STUDIO: Warner Home Video
MSRP: $19.98
RUNNING TIME: 286 Minutes
Bonus Episode: "A Scooby-Doo Valentine"
Backstage Bloopers with Scooby-Doo

The Pitch

America’s favorite canine detective (sorry McGruff) enters the 21st century with a slick new look and wit to match.

The Humans

Casey Kasem (American Top 40), Frank Welker (Aladdin), Mindy Cohn (The Facts of Life), Grey DeLisle (Ultimate Avengers)

"Zoinks! Like, what did he just say about a key and Daphne’s stomach, Scoob?""

The Nutshell

This series follows the classic Scooby-Doo formula: a group of four goofy yet clever teenagers and their anthropomorphic Great Dane try to solve bizarre mysteries in a range of exotic locales. Typically they encounter what appears to be a fearsome supernatural being, which they later discover is actually the crotchety middle-aged white guy they met a few scenes back, although not before a series of slapstick chase scenes unfold to cheery pop music.

The Lowdown

Since the breakout success of the charming original Where are You, Scooby-Doo? series in 1969, the venerable four-legged sleuth has returned in a number of increasingly less impressive incarnations. However, after a long absence, the franchise was revived in the late 90s with a succession of solid TV movies that largely recaptured the spirit of the original show. Finally Scooby was granted a new regular series, What’s New Scooby-Doo?, to coincide with the release of the live action film in 2002.

"Everything this fellow’s done has been suspicious: trips at night in the rain, knifes, saws, trunks with rope, and now… Dreyfuss??!"

While I loathe the vast majority of the tripe that Hanna Barbera has churned out since the 1960s, I’ve always had a soft spot for the original Scooby series, a mainstay of afternoon programming in my childhood. It isn’t anything great, but to a kid it’s engagingly spooky and the charisma of the craven Scooby and Shaggy comedy duo is undeniable. Plus it appeals to young egos by having the teenage leads uncover all the clues long before the dimwitted adults. To my pleasant surprise What’s New Scooby-Doo? not only brings back nearly everything that was good about the original but takes the modest concept to new heights.

The Where Are You series quickly leaves the adult viewer with the feeling that if you’ve seen one episode, you’ve seen them all. The two dimensional culprit is usually obvious by the midway point, and his or her motivation is generally nothing greater than scaring away trespassers.

"It’s nobody’s business but ours Scoob… Ulp! And that giant glowing mummy’s!!"

Although we’re hardly talking Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, What’s New adds some genuine mystery to most episodes with multiple convincing suspects. In the first episode, "There’s No Creature Like Snow Creature," there are actually five distinct characters legitimately suspected of sabotaging entrants in the snowboard competition: two hyper-competitive snowboarders, a bitter ex-champion skier, a ratings hungry reporter, and the financially desperate event promoter.

Among the varied and creative plots are "Space Ape at the Cape," in which a NASA scientist tries to derail a shuttle launch by fabricating an alien invasion, and "It’s Mean, It’s Green, It’s the Mystery Machine" in which the mother of a has been pop act desperate for publicity turns the gang’s van (the band’s former ride) into a remote-controlled Christine-style psychopath. Yeah, don’t ask me how that’s supposed to land a TRL slot.

Elevator Action Doo

That controlling, fame obsessed mother is representative of the extra character detail that makes the supporting cast rise above the usual Scooby clichés. "3-D Struction" in fact offers an interesting play on tired stereotypes. In the opening scene a cocky Australian archaeologist swipes dinosaur bones from a temple in Costa Rica over the protests of a concerned village elder. Under the normal rules of children’s entertainment the villain seems obvious, but it turns out the conservationist villager is actually a spy trying to cover up a gold smuggling operation.

The colorful supporting performances include a few familiar names like Hector Elizondo (Runaway Bride), Tom Kenny (Spongebob Squarepants), and Mark Hamill. Naturally the gang dominates the spotlight, and it’s great to have Kasem (Shaggy) and Welker (Scooby/Fred) still effortlessly doing their signature roles after all these years. It’ll be a major blow to the franchise when they go, although Matthew Lillard can probably cover Shaggy. Newcomers Cohn and DeLisle fit right in as Velma and Daphne, the latter being much more perceptive and assertive than her old damsel in distress persona.

"Faster Scoob! Spielberg’s lawyers are gaining!"

Certainly the biggest improvement What’s New makes on the Scooby formula is the modest but palpable infusion of humor. Let’s face it; the franchise’s previous efforts in this area were dire at best, and excruciating when comedic luminaries like Scrappy-Doo and Scooby-Dum were involved.

Much of the new show’s humor comes from self-aware digs at the franchise: Fred cynically remarks that a spooky monster is probably just a guy in a suit, and Velma corrects a captured crook who calls them "interloping adolescents" instead of "meddling kids." The ever self-assured Fred’s house is full of huge photos of himself, and he relentlessly kisses up to every two-bit celebrity they encounter. Best of all Shaggy and Scooby carry their own emergency boxes of Scooby Snax to avoid being bribed into hazardous duty.

The case of the phantom chair

The Package

The cover art is, well, typical, but the show itself is bolstered by the best animation the franchise has seen so far. It still takes some shortcuts, but the art design is far more detailed and creative than in the threadbare original series. However the monsters are slightly too polished to exude the same menace as their crudely drawn predecessors.

The energetic soundtrack is very noticeably updated with a variety of Top 40 sounds circa 2002, primarily pop punk acts like Simple Plan, who contributes the catchy theme song. Although I miss some of those classic Scooby musical cues, the songs are infinitely preferable to the horrid easy listening pap like Sonny and Cher that blighted the 70s run.

"I thought you were good Fred… but Velma told me everything. You’re just another lying ol’ dirty birdy."

Unfortunately the extras are highly unimpressive: a "bonus" Valentine’s Day episode, and the entertainment-free "Backstage Bloopers." Hosted by very unconvincing impressions of Shaggy and Scooby, the latter are bland outtakes of children flubbing their lines during the shooting of DVD featurettes for previous Scooby releases. I can’t imagine why WB couldn’t be bothered to put together some sort of "making of" documentary for this ambitious re-launch of one of their tent pole animated properties. They could learn a lot from the fine folks at BCI Eclipse, who for the last couple years have been producing the most lavish season sets around for venerable series like He-Man.

For anyone who ever believed a dog could talk and eat his weight in ice cream, What’s New Scooby-Doo? vindicates your nostalgia with some of the meddling mutt’s best adventures yet. Anyone hoping for a more adult twist on the franchise however will have to turn to the gang’s appearances on Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law and The Venture Bros., unless Fred shedding his ascot is thrill enough.

7 out of 10