In 2010 Warner Bros Animation teamed up with the Cartoon Network to produce the eleventh and possibly the best personification of Scooby-Doo and the gang in a two season series that works as a prequel to the original 1960’s Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? Though the series takes place during the time period where our teen-age sleuths are still in high school, before taking the Mystery Machine on the road, they do encounter characters fans will recognize from many of the past incarnations of the show, and it’s these nods to past shows and meta narrative Easter Eggs that will make fans of Scooby-Doo easily fall in love with this installment.
The series takes place in and around the town of Crystal Cove, self-proclaimed as the “Most Hauntedest Place on Earth” and its abundance of ghost and monsters provide most of the town’s revenue with tourist dollars. This often results in the Scooby Gang butting heads with Mayor Fred Jones Sr. (Gary Cole) and Sheriff Bronson Stone (Patrick Warburton) as their exposing of the various supernatural threats as nothing more than criminals in masks is considered bad for the town’s tourist based economy, made more awkward by the Mayor being our lovable Fred’s dad.
• Don Knotts as a random tourist is a nod to The New Scooby-Doo Movies.
• Casey Kasem who originally voiced Shaggy now voices Shaggy’s dad.
• Linda Cardellini who played Velma in the live action movies plays Velma’s friend Hotdog Water.
The element that may catch fans by surprise is that Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated takes the show into a serial format, not something done any of the previous incarnations, with an ongoing story arc that will track a larger mystery across the two seasons, and though it does still incorporate the “monster of the week” elements we’ve come to now and love, along with some nice tongue-in-cheek references to the formulaic nature of the older versions, it is a show that rewards viewer for tuning in each and every week as more clues are uncovered.
Yet it’s not just the serial format that makes this version stand out from previous incarnations it’s the time the show spends letting us get to know our main characters, in ways we’ve never seen before. No longer are they just two dimensional characters with one simple defining character trait, instead they are fully fleshed out and even given time to change and grow over the course of the two seasons. The show starts with Fred (Frank Welker) as a trap obsessed mess who deeply wants to impress his emotional distant father while also being completely oblivious to the fact that Daphne (Grey DeLisle) is madly in love with him, but overtime he will learn what is truly important in his life. Meanwhile Daphne herself is insecure about being overshadowed by her overly successful sisters and Fred’s failure to see her other than a friend slowly drives her around the bend. Velma (Mindy Cohn) is still the chief brains behind the groups mystery solving ability but in what could come as a bit surprise to many a fan is that the show opens with her and Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) in a relationship, though it’s a secret one because Shaggy is afraid of Scooby (Frank Welker) being jealous.
In these two seasons the group’s dynamic goes through some serious emotional turbulence that becomes the backbone of the series; we actually care if Fred and Daphne eventually hook and the idea that Shaggy could ever pick a woman over Man’s Best Friend is treated somewhat seriously. Of course the show isn’t an animated version of Beverly Hills 90210 as our heroes will often have to put their own personal issues aside to tackle whatever “supernatural” threat has reared its ugly masked head that week.
It’s the over arcing plot of the much bigger mystery that is the centerpiece to this series for in between exposing various residence and visitors as masked monster the gang receives cryptic messages from someone known simply as Mister E (Lewis Black), a shadowy figure who parcels out information that will not only reveal a mystery about a fabulous cursed treasure of immense value but also knowledge of four students and their bird Professor Pericles (Udo Kier) who formed a high school mystery solving club called Mystery Incorporated, a group that just so happened to disappear twenty years ago while hunting down that very same cursed treasure mystery.
Aside from the excellent mystery that spans the two seasons, one that if not solved could very well end the life of everyone on the planet (How is that for high stakes?) the show is rife with references and in jokes for Scooby-Doo fans and movie nerds alike. The Hex Girls from the direct-to-video animated movie Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost make a couple of appearances with Daphne having to go undercover as the lead singer while in another episode The Hex Girls get into a battle of the bands against a group of zombies. We see that Shaggy and Scooby are fans of Fright Fest actor Vincent Van Ghoul (Maurice LaMarche) but old fans will recognize this character as having first appeared in The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, only in that show Van Ghoul was a Warlock voiced by Vincent Price. It’s a fairly nice meta moment and is just one of many great references that are liberally sprinkled throughout the show’s run.
Aside from nods to previous versions of of the show movie buffs will also have fun spotting references to such films as Carrie, The Shinning, Nightmare on Elm Street and in one particularly hilarious moment when Sheriff Bronson Stone casually opens the puzzle box from Hellraiser and then casually slams the door in the face of oncoming cenobites. The gang even runs into author Harlan Ellison, who is speaking at a neighboring college, and he gets into trouble after slamming local author H.P. Hatecraft (Jeffrey Combs). Of course Combs is known for playing H.P. Lovecraft in various horror films which just adds an extra layer of fun for horror buffs.
Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated not only references previous Scooby-Doo shows and various horror movies but it also kind of creates a Hanna-Barbera shared universe with random cartoon characters from their other shows making guest appearances; such as Captain Caveman, Jabberjaw and Speed Buggy and The Funky Phantom.
One of my favorite episodes has Blue Falcon and Dynomutt teaming up with Mystery Incorporated to take on a Dragon-Man robot, and even though they often teamed up on past shows this time out we get a new origin where find out that Blue Falcon was once a normal security guard working for Johnny Quest’s dad at Quest Research Laboratories when an attack by Doctor Sinn left his faithful guard dog mortally wounded, a couple of cybernetic parts later and Dynomutt is born. Though Dynomutt is still depicted here as the lovable goofball he was back The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour we get a much darker more violent version of Blue Falcon, one who is more a Frank Castle/Punisher type vigilante than he is of the Batman mold.
To date Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated is easily my favorite version of the show and it’s not just because of the fun references to beloved moments from my childhood but by the fact that this run actually goes pretty dark at times, with threats that are genuinely terrifying and a mystery with serious stakes. Despite the shows “darker” tone at times the two seasons still have plenty of goofy instances for younger viewers to get a kick out of, and I particularly love the level of insanity Fred’s Rube Goldberg inspired traps achieve at times, but when season two rolls around, and the main mystery becomes even more prominent, the dangers to Scooby and his friends are simply nail biting at times.
The only downside is that though season two does wrap up the over-arcing mystery in a very satisfying manner, and I must say having the mystery span across two whole season is petty daring on the producers part, it teases what could have been a great third season but sadly it was cancelled. On the plus side the follow up series of Be Cool, Scooby-Doo if not as dark and mystery centric as Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated was it more than made up for it in being bizarrely brilliant and outright nuts. So if this particular run of Scooby-Doo managed to slip by your nerd radar I highly recommend you give it a shot as all 52 chapters are vastly entertaining.