Counterpoint: Scooby-Doo Is Not Dumb
My colleague, “esteemed” film critic Matt Singer, thinks Scooby-Doo is dumb. I know this because he wrote an article about it. You can read that article here, though I suggest you don’t — you’ll just be wasting your time, because Scooby-Doo is not dumb.
Yes, the new DC Comics’ “revitalization” of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters (which includes a modern reboot of Scooby-Doo featuring Shaggy as a tattoo-sleeved, handlebar-mustachioed hipster and Scooby as a tech-savvy dog wearing some cartoon iteration of Google Glass) is dumb; there is no defending that. Kids will not care any more about Scooby-Doo today, now that Velma flies a drone, than they did yesterday. There is no sense in trying to make Scooby-Doo cool, because Scooby-Doo was never cool, and that’s why it was cool.
The original series, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, premiered in 1969 and still remains the gold standard of all the subsequent iterations. While Matt is right that the movies were only mysteries to the brain dead in the audience, the Scooby-Doo episodes were not memorable for their whodunit plot twists, but for their villains. Scooby-Doo was not a successful detective series, but it was highly successful as a monster-of-the-week kiddie horror cartoon.
For nerds like me, watching Scooby-Doo as a kid was one of the only ways to get this fix. There were not many other cartoons that put a stoner and his dog up against ghosts, zombies, phantoms, witches and evil clowns. Some times they even created their own mythology, like the giant, glowing owl creature known as The Willawaw. As adults, this may seem awfully cartoonish, but for a show aimed at elementary school kids, this is some heavy shit.
I still remember some of my earliest scares came from Scooby-Doo episodes. There’s the episode where Scoob and the gang visit an abandon theater haunted by a phantom puppeteer. There’s an old guy sleeping, they try to nudge him awake and his head falls off. Or when, in Nowhere to Hyde, the creepy Mr. Hyde type monster, is hiding in the back of the Mystery Machine. There’s the cackling, space monster. Or, the Creepy Heap From the Deep that is trying to steal the souls of the Mystery Inc. gang. The KISS-inspired, flame-haired, glam rock phantom?! I mean, c’mon… It doesn’t matter that these villains were almost always an old dude in disguise, these were dangerous villains who would stop at nothing to protect their secrets. Scooby and Shaggy were never going to be in serious danger (they were the stars of the show), but it always felt like they were in serious danger. The best Scooby-Doo episodes were riffs on classic horror movies, not on Hercule Poirot.
Yes, Scooby-Doo is goofy, at times overwhelmingly so, but Shaggy eating a massive sandwich or the gang escaping a defrosted caveman to a Monkees ripoff was there to counterbalance the fact that the main characters were being chased and abducted by monsters. This was a kids show after all, one that was daring enough to include monsters (and a stoner) in every episode, and the goofiness of the proceedings helped dull some of the scarier aspects of the show. And besides, this is a cartoon; who says it has to adhere to all the laws of physics? Wile E. Coyote can fall off a cliff, but Shaggy’s not allowed to hide under a giant turtle shell?
At a time when much of the content for children has been sanitized to the point of learning lessons (even in the 80s, when Scooby-Doo re-emerged into pop culture, cartoons like G.I. Joe and He-Man, included post-credits scenes that taught about not swimming during a thunderstorm and the important of not telling strangers your name), Scooby-Doo was refreshingly cool with scaring the crap out of kids.
I will cop to the fact that Scooby-Doo eventually lost its way after Where Are You! and the introduction of Scooby’s relatives — Scrappy, Scooby-Dumm and Scooby-Dee — was a step in the very wrong direction. But, you can’t judge the entire Scooby-Doo franchise on a handful of characters that only showed up in a handful of iterations. That would be like saying The Fantastic Four suck, because there was a bad run of movies and characters like H.E.R.B.I.E. There are many ongoing franchises that have had down years, bad storylines and crappy characters throughout its run, but to say the entire franchise is dumb because of it, is a broad generalization that ignores all the good the series ever had. Matt says, “each subsequent sequel got even dumber,” but one of the modern Scooby-Doo series, Mystery Incorporated, is a prime example of how to modernize a classic cartoon without pandering to hipster ideas like drones and tattoos.
Scooby-Doo might not be winning any awards artistic expression, but as a kids show from the 60s, it was remarkably progressive and enjoyable enough to keep itself around over 40 years later. For budding monster movie nerds growing up in the 70s and 80s, it was an essential part of our upbringing.
The defense rests.