by Ed Sum
Animation is no stranger to the horror genre and one of the most enduring cartoon icons associated with this crossover is Scooby-Doo. The cartoons that follow his capers made those spooks that went bump in the night not as terrible as it should be. The scares are only as real as Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby want it to be and by the episode’s end, they usually face up to it. The only thing they have to fear is fear itself.
And in the 40+ years since this franchise’s inception, nearly everyone has grown up watching at least one episode of this great dane buffooning his way into popular culture. The comedy relief Scooby provides take the edge out of nearly all of the frights that play out on network television. Unlike Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, this cartoon series gives younger viewers a campfire story they can comfortably fall asleep to.
Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated is the latest incarnation of the much beloved franchise that is willing to poke a little fun at itself. The writers acknowledge a few of the franchise’s early shortcomings and work to improve Scooby-Doo’s lasting legacy. Unlike earlier inceptions, the sleepy haunted town of Crystal Cove is where the gang solves crimes. This town is reputed to have more sinister hauntings per capita. For this particular group of teens, there’s a dark sinister history that link their lives with a deeper mystery that’s associated with the town. Throughout season one, the story arc leads up to the discovery of the Planispheric Disc. It’s an object of unknown origin, but if people move the pieces to different configurations, it reveals the coordinates to where an ancient relic is hidden. Find them all, and they might reveal the answer to what lurks underneath Crystal Cove.
As each episode focuses on these meddling kids going out to solve a mystery, the romantic relationships and character development that happens within the group is what keeps viewers coming back for more. The lessons learned are not just for the Scooby-gang, but also the viewers. Those pesky kids have parents who worry about them: Velma’s parents run a tourist operation catering to the town’s haunted past, and they dislike Velma’s need for uncovering the truth. Daphne’s folks are rich socialites and their pairing only overstates the obvious when it comes to why she’s attracted to Fred. And Shaggy’s folks are a bit of a surprise.
In season one, Fred Jones’ father is the mayor of Crystal Cove, and that makes for some interesting dynamics in terms of how much freedom the gang have when they go about solving mysteries. While the cliffhanger reveals otherwise, Junior does not have the run of the town, and true to form, the generational divide between parents and their teenage sons and daughters is explored. This type of attention in storytelling is wonderful and it may even teach the old and young viewer a thing or two about listening to each other. Not much of this relationship is dwelled upon in season two, but there’s a reason and viewers will have to tune in instead of reading about details that are considered to be plot spoilers.
But for viewers wandering if this latest incarnation should be watched, the best advice is to do so. This series stays true to the source that launched a franchise. There are even plenty of in-jokes to satisfy the long-time fan, like including Vincent Van Ghoul into the lexicon, and for the horror enthusiast, there are stabs at literary icons from various generations: namely H.P. Lovecraft, Harlan Ellison and Stephenie Meyer.
For a new generation, this product is nothing like Martin Mystery or Ben 10. Those creations had to start from scratch in order to build an audience. “A Pup Named Scooby-Doo” even managed a Daytime Emmy nomination. And with this franchise expanding in various directions, including direct to video and live-action films, there are no signs of it slowing down.
With Mystery Incorporated, this series is approaching story telling in a direction not often used: the story-arcs do not end when one season ends. In season two which is currently airing, the story direction is very foreboding. The series brings together even some science fiction elements which fits perfectly into this world. The Annunaki may or may not be a race of divine entities from the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the coming of the planet Nibiru is going to be a planetary junction where all twelve planets come into alignment. Their crossing means some kind of stargate will open to release an epic evil to dwell upon the Earth. If this direction sounds like a version of Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods, that may well be the writer’s intent.
When considering that Cartoon Network revealed that there will not be a season three, the series will no doubt end with a bang . That might mean there won’t be another series for a few years. But as long as fans want another show, all anyone has to do is ask, “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” and the series creators will come up with something new.