This ninth incarnation of the Scooby-Doo series followed the same basic format of the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! where we’d have Scooby-Doo and the gang arriving at some new location — ski lodge, space camp, amusement park or even the Old West — they would encounter a ghost or monster to run from, and then they’d expose them as being some type of criminal or conman, which is basically the premise of What’s New, Scooby-Doo? So, it’s clear that the producers of this show were going with the old proverb “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” but that all said, they still wanted to make things fresh, but how would they manage that? Well, for this series they tried to modernize things by having the gang use current technology, such as cellphones, laptops, and night vision binoculars, yet aside from this “modernization,” there really wasn’t all that much new to be found in a show called What’s New, Scooby-Doo?
The nicest thing that can be said about What’s New, Scooby-Doo? is that it reunited our classic cast of characters, who hadn’t been together since Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo back in 1979, but now the entire gang is together again; with Fred (Frank Welker) setting traps, Velma (Mindy Cohn) sorting out clues, Shaggy (Casey Kasem) and Scooby-Doo forced to be bait for a monster or ghost, and poor Daphne (Grey Griffin) still randomly getting kidnapped. At least this series toned down the “Danger Prone Daphne” element a tad with her now being an excellent surfer, having the ability to make improvised lock picks, and even using her fashion knowledge to aid in the mystery-solving, so it’s nice to see a little character development there.
The biggest criticism that can be levelled against What’s New, Scooby-Doo? is the flat and boring animation on display; gone are the darker tones found in such offerings as Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, and in its place is a dull colour palette with a complete lack of vibrancy, and this severely-lacking aesthetic isn’t helped by the poor character designs given to the show’s ghosts and monsters. Alas, we can’t expect horrifying visages that could scare the kiddies too much — though Zombie Island danced over that line a tad — and most of the creatures in this series wouldn’t scare a neurotic toddler with an animation phobia. Now, there were a few nods to popular movies that did provide a few good monsters, such as the rogue robot from the episode “Go West, Young Scoob,” which was a fun take on the movie Westworld.
Easily one of the worst episodes in this run was “Big Appetite in Little Tokyo” where we get the rare instance of the Scooby Gang on the run from the police. Unfortunately, it’s because Shaggy has been accused of turning into a Godzilla-sized monster and destroying villages. The Scooby-Doo mysteries often lean towards the far-fetched, but in that episode, things go a bit too far, even for a cartoon, as the villain has to frame Shaggy while also operating a thirty-foot robot that can somehow come and go without anyone noticing, and then made all the worse by tying it back to an ancient legend and a cursed pizza. There’s absurd and then there is plain old stupid, and this thing was actually painful to watch.
On the flip side, there was the episode “Mummy Scares Best” which had the Scooby gang teaming up with the recurring character of Melbourne O’Reilly (Steve Blum), an Australian adventurer who invites our heroes to help with an archaeological dig at the Great Pyramids, but soon they find themselves running from a nasty mummy and his zombified minions. The design of the mummy in this episode was actually quite frightening — on par with what we saw in Zombie Island — and when Fred, Velma, and Daphne are turned into zombie minions, the threat level reaches new heights that the show rarely achieved again. Even the mystery itself was pretty decent — villains diverting water for profit — but what was an unexpected change was the fact that Shaggy and Scooby ended up solving this mystery by themselves. I’d say “Mummy Scares Best” could be considered as one of the better Scooby-Doo episodes of the entire franchise, with thrill, chills, and a kickass monster.
• In the episode “There’s No Creature Like Snow Creature,” Fred ends up in a cast and has to watch Daphne investigate via night vision binoculars, a clear nod to Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
• In the episode “It’s Mean, It’s Green, It’s the Mystery Machine,” not only do we get a killer car story a la Christine, but we also get the origin of the Mystery Machine. Apparently, it once was a tour bus for a music group called “The Mystery Kids.”
• In the episode “Big Appetite in Little Tokyo,” Velma wins the science fair with her “First ever robotic canine,” which ignores the fact that she and the rest of the Scooby Gang have teamed up with The Blue Falcon and Dynomutt in the past.
• In the episode “High-Tech House of Horrors,” the A.I. of a “House of the Future” goes nuts and kidnaps Daphne; lucky for her, it doesn’t try to get her pregnant as the house from Demon Seed did to poor Julie Christie.
• In the episode “Recipe for Disaster,” we get a nice parody of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when Shaggy wins a trip to the Scooby Snax Factory.
• In the episode “The Vampire Strikes Back,” the Scooby Gang team up with their old friends the Hex Girls, who they will once again fight fake vampires within Scooby-Doo! and the Legend of the Vampire.
What’s New, Scooby-Doo? may have been a step back in the quality of the animation department, certainly when compared to some of the direct-to-video movies of the time, but there was still a lot of fun to be had in this incarnation of Mystery Incorporated. The characters remained mostly true to their nature and the mysteries themselves ranged from passable to good, just nothing really special, but still very in keeping with the original concept of Scooby-Doo, Where are You! which, unfortunately, was one of the show’s key problems as it basically comes across as a simple retread of the 60s original cartoon — Daphne’s showing more brains and heroism than ever before being one of the few standout changes. Though the humour worked for the most part, with some nice meta moments thrown in for older fans, there were too many episodes that were sunk by the less-than-impressive villains, with episodes like “The Fast and the Wormious” being especially egregious.
This particular run isn’t going to go down in history as one of the greats — sticking to a tried and true formula will only get you so far — but regardless of the less-than-stellar animation, there is still much to be enjoyed from a viewing of What’s New, Scooby-Doo? as the comedy is overall pretty solid, from Fred’s ability to butcher every foreign language as well as his horrible Elvis impersonations, to Daphne and Velma’s fun self-aware moments — mostly at Fred’s expense — but some of the show’s “modernization” went a little too far, such as Fred’s constant modifying of the Mystery Machine, where it becomes more of James Bond vehicle than just a cool van.
Sure, this incarnation wasn’t groundbreaking, some could even consider it a step back when you consider the drop in quality in animation and retreaded concept, but What’s New, Scooby-Doo? still has everyone’s favourite mystery-solving group taking on a variety of masked crooks in crazy locales while serving up a good amount of laughs, with meta nods to its many clichés and tropes, all making this a worthy entry in the annals of Scooby-Doo. What more could you want?
You can find all my reviews of the various Scooby-Doo shows and movies collected here: The Wonderful World of Scooby-Doo.
What's New, Scooby-Doo? (2002-2006)
Show Rank - 6/10
There may not be a lot of “new” in What’s New, Scooby-Doo? but the changes that were made certainly added to the fun, and though the animation wasn’t all that great the voice work and meta comedy did its best to make up for it.