Finding the Scooby gang mixed up with circus shenanigans was almost to be expected at this point; I doubt Mystery Incorporated could drive within a mile of a big top without being drawn into some sort of monstrous mystery, and with Big Top Scooby-Doo!, we not only get clowns and trapeze artists for our heroes to mess with, but one of horror’s most popular monsters, the werewolf.
On another vacation (in what seems like a never-ending series of vacations), the Scooby gang are off to the Atlantic City, “The World’s Playground,” but before they can enjoy any of the city’s numerous attractions, their vacation is sidetracked by Fred’s obsession with the circus, and one must find it a little strange that over time, the character of Fred Jones (Frank Welker) has moved from the stalwart leader of the group to the bumbling comic relief with a collection of bizarre obsessions. He is still a key figure when it comes to the capture of the villains, but now his ability to trap is treated as an “obsession,” and with Big Top Scooby-Doo!, we find out that he also has a strange fixation on circuses, “You know, I took that circus arts class last summer, I think I could have mastered the trapeze if I hadn’t broken all those bones.” Later, it is revealed that the broken bones he was referring to were not his own, but all of those around him.
The gang soon learns that The Brancusi Circus has been having a little werewolf trouble, which is not helped by owner Marius Brancusi (Greg Ellis) trying to ward off the werewolf with a string of garlic cloves — apparently, he wasn’t up on his monster lore — and it turns out that the werewolf has been shadowing the circus for a few months now, and in each town they’ve visited, the creature has stolen jewelry. Velma (Mindy Cohn) is quick to point out that this incident is similar to a case during the 18th century in the town of Ingolstadt, where a werewolf named Hans collected a combination of jewels which enabled him to change into a werewolf at any time, not to mention the ability to turn many of his neighbours into werewolves as well. Could a descendant of this notorious werewolf be trying to recreate the lycanthropic army of his ancestor? Or could this be the original Hans, an immortal creature picking up his plans centuries later?
The monster backstory to this particular mystery is your basic red herring, as it has very little to do with the actual mystery on hand, and when the suspects are trotted out, it’s quite clear who is the mastermind behind these robberies. And what suspects do we have on hand today? First, there is Marius Brancusi himself, whose circus starts getting some good press when the werewolves attack during one of the shows, thus increasing his box office receipts. Then there is Whitney Doubleday (Craig Ferguson), the animal trainer who is losing his job because, in Marius’s bid to modernize his circus, he is shutting down the animal acts. After that, we have the insanely jealous trapeze artist Oliverio (Carlos Ferro), and though his acrobatic skills could pull off the werewolf robberies, his covetous nature seems to only extend to his gorgeous partner, so his being a jewel thief seems a little unlikely. We also are introduced to the circus’s reluctant clown Schmatko (Jeff Dunham) who considers himself to be a classically trained actor, and he finds clowning to be beneath him. Finally, we have Wulfric von Rydingsvard (Peter Stormare), the lead singer of a thrash-metal band who not only claims to be a werewolf but whose band has also performed in every city that the circus has appeared in as well.
So, who is the one behind these robberies? When Velma finds a book about the Ingolstadt werewolves in Marius’s office, it seems likely that he must be the guilty party, though he claims to have been framed and it even turns out that he actually was being framed. Surprising no one, the man behind the werewolf attacks turns out to be Whitney Doubleday, who disguised his trained baboons as the transformed victims of werewolf bites, but to make the mystery a little less lame, we also get a later reveal that the circus strongman Archambault (Maurice LaMarche) was in on it as well and that he was the one to place the incriminating book in Marius’s office. A nice touch here is that when Doubleday was exposed, he quickly tranqed the “werewolf” so that he could throw his partner under the bus and later escape with the box office receipts.
• We have a mystery centring on a werewolf, but the film never bothers to reference, even jokingly, that Shaggy was one in The Reluctant Werewolf. A missed opportunity to be sure.
• At one point, Shaggy comments, “Sweden’s just a made-up place, like fairyland or Australia. I bet you think kangaroos are real, too.” This ignores the fact that Shaggy and the gang visited Australia in Scooby-Doo and the Legend of the Vampire.
• The legend of the Ingolstadt werewolf stated that Hans needed a specific combination of jewels, and why Archambault and Doubleday would restrict their pilfering to just the five specific jewels is never explained.
• The werewolves as depicted are clearly way too large to be baboons in werewolf costumes.
• The Scooby gang goes undercover as circus performers to suss out the werewolf mystery, and it’s lucky for us that the group all seem to have some circus ability… well, everyone except poor Velma.
• Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) becomes a star as the new animal trainer, with Scooby-Doo being his amazingly well-trained circus dog, but Shaggy takes all the credit and acts like a jerk to poor Scooby. I found this very out of character and the whole subplot to be rather terrible.
• Velma is offered several circus occupations – knife thrower, sword swallower, fire eater, and finally settles on Human Comet – but the strange thing here is that during this discussion she’s already wearing the Human Comet costume.
• As in many of these later direct-to-video movies, Daphne (Grey Griffin) gets to be a bit of a badass here, and in this movie, it’s revealed that she’s a motorcycle daredevil. Unfortunately, the film also can’t help but undercut this by having her perform as a clown as well.
Overall, Big Top Scooby-Doo! was a decent entry in the direct-to-video series, even though the mystery itself was rather on the thin side, it did at least have solid motivations for the characters and fun executions as well. The guest voice cast was also great, including the likes of Peter Stormare, Craig Ferguson, and Jeff Dunham, but what worked the best here, was the comedy as it had me openly smiling many times. The banter between the Scooby gang members was in top form; I even kind of enjoyed Fred’s bizarre circus obsession, and one of my favourite moments was a nice exchange between Velma and Daphne concerning their vacation trip to Atlantic City. When Shaggy and Scooby point out that most of their vacations result in monster encounters, we get this nice exchange:
Velma: “Calm down guys, Atlantic City is the fun capital of the world, nothing bad ever happens here.”
Daphne: “Well, gangland shootouts.”
Velma: “Yeah, okay, obviously gangland shootouts.”
It’s that kind of comedy that can really catch a viewer off guard and is what makes for some of the best moments in Scooby-Doo; fun action shenanigans for the kiddies and a little mature humour thrown in for older viewers. Big Top Scooby-Doo! may not be in the league of Zombie Island and Camp Scare, but it still stands as one of the better installments in the animated movie series.
You can find all my reviews of the various Scooby-Doo shows and movies collected here: The Wonderful World of Scooby-Doo.
Big Top Scooby-Doo (2012)
Movie Rank - 6.5/10
A circus adventure with Scooby-Doo and the gang is bound to be fun and Big Top Scooby-Doo! does not fail in that respect, the mystery may be a tad trite but the comedy hits some very high marks.