes. Yes, there is an unmasking or three.
The inclusion of the other Hanna-Barbera characters that never quite achieved the cultural ubiquity of Scooby-Doo makes for a fun, universe-expanding tale, avoiding the cliches and story ruts that might otherwise befall yet another version of the Scooby-Doo story. As far as quarantine entertainment for kids goes, “Scoob!” is a treat.