One week left ’till Halloween, about time for everyone to buy their costumes. Traditionally, most people get costumes to go trick-or-treating for candy or join costume parties, but, if you’re like me and prefer a little more utility with your annual frivolous purchases, there’s also a third option: dress in a scary costume to cash in on a local myth/superstition, acting as a convoluted, latex-covered distraction that conceals your black-market schemes by scaring away meddlers. What? It works for the bad guys in the Scooby-Doo universe. Breaking into a bank? Smuggling contraband? Counterfeiting legal tender? Just put on your old mask and scream at whoever comes your way, and your plans will go off without a hitch… unless you come across a group of hippies with a dog.
Despite its dated notions of the criminal arts, Scooby-Doo has remained a Pop Culture staple for decades, taking form in dozens of TV shows and films. Its newest incarnation, Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!, just began airing this month. Like its predecessors, Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! Isn’t meant to be spooky or horrific, but I think its unexpected quality is the scariest thing about it. I was originally planning to write about something else this week, but I was so struck by this show that I had to say something about it.
Seriously, Be Cool Scooby Doo has no business being as good as it is, especially considering what came before it. I’ve loved Scooby-Doo since I was a kid, but the franchise seems to have gotten rather bland over the past few years (maybe even longer). Lately there have been so many Direct-to-DVD movies with similar routines and gimmicks that they’ve been blurring together in my mind, and the previous TV show, Mystery Inc., got a little too melodramatic for my tastes. I was beginning to think I was growing out of Scooby-Doo, and I watched the first episode of Be Cool expecting more of the same: an amusing distraction but nothing especially entertaining. But I actually had a surprising amount of fun watching it. With some really great writing, Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! scares some life back to the old franchise.
From what I’ve heard, a few of the creative minds that worked on Phineas and Ferb are working on Be Cool, and it shows. Both shows are quirky yet subtle, warm-hearted yet sarcastic. Going from joke to joke, they both stay on point with a refreshing crispness. I don’t think this kind of humor is anything I’ve ever really seen in Scooby-Doo before. Up until now, the humor in most Scooby-Doo content is playful but rather reserved, often devoting most of its time to Scooby and Shaggy’s antics as they flee from ghosts or grab a big snack, good for a few chuckles but clearly restrained by its observance to routine.
Be Cool breaks free from old traditions with some minor tweaks and changes that make a world of difference for its humor. For instance, Velma, Fred, and Daphne’s slightly new personalities create more opportunities for the whole gang to be funny, not just Shaggy and Scooby. Once just the white bread, de-facto leader of the group, Fred is now a bit of a control freak, sometimes struggling to keep the crew focused, and has also tricked-out the Mystery Machine with so many gadgets that Speed Racer would be jealous; he also has a crippling fear of widths, so, yeah, don’t expect him to walk across anything narrow. Speaking of fears, Velma, who is a bit more sarcastic and “know-it-all”-y, is also afraid of water now, once prompting Fred to tie her to Scooby’s back during an undersea mystery. Daphne has become much more cheerful and eccentric, wearing beards, training falcons, or exhibiting some other capricious hobby for a new mystery. Given some of their new quirks, the Be Cool version of the Scooby gang is a bit more dysfunctional than others, sometimes arguing with each other, frustrating each other, or teasing each other, but it all nets some hilarious dialogue and gags.
Despite my praises, I do have one particular gripe with the show, and it’s not the character designs, at least not anymore. Some people have complained about the odd-looking character designs, which kind of look like what might happen if Seth Macfarlane was forced to make a Scooby-Doo cartoon. I don’t blame them, but I’m no longer bothered by Be Cool’s look like I once was. After watching a few episodes, I feel like the quirky, simplified designs lend themselves well to its humor. If I imagine Be Cool using the same humor with more fleshed out designs similar to, say, What’s New Scooby Doo or any of the DVD films, it would just be jarring.
My personal strike against it is its theme song, or lack thereof. It’s just 20 seconds of a generic rock instrumental, which is very disappointing. Starting with the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, just about every Scooby-Doo cartoon has a lively theme song with catchy lyrics that let you know exactly what you’re in for, usually by saying “Scooby Dooby Doo” over and over again. Sure, Mystery Inc. also only has and instrumental theme, but at least the spooky synth music is still a fair indicator of the mysteries to come. If I close my eyes while listening to the Be Cool theme, I feel like I’m just listening to a car commercial or something, not Scooby Doo. I question how much thought was actually put into it.
Despite Be Cool, Scooby-Doo’s unusual choices and my personal nitpicks, it still stays true to the Scooby-Doo heritage over all. The mysteries are simple, often making it easy to deduce the bad guys early on, but that’s the point. Like in the original series and many of the subsequent ones, the mysteries are just springboards that lead to wacky shenanigans, funny chase scenes set to music from the era, and jerks in masks getting caught. The people who made this show clearly know Scooby-Doo, and they understand it enough to know what to change and what to keep. They’re not trying too hard to modernize it for the sake of modernizing it. Instead they’ve embraced the silly nature of Scooby Doo and expounded upon it, making Be Cool look and sound more cartoon-y than many of its predecessors, which I appreciate.
I was prepared to hate this show. I really was, and I would’ve gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for those meddling writers.