If there’s one thing that Scooby-Doo! has had going for it as a long-running series all these years, and let’s face it there’s a lot of them, it’s its propensity to not take itself too seriously.
After all, you have four teenagers and a Great Dane dog – who can speak, and like his best friend in the group Shaggy is addicted to food in all its forms and in quantities as big and unending as possible, with a special fondness for Scooby snacks – who spend their days solving supernatural mysteries in a van called the Mystery Machine, a pursuit which often sees them labelled as “meddling kids” (true enough, they are) after they’ve spent much of the episode in montages that mostly involve running from scary monsters who turn out to be far more human and mortal than their freaky visages might suggest.
It’s a ridiculously silly premise which all but means the show can’t take itself too seriously, and so it doesn’t, and in so doing, it’s become, to this reviewer and many others, a beloved show that is hilarious over the top, manically funny and endearing for its embrace of quirkiness of all kinds.
That quirkiness reached its zenith with Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!, which ran for 52 episodes between 2015, and which upped the loopy factor to a level so gloriously stratospheric that its meta quotient and its willingness to send the franchise’s character to some weird and frankly quite truthful places found their true evocation in ways that haven’t been repeated since.
That is, until the arrival of this year’s Scooby Doo treat, Trick or Treat Scooby-Doo!, which evokes the spirit and almost the cartooning style of Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!, delivering up a Halloween treat that goes so meta on the very idea of Scooby Doo that it almost comes close to upending the entire franchise.
And yet, thanks to some skillful writing and a willingness to once again not take itself too seriously by poking fun at its premise, its execution and the very reason it exists.
In this take on Scooby-Doo!, where the whole gang is present – Scooby (Frank Welker), Shaggy (Matthew Lillard), Velma (Kate Micucci), Daphne (Grey DeLisle) and Fred (Frank Welker) – the gang are, if the opening scenes are any guide, and they are, and aren’t, all at once, up to their old habits.
Shaggy and Scooby are careening down a precipitous, snow-covered mountain with a giant cat monster in hot pursuit while Fred, Velma and Daphne wait below at a ski resort ready to spring yet another clever plan into action (saying “yet another” may be stretching it a little too far since much of the time the catching of the bad guy or gal seems to happenstance and good luck rather than good planning, Velma’s power of deductive reasoning aside), a plan which is realised flawlessly, leading to the trademark unmasking of the villain, the uttering of those immortal words and …
Well, there’s no real end because it’s at this point that Trick or Treat Scooby-Doo! gets its meta skates on —– SPOILER ALERT!!! —– with the gang discovering that all the monster costumes, every last one from the start of the franchise way back on 13 September 1969 when the first episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, “What a Night for a Knight”, have been made by the same person!
Yes, folks, all those episodes and all those iterations are bound together in the one big conspiracy, with one Coco Diablo (Myrna Velasco) the fiendishly attractive enabler of countless terrorisers of small towns and ski resorts who have decided that dressing in a scary costume and using elaborate special effects is the way to realise their plans, which usually run to getting money from a lost inheritance or acquiring cheap land to sell off for a fortune or a range of petty grievances.
It’s not immediately apparent why she’s been funding these groups, other than she’s evil so why not, but the effect of her unmasking, so to speak, and incarceration in Coolsville Penitentiary, is that suddenly Mystery Inc. has no scary mysteries to solve.
It’s here that some existential fun is had – we see the gang caught in a series of increasingly banal assignments, none of them coming even close to the glory days of old, and while Scooby and Shaggy are happy to sit back and let the world pass banally by, everyone else is depressed, especially Fred whose desperately needy side is allowed to let its freak flag by while Daphne enters crisis mode wondering what on earth the point of her being there is.
A fair point Daphne, and one that has been noted by wiser minds than yours, but wherever her and friend’s existential crises were going to lead are stopped in their tracks when a new monsters, or rather monsters appear, all of them bear more than a passing resemblance to the Mystery Inc. gang.
Naturally everyone sets off to get the bottom of the type of mystery that made the gang’s name, and which apparently buttresses their sense of self, and while Shaggy and Scooby are back to their scared-of-the-shadows best (all while they mourn the fact that with the mystery in full swing the odds of them gong trick and treating and securing their body weight in candy are diminishing quickly) and Fred and Daphne do whatever they do (in Fred’s case ever more loopily), Velma finds herself ever more besotted with Coco – yes Velma is now a lesbian, something which set the internet abuzz when the trailer was released – and excited just to be around her.
It’s a delightful queer addition to Scooby-Doo canon, and it works a treat, partly because it’s realised in a very funny way as Velma goes every bit as goofy as the rest of us when we fall in love, and partly wonderfully humanly because suddenly the brains behind Mystery Inc. is as down to earth and real as anyone else, as capable of having her heart override her brain as other mere mortals.
While it’s all handled very sympathetically, her goofy falling in love antics, which are frankly sweetly adorable, give off some strong Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! which was happy to go all meta on the franchise, a brief legacy which Trick or Treat Scooby-Doo! takes too with hilarious alacrity, serving up jokes both over-the-top and loopy, all of them delivered in such a way, however, that all that meta-ness doesn’t hollow out the franchise, which could have easily happened, but burnishes it ever more brightly.
There’s a lot going on in this Trick or Treat Scooby-Doo! with all the baddies on the loose that they’ve ever face, necessitating the undead mother of all trick-and-treating clean-ups, villains that maybe aren’t so bad after all, oneliners and inside jokes aplenty and at its heart, a gloriously enjoyable willingness to have fun with the franchise which works a treat, ensuring that Scooby and the gang will be around solving supernaturally human mysteries for a good long scary while yet.