As fans of Scooby Doo, we are pleased to learn that he is ushering in a new film — this time, an animated one. Yes, it feels like cause for celebration to welcome the mystery-solving canine back to his original form (news reported by Variety). But apart from the anthropomorphic Great Dane, there’s nothing about the Scooby Doo franchise that demands it be animated. You can point to the follies of the 2002 live action film adaptation and quick-to-follow sequel as argument against this proclamation, but it was really an issue of poor writing that undid those endeavors. The works of Hanna-Barbera Productions in general have always been moreover reserved in terms of taking advantage of the boundless opportunities of the cartoon world — hell, The Flintstones would string together identical frames of illustration to create backgrounds for long, mobile scenes (resulting in Fred and Wilma’s living room having about 25 windows, and there being about 90 trees and fences along the Flintstones’ and the Rubbles’ neighboring houses).
In contrast, there was something wholly more “cartoony” about the company’s competitors, especially back in the golden era. On the big screen, Disney animated pictures were always enchanting, whimsical, feeling entirely independent from our reality. And then we have the Warner Bros. lot: Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, which were tentpoles of physical comedy cranked up to 11. If Hanna Barbera toons were family sitcoms — The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, and The Dick Van Dyke Show — then Bugs, Daffy, and Elmer were the Three Stooges.
Personally, I’ll hold the greatest of Looney Tunes‘ entries in a kind of comedic esteem that might never earn parallel from even the greatest of stand-ups or cinematic humorists. But I will champion the value of Hanna-Barbera — the Scooby Doo quintet included — to the death. While they might not have been as expertly executed bits of animation as their WB brethren (interestingly, it is Warner Bros. that produced the 2002 Scooby-Doo feature and is getting behind this new project), there is something terrifically worthwhile about their tenacity in introducing children to more sophisticated stories.
Bugs Bunny had more than his share of mature humor: pop culture references, sociopolitical gags, jokes about history, opera, literature, war, etc. But his stories were, for the most part, one-note ordeals. Efforts to outsmart a hunter, or a bull, or a cowboy. Daffy would, occasionally, try to swipe up some treasure; Sylvester would vow to devour Tweetie; Wile E. Coyote would repeatedly blow himself up in his tireless pursuit of what was apparently the only f**king road runner in all of the American desert. But Hanna-Barbera had the luxury of half-hour stories (as opposed to the few minutes occupied by each Looney Tunes short). As such, better stories.
The Flintstones often dealt with Fred and Wilma’s marital troubles, Barney’s difficulty finding employment, economic class issues, gambling addictions, the works. And although Scooby Doo, Where Are You? lacked some of these larger themes, it brought something new to the table, and to the plates of its hungry young viewers: mystery. Although it might not be accurate to say that Scooby Doo was the first encounter children of the ’70s would have with mystery stories, it might have been an early helping. Along with the characters, the kids could actively investigate the spooky grounds and enigmatic happenings to determine who was this week’s “man in a mask.” The show championed intellect — although the goofy and cowardly Scooby and Shaggy were the fan favorites no doubt, their eventual calls to action, teamed with Velma’s deciphering of the clues presented, would result in victory.
There is no great reason why Scooby Doo must take form in animation. The titular dog himself spoke minimally, and in short sentences (he was far less conversational than his brazen nephew Scrappy or cornpone cousin Scooby Dum — I loved that dude), and could feasibly be replaced with another CGI incarnation or a mo-capped Andy Serkis. In Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, the interest wasn’t in visual gags specific to the animated world. It was in the story. So, as long as that keeps up in any future manifestations of the beloved property, then we’ll have something in which to delight.