Out of all the Hanna-Barbera properties, I find it hard to believe that it’s Scooby-Doo of all things to be so prominent and perennial.
While you’ll find the occasional new Tom and Jerry movie and you’ll mostly see other classic properties on reruns or as multivitamins, Scooby-Doo refuses to die. While the original series had its charm, since then the brand had to constantly reinvent itself in order to stay relevant, which often included adding or subtracting characters and having a different gimmick (like a movie where Shaggy and Scooby become monster racers, or where they go to a finishing school for ghouls). In modern times, there have been several different series launched every few years with different animation styles (some of them being hideous) and different themes but none of them would last long. And since 1998, there has been a series of direct-to-video movies that would release, on average, two movies a year.
You know how The Land Before Time brand gets derided for having too many movies? Well, Scooby-Doo (not counting the movies made in the 1970s and 1980s) has a total of 26 movies and counting. 26! And they get increasingly ridiculous. For example, did you know that KISS is still as relevant as ever and is totally a magic girl team now? Or that John Cena (who was a meme 2015 but not as popular now) can totally push a giant moving boulder out of the way to save the gang? There have even been a few attempts to make Scooby-Doo musicals. At any rate, this kind of shows that Scooby-Doo is mostly around to try to keep the Hanna-Barbera brand alive and get some money out of kids who still find Scooby and Shaggy’s antics funny. I mean when Disney dominates everything what else can you do? Still, I think this is proof that Scooby-Doo is way past it’s prime.
Now, I could be biased. I got to be honest: I’m not a fan of Scooby-Doo. I don’t really find the mysteries very good (the reveal is either too predictable or a total ass pull), and I feel that a lot of incarnations are bland, boring and/or too silly. Also, I just don’t see what’s so special about Scooby-Doo himself. He’s not cute or interesting. Everything he does to save the day is by coincidence or sheer luck. This is the main reason why I don’t understand why this franchise is as popular as it is; I can’t see the appeal in the main character. (The other characters’ appeal can change on a whim; Daphne can go from a vapid, fashion-obsessed damsel to a competent detective, there’s no consistency.)
That said, amidst the sea of far-fetched and ridiculousness, there are two movies that stand out as something very brilliant (I don’t have enough energy to invest in all the different series): Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island and Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost.
With gorgeous animation (with darker shadings and attention to detail), rich atmosphere, awesome music, and updated character designs, these movies deliver clever stories with just enough silliness while having an edge to it to make it actually interesting.
Zombie Island is when the gang, in pursuit of real monsters, get more than they bargained for when they end up on an island in the Louisiana bayous. What makes it stand out so much is that it’s the first Scooby-Doo movie to actually take itself seriously, with some legitimately scary imagery and a good twist. Witch’s Ghost is my personal fave of the two because it contains the first appearance of the Hex Girls and Tim fucking Curry, as well as one of the most intense climaxes in a direct-to-video animated family movie.
It’s kind of sad that the Scooby-Doo brand reached its peak at the end of the 20th century but then did a 180 to become safe but stale. I feel like Scooby-Doo is going to need that edge again because the new movies are getting really poorly received, and if Warner Bros. wants to be a successful name in animation, they should start taking one of their oldest and dearest products more seriously. We’ll have to see if they’re interested in quality or if they only want a quick buck.