Animation Wednesday: Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated
This post is part of the Animation Wednesday series, a weekly column which looks at animated TV series and movies of the past, present and future.
There’s nothing new about franchises. Sequels, remakes, and “reimaginings” are an established part of the television and movie landscape, and if something was an animated series, you can expect a live action/CGI version in theaters sooner rather than later (see The Smurfs for one of too many examples). The idea here is that it’s much easier to sell audiences on what they already know they like, versus an unknown quantity (I think it’s also much easier to sell studio execs, who are now a bunch of aging Baby Boomers, on what they know they like, hence the multiple live-action Flintstones movies). Most of these movies or shows either tank or quietly fade away, remembered only in a Wikipedia subsection.
Once in a while though, a remake really knocks it out of the park. It takes the best parts of a series and offers a new, exciting perspective which makes the show a genuine hit in its own right. That’s what happened with Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.
Mystery Incorporated is a partial deconstruction of the original Scooby-Doo, Where are You? series. Here, Scooby and the gang’s mystery solving and monster unmasking is treated as an irritating problem by their parents and the community at large, who make money off of monster-themed tourism (Velma’s parents run a monster museum, and Fred’s dad is the mayor). Undeterred, the gang continues to unmask crooks, and finds themselves pulled into a larger mystery concerning the history of their hometown, Crystal Cove.
The characters have received makeovers in terms of both looks and personalities. The character designs were done by the absolutely fantastic Derrick J. Wyatt, of Transformers Animated and Teen Titans fame. They’re angular and cartoonish, a little bit like caricatures of the original series. Fred is square-jawed and boxy, Velma is petite and mostly glasses, and Shaggy is as gangly as ever. They look great from every angle, as do the villains, who are more intricate and fearsome than they’ve ever been. The show also introduces a romance between Shaggy and Velma, which is hilarious and provides a lot of story opportunities. Avoiding the “dumb Fred” character which unfortunately developed in recent incarnations, Fred is depicted here as being somewhat oblivious and obsessed with setting traps, much to the consternation of Daphne, who harbors an (initially) unrequited crush. Scooby himself is about the same as ever, although he’s given longer and more important lines and is generally treated more like a character and less like a mascot than in the past.
The show definitely has a bit of a parody vibe and some tongue in cheek humor, but it’s still a pretty faithful Scooby story. The main difference between Mystery Incorporated! and the live action movies of a couple of years ago is that the producers of Mystery Incorporated!, Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone (also of The Looney Tunes Show, imagine that), actually like Scooby-Doo. For all the trap jokes and meddling-kids variations, the characters and plots are treated with respect and don’t devolve into one-dimensional clichés the way they did in the films. Like the original series, watching the Mystery Inc. gang run from monsters and find clues is genuinely enjoyable here, and the show is littered with in-jokes and references for long-time Scooby fans. At the same time, it manages to forge its own territory, which other shows, especially What’s New, Scooby-Doo?, sidestepped in favor of using the same basic premises of the original.
Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated has also been building an ongoing story-arc all season, which is about to come to a head, so I’d highly recommend catching up before watching current episodes. While they all work fine on their own, the overarching story is intriguing and shouldn’t be missed. If you like Scooby-Doo and have always wanted to see, among other things, him fight a Terminator version of himself or team up with Harlan Ellison to fight an eldritch abomination, Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated is the show for you. It airs Tuesdays at 7:30 PM on Cartoon Network.