As iconic characters go Scooby Doo stands up at the top alongside the likes of Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, you’d have to travel pretty far off the beaten track to find someone who hasn’t heard of the world’s most famous crime-solving dog. By now three generations of children have grown up following the adventures of Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and their lovable Great Dane…Scooby-Doo!
Let’s start off with a question, “What did these guys do for gas money?” Almost every episode had them travelling to some event when they’d get waylaid by a mystery, or sometimes the mystery would strike at the event itself, but what do our intrepid heroes do in between these adventures?
Back in the late 60s show creators Joe Ruby and Ken Spears had the idea of making an animated show about musicians, much in the same vein as The Archie Show, in which between gigs the gang would solve mysteries with the aid of their bongo-playing dog named Too Much, and the show was going to be called Mysteries Five. The Network didn’t like the band angle and thought the mysteries themselves were too scary for kids, so they decided to lighten the show up by focusing the stories on the gang’s goofy mutt, who henceforth would be named Scooby Doo.
The show was an instant hit among kids, with the original series running three seasons, and then, of course, spinning off into multiple different incarnations over the years. To this day there are fans of all ages, but what is it that made the show so immensely enjoyable? After watching a few episodes the basic formula is quite apparent; while on route to somewhere in the Mystery Machine, the gang will stumble across a mystery, they will be chased by some monster or phantom, they will split up to look for clues, Shaggy and Scooby will find snacks and encounter the monster/ghost, Fred will come up with an elaborate Rube Goldberg type trap that will most likely fail due to Shaggy and Scooby setting it off by accident, but still the ghost/monster will be apprehended and revealed to not be an actual supernatural entity at all, but just Old Man Whithers (or similar human agency wearing a mask), who were using the scare factor to cover-up their crime or scam.
Part of the success of the show is the very fact that it was formulaic because kids like the expected, it works as a kind of comfort food for them, sure they like to be scared once and a while, but in the end it’s the safe routine they want. My nephews can watch the very same episode of one of their favourite shows ad nauseam, this is because among kids familiarity breeds content. Of course, the other key factor in this shows popularity is the characters, there is at least one character in the group that the viewer can relate to; Fred Jones (Frank Welker) is the level-headed leader of the group (I’m betting he’s the leader simply because he’s the one with a driver’s license), Daphne Blake (Stefanianna Christopherson/Heather North) the beautiful danger prone damsel, Velma Dinkley (Nicole Jaffey) the brains of the group, Norville “Shaggy” Rogers (Casey Kasem) the group’s resident beatnik and slacker, and whose best friend is Scooby-Doo (Don Messick), the world’s most lovable Great Dane.
And that’s what he was, a friend, he wasn’t the group’s pet he was an equal member of the gang with all the weight and responsibility that entails. Sure he and Shaggy were afraid of pretty much everything, but when the chips began to fall they were there at the finish line unmasking the villain. That is true courage. If the phrase “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger” were applied to these two they would have to be considered the strongest pair on the planet.
The premise of the show itself owes a great deal to the Universal Comedies starring Abbott and Costello where that comic duo encountered the likes of Dracula, the Mummy, and Frankenstein’s monster. In the case of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? their group consisted of three Abbotts and two Costellos. Now the true unsung hero of the series is Iwao Takamoto, the show’s production designer who gave it that iconic look, from the simple and elegant design of the characters to the Gothic and scary mansions and landscapes, it all went towards making this show so memorable. And when I say memorably I also mean scary as the Giggling Green Ghosts that terrorized Scooby in the episode A Night of Fright Is No Delight gave me nightmares when I was a kid.
This show, along with The Flintstones, was easily the best thing coming out of Hanna-Barbera Productions at the time, and sure over the years the quality ebbed and waned, but those early halcyon days were glorious. Later incarnations of the show mixed things up by bringing in such characters as Scooby-Dum and the much-derided Scrappy-Doo, and the show even had guest stars such as The Three Stooges and Batman & Robin, but it was the first three seasons that I fell in love with when I was a kid, and they will always have a soft spot in my heart.
Note: In 1998 Warner Bros announced “This time, the monsters are real!” for the direct-to-video release of Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island – even though shows like The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo had established the real existence of ghosts – thus Mystery Incorporated has been tackling actual ghosts and witches off and on for years. I guess you can take a formula only so far before it becomes too absurd. After a couple of decades of it turning out to be guys in masks the gang would start to look like a group of gullible idiots to fall for that every time, and I did love the moment when they tried to rip the mask off an actual zombie.
You can find all my reviews of the various Scooby-Doo shows and movies collected here: The Wonderful World of Scooby-Doo.
Scooby Doo, Where Are You! (1969-1971)
Scooby Doo, Where Are You! was one of my favorite cartoons when I was a kid but as an adult the repetitive nature, including the oft repeated recycle of animation, makes this show is a little harder to sit through and certainly nothing you’d want to binge watch. Still it does make for a nice nostalgic drip back in time.