In 1985, Hanna-Barbera aired their seventh incarnation of the Scooby-Doo show, where Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Scrappy-Doo and a young con artist named Flim Flam teamed up with renowned magician and warlock Vincent Van Ghoul, to tackle real ghosts and Ghoulies, in a short-lived series called The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, but that show was cancelled after a mere 13 episodes, with the 13th ghost never being captured. Now, after a three-decade wait, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment finally brings us the conclusion to that story, with Scooby-Doo and the Curse of the 13th Ghost.
Being a teenage mystery-solving team can’t be easy — we still don’t know how this group even pays for gas for The Mystery Machine let alone Scooby and Shaggy’s food bill — but in this direct-to-video outing, we find the gang in a particularly nasty pickle when the “ghost” they nab turns out to be innocent, and the local Sheriff accuses them of being criminally negligent: “You’re almost eighteen, after this, if someone presses harassment charges, you can be looking at prison time, so if I see you driving that Mystery Machine one more mile, I’m putting you away.”
For some reason this forced retirement results in Fred (Frank Welker) selling The Mystery Machine — I guess he couldn’t just repaint the thing — and the rest of the gang holding a garage sale to get rid of all their mystery collectibles, but when they come across an old crystal ball, from the days when Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby worked for Vincent Van Ghoul (now being voiced by Maurice LaMarche as opposed to Vincent Price in the original), the gang find themselves pressed back into the ghost-busting business when Vincent informs them that he’s found the thirteenth and final ghost.
Fred and Velma (Kate Micucci) are a bit surprised to learn that their friends have had secret adventures without them, but Daphne (Grey Griffin) explains this all happened when Fred and Velma were at camp, and that the whole experience traumatized Scooby-Doo so much, that her and Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) decided to never bring it up again. Well, you certainly can’t argue with that logic. Fred points out, “We’d love to help you Daph, but I just sold The Mystery Machine,” but Daphne has things covered, as she unveils her Strategic All-Terrain Mobile Command Unit.
Trivia Note: The red van was the vehicle used by our heroes in the original 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo, and Daphne ditches her trademark purple dress for an outfit more in keeping with her costume from that show as well.
This begins Fred’s shift from team leader to second banana, he can’t drive a stick shift so Daphne gets behind the wheel — being it’s her vehicle, why that was even in question is a bit bizarre — but once on the road, while dodging a malevolent driverless car, Fred becomes overwhelmed by the fact that not only is Daphne a very capable driver of stunt driving awesomeness, her van also has a computer center and is equipped with combat countermeasures to help shake off their evil pursuer, and it’s great to see Fred completely losing it, yelling, “This thing has a smoke screen … this thing has a smoke screen?” and thus begins this movie’s loving emasculation of Fred Jones.
With a dozen different incarnations of the Scooby-Doo show, and even more direct-to-video movies, continuity isn’t going to be something the writers are going to worry about, which you can’t fault them for when you consider the fact that they are working with a cast of characters that are stuck in their late teens but have been around since the late sixties. This has resulted in prequels, sequels, and reboots of varying degrees of success.
In 2010, Warner Bros Animation teamed up with the Cartoon Network to bring us a prequel to the original series called Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, takes place during the time period when our teenage sleuths are still in high school, before taking The Mystery Machine on the road. Then in 2015, Cartoon Network released Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! which could be considered a reboot of the original Scooby-Doo Where Are You? as it also featured the gang solving mysteries right after their senior year of high school. Both of those shows did their best to downplay, or completely forget, the horribleness of the 1980s that was Scrappy-Doo, and being Scrappy-Doo was a major player in 1985’s The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo (and due to years of backlash against Scrappy), it’s no wonder that the creators of this movie decided to ditch the pint-sized pup. Being he was an essential character in the original, where does Scooby-Doo and the Curse of the 13th Ghost fit into all that? Well, it turns out that the only reference to Scrappy in this movie is when the character of Flim Flam comments, “The gang’s all here… except for Scrappy,” and Velma responds, “What’s a Scrappy?”
With the direct-to-video release of Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island in 1998, where it was promoted with the startling tagline, “This time, the monsters are real!” we got to see Scooby and the gang tackle villains that weren’t just dudes in a mask, and it was treated as something new and startling, which it would be for Fred and Velma, but for Scooby, Shaggy and Daphne, who had already tackled real ghosts and demons thirteen years ago in The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, this would be old hat and no big revelation to them. Yet in this 2019 sequel to that series, we get Daphne having to explain to Fred and Velma that ghosts and demons do actually exist, which means this movie must take place before the events of such films as Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island and Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost and thus will result in Velma spending the bulk of this movie trying to debunk any supernatural shenanigans.
The writers of Scooby-Doo and the Curse of the 13th Ghost throw in a bunch of references that only viewers of that thirty-four-year-old show would remember, such as the aforementioned red van — which has a rubber ducky inflatable raft mode — then there is Daphne’s more mod wardrobe, and the bizarre fact that apparently they own a plane and both Shaggy and Scooby can fly it. But then they completely change the actual origins of the Chest of Demons — the ancient trunk that kept the demons trapped all these years — by giving us a new backstory about Vincent Van Ghoul and his partner Mortifer (Nolan North) being some kind of archeologists, ones who accidentally opened the chest while exploring an old temple, and that years later, after capturing all the ghosts and placing them back in the chest, it was then re-opened by a couple of idiots named Scooby and Shaggy. Now, in the original series, Vincent Van Ghoul was just a magician working at a nearby Himalayan nightclub and was brought into the fight by street urchin/con artist Flim Flam to help Daphne, Scooby and Shaggy recapture the ghosts.
So this movie throws some nods to the original, but then basically rewrites the history of the Chest of Demons and the thirteen ghosts, which I guess isn’t a bad thing, and I seriously doubt even fans of the original would be too put off by these changes, but it does leave the story a little unclear, as if we are working from two different recipes. What makes Scooby-Doo and the Curse of the 13th Ghost stand out from its predecessors (and makes us forgive some of the plot problems), is the change of leadership from Fred to Daphne. Not only is Daphne shown to be a badass combat driver, able to out-maneuver a demon car, she thinks fast on her feet, can find secret passages and uncover clues like nobody’s business, and by doing this she quickly asserts herself as the leader on this particular mystery — being she is the one familiar with the history, this makes sense — but what’s really cool is that Fred comes to the conclusion that it would be best for the team if Daphne became the permanent leader of Mystery Incorporated, and that he’s more suited to the role of team cheerleader.
There is a lot to like about Scooby-Doo and the Curse of the 13th Ghost, with the voice cast all doing great work — though Maurice LaMarche as Vincent Van Ghoul does kind of drift between sounding like Vincent Price and his other cartoon counterpart Brain, from Pinky and the Brain — and the animation is simply gorgeous, highlighting some excellent action sequences, but if I were to voice one complaint it would be in having Velma’s skepticism never quite being resolved, “Was the thirteenth ghost just a dude in a mask or could something actually supernatural have occurred?” In the original series, it was made abundantly clear that our heroes were tackling honest-to-goodness ghosts — or demon ghosts to be more accurate — and so having this movie waffle on the one-yard line seems rather disingenuous. There are certainly a lot worse things you can do in your movie than have the ghosts turn out to be real, and as I’ve pointed out earlier, the show’s continuity is so over the map, with some “out of whack” time-lines, so having a clear statement of “Ghosts are real” wouldn’t have hurt anything, and it’s not like the writers can’t just change their minds on what is real and what is fake in the next Scooby-Doo incarnation.
I will end this review with one more bizarre continuity issue, one that makes the fifty-year run of Scooby-Doo really stand out, because in the original 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo the character of Flim Flam was about nine or ten years old, yet when Fred and Velma bump into him while searching for the Chest of Demons in this movie, he is now clearly the same age as the rest of the gang.
We are used to comic book and cartoon characters not aging — Archie and Jughead can remain eternally young in the pages of their comics — but somehow the character of Flim Flam (Noshir Dalal) has aged a decade while the Scooby Gang hasn’t seemed to have aged a day, so even if it turns out that the Chest of Demons was just something to bring in tourists, or that the thirteenth ghost was just a dude in a mask, there is still something seriously supernatural going on with these apparently immortal kids.
Scooby-Doo and the Curse of the 13th Ghost wraps up a thirty-four-year-old unresolved mystery, with the Scooby Gang having to re-adjust some of their preconceived notions on their roles in the group, and while the writers kind of waffle at the end on whether there was a real ghost or not — which is kind of stupid considering this is a sequel to a series where the ghosts were bloody real — the end result is still a fun and exciting Scooby-Doo adventure, one that will enchant the young ones and even give older fans a chuckle or two. So check this one out, it’s a “scary” good time.
You can find all my reviews of the various Scooby-Doo shows and movies collected here: The Wonderful World of Scooby-Doo.
Scooby-Doo and the Curse of the 13th Ghost (2019)
Movie Rank - 6/10
With twelve different Scooby-Doo shows, and a never ending supply of direct-to-video-movies, it’s clear that the world will never grow tired of Scooby-Doo and his friends, and though Scooby-Doo and the Curse of the 13th Ghost isn’t without its problems there is enough fun on hand to keep newer and older fans alike entertained.