Scooby-Doo: 47 Years of Snacks, Ghosts, and Mysteries
Everyone loves a mystery. That’s why Scooby-Doo has endured for nearly five decades and continues to entertain. Besides the Law & Order franchise launched by Dick Wolf, there may be no other longer-running procedural on television.
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! first aired on September 13, 1969. That episode, “What a Night for a Knight,” set the tone and formula that every episode after would follow:
•The gang happens upon a mystery perpetrated by a ghost or monster.
•The gang splits up to investigate. Shaggy, Scooby, and Velma; Fred and Daphne.
•A chase with the ghost accompanied by a groovy pop song.
•The ghost is unmasked, revealed to be a greedy human.
Fred Silverman, the executive in charge of Daytime Programming at CBS in the late 1960s, thought a mystery cartoon show had the potential to be a big hit. Producer Joseph Barbera (of Hanna-Barbera cartoon fame) agreed.
Barbera told story writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears to develop the show with character designer Iwao Takamoto. The original idea centered around a teenage rock group and their dog who would solve mysteries between gigs.
After the first pitch, the rock idea was dropped. Silverman thought the dog should be the star. Ruby and Spears retooled, ultimately settling on the now-famous premise: a bunch of teenage friends and their talking Great Dane traveling around the world solving mysteries.
The Great Dane’s original name was “Too Much,” taken from a popular phrase at the time. Thank God they didn’t go with that name. Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this article because there would be no show to write about. Credit Frank Sinatra and his “do-be-do-be-do” riffs in his classic standard “Strangers in the Night” for inspiring Scooby’s name.
The four humans were based on characters from The Archie Show and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Each went through a few name changes before cementing their identities as Norville “Shaggy” Rogers, Fred Jones, Daphne Blake, and Velma Dinkley.
Even the show’s title went through changes. First it was Mysteries Five, then Who’s S-S-Scared?, and ultimately Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! when it aired.
(Above Character designer Iwao Takamoto’s drawing that sold the series)
The show was a hit. Nearly sixty-five percent of the CBS Saturday morning audience tuned in regularly. The original series only ran two seasons, but that was long enough to create a legendary character.
THE MIDDLE YEARS
Or the dark years. Yet, to know what makes a character successful, it’s imperative to know what makes it awful. And in my opinion, most of the iterations between 1972 and 1988 were exceptionally bad.
The first spin-off had Mystery Inc. teaming up with a different celebrity every week to solve a mystery. The guest stars ran the gamut from Batman and Robin to Sonny and Cher to Jonathan Winters and Don Knotts.
The animation for these episodes is subpar at best. Flipbooks have better fluidity. It’s embarrassing to watch. But it was somewhat successful; this team-up formula would manifest again and again over the years.
Scra– (excuse me; gotta throw up).
Scrap– (sorry, not done yet)
Let’s try this again…
Scrappy-Doo – Scooby’s runty nephew – was added during a lull in popularity to reignite interest in the series. Which he did. But that’s the only good thing the narcissistic, hydrocephalic, Napoleon-wannabe ever did. He’s a pox. A blight. The only character in the history of episodic television remotely as useless and unnecessary is Dawn from Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Yet Scrappy has his supporters. It’s beyond my comprehension as to how any REAL Scooby fan can like the annoying waif. He damn-near euthanized the series!
Although, of late, Scrappy Hate is becoming the norm. He was the villain in the first live-action Scooby movie and hasn’t shown up in animation since.
No, scratch that. In an episode of Scooby-Doo: Mystery Inc., a statue of Scrappy gives Daphne a scare. Fred’s response: “We promised we would never speak of him again.”
Limit your Scooby-watching to The Scooby-Doo Show and The Scooby-Doo/Dinomutt Hour, the only decent series during this time. Each episode follows the classic mystery-solving formula. And with Scooby’s cousin, Scooby-Dum, along for the hijinks. While Dum has his faults, his worst joke is infinitely better than anything Scrappy ever says or does.
THE SCOOBY-DOO DETECTIVE AGENCY
On September 10, 1988, Scooby and the gang clawed their way back into relevance with A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. Producer Tom Ruegger (Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs) revived the classic formula, with one twist: the gang would be in middle school. Essentially, it’s a prequel to the original series; yet more comical and cartoony.
The stand-out feature in every episode is the music by John Debney. It’s all 1950s and 1960s rock ‘n roll. Ruegger and Debney even brought back the chase songs. The best, of which, is “Bad Guys.” It’s a doo-woppin’, scattin’ tune that puts a lot of today’s Top 40 to shame.
Outside of video games, coloring books, and Burger King toys, Scooby remained docile during the 1990s. That changed in 1998 with the direct-to-video release of Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island.
In this animated movie, Mystery Inc. has grown up and gone their separate ways. Velma owns and operates a mystery bookstore. Shaggy and Scooby sniff out contraband at an airport. Only Fred and Daphne remain together, working on the show Coast to Coast with Daphne Blake.
The gang reunites for Daphne’s birthday and sets out to find real ghosts for Daphne’s viewers. They end up on Moonscar Island, at a plantation haunted by a pirate ghost and his crew. In an unexpected (and welcomed) shift, the ghosts turn out to be real.
Everything about this movie is perfection. The animation, the darker story, the voice acting, the music. Sweet Jesus, the music! Third Eye Blind performs the theme song while Skycycle sings the chase songs. A soundtrack was even released!
The movie was so popular, a follow-up – Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost – arrived a year later in 1999.
THE BIG SCREEN
The success of these animated features told Warner Bros. that there was a market for more Scooby. In 2002, the live-action movie Scooby-Doo was released. Written by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), it was a decent adaptation of the cartoon.
In 2004, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed was released. What’s awesome about this one is the premise: a new villain makes the costumes of Mystery Inc.’s most infamous ghosts come to life. It’s the rare example of a sequel being better than the first.
A third live-action movie was rumored to be in the works, but never went into production. The sequel didn’t make enough money to merit another adventure.
BACK TO ANIMATION
The Scooby property was still popular. What’s New, Scooby-Doo?, the first new animated series since Pup, aired on the WB network from 2002-2006.
Scooby-Doo: Mystery Inc., premiered in 2010 on Cartoon Network. This was the first Scooby cartoon to have an overlying story arc for its 52 episodes. The comedy was more adult. More focus was put on the horror aspect.
The newest incarnation, Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!, currently airs on Cartoon Network. It has no right to be Mystery Inc.’s successor. The humor is forced, the animation mediocre, and the character designs for Scooby and the gang are THE WORST. Imagine if Seth MacFarlane had no talent and drew Scooby-Doo. That’s what this is. The worst is Velma. Her lips look like they were caught in a vacuum for an hour.
Until the next inevitable animated series, stick to the animated movies. A new one has been released every year since 1999. Some are quite good (Abracadabra-Doo; Scooby-Doo and the Loch Ness Monster). Some are quite awful (Moon Monster Madness; the two team-ups with the WWE).
Regardless, new Scooby movies and cartoons are constantly in production. Mickey Mouse doesn’t even get that kind of attention now.
Earlier this year, Warner Bros. announced that Scooby-Doo would be back in movie theaters. This time as a computer-animated feature tentatively titled S.C.O.O.B., directed by long-time Scooby producer Tony Cervone. Plot details are sketchy to non-existent right now, but Warner Bros. has high hopes for it. S.C.O.O.B. is expected to launch an entire Hanna-Barbera cinematic universe.
After countless mysteries, devoured boxes of Scooby Snacks, misplaced glasses, overly-elaborate traps, screams, and laughs, it’s safe to say that Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Velma, Daphne, and Fred aren’t going anywhere.
Except to eat a snack before investigating their next mystery.