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 basically works as a prequel to the original 1960s Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? Though the series takes place during the time period when our teenage sleuths are still in high school, before taking The Mystery Machine on the road, they do encounter characters that fans of previous versions of the show will recognize, and it’s these nods to the past 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 ghosts and monsters provides most of the town’s revenue with tourist dollars. Now, 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 fact that the Mayor is 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 with any of the previous incarnations, as we get 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 know and love, along with some nice tongue-in-cheek references to the formulaic nature of the older versions, it is a show that rewards the 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 emotionally distant father, while also being completely oblivious to the fact that Daphne (Grey DeLisle) is madly in love with him, but over time 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 group’s mystery-solving ability, but what could come as a bit surprising to many a fan is that the show opens with her and Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) in a “romantic” 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, which 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. One decidedly interesting element that this franchise dives into is Velma’s sexual orientation and the idea that her relationship problems with Shaggy may not stem from divided loyalties but because Velma is, in fact, gay and thus a relationship with any boy just wasn’t going to work out. Now, the character of Velma Dinkley has been queer-coded since pretty much her inception, whether the creators intended it or not, but with Mystery Incorporated the showrunners made no qualms about Velma being a lesbian and introduced the character of Marcie Fleach aka Hotdog Water (Linda Cardellini) as a love interest for Velma, and to say these two made for a great couple is a massive understatement and I only wish this run of the franchise had last a little longer so we could have had more time to explore this sweet pairing.
Velma’s sexual status aside it’s the over-arching plot of the much bigger mystery that is the centrepiece of this series, for in between exposing various residents and visitors as masked monsters, 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 have disappeared 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 lives 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), whom older fans will recognize 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 the show, movie buffs will also have fun spotting references to such films as Carrie, The Shining and Nightmare on Elm Street, and in one particularly hilarious moment when Sheriff Bronson Stone casually opens the puzzle box from Hellraiser, but then he casually slams the door in the face of the oncoming cenobites. The gang even runs into author Harlan Ellison, who is speaking at a neighbouring college, and he gets into trouble after insulting 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, as well as 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 favourite episodes has Blue Falcon and Dynomutt teaming up with Mystery Incorporated, as they take on a Dragon-Man robot, and even though they had often teamed up with this pair in past versions of the show this time out we get a new origin, one where we 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, and a couple of cybernetic parts later and Dynomutt is born. Though Dynomutt is still depicted here as the lovable goofball, as he was back in The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour, what we get here is 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 mould.
To date Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated is easily my favourite version of these characters, and it’s not just because of the fun references to beloved moments from my childhood, but of the fact that this run actually goes pretty dark at times, with threats that are genuinely terrifying, and a mystery with serious stakes. Yet despite the show’s “darker” tone 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 that Fred’s Rube Goldberg-inspired traps managed to 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-arching mystery, in a very satisfying manner, I must say that having the mystery span across two whole seasons is petty daring on the producers’ part, and it teases what could have been a great third season, sadly, it was cancelled and further dark adventures were not to be. On the plus side the follow-up series of Be Cool, Scooby-Doo, though it was not as dark and mystery-centric as Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated it more than made up for it in being bizarrely brilliant and outright nuts at times. 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.
You can find all my reviews of the various Scooby-Doo shows and movies collected here: The Wonderful World of Scooby-Doo.
Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated (2010-2013)
Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated is pure unadulterated fun and with fantastic art designs combined with an ever-expanding voice cast of brilliant actors, this is a must-see series.