By Ed Sum
The concept of having a talking Great Dane as a mascot to a gang of paranormal mystery solving enthusiasts was introduced in September of 1969, and the cartoon Scooby Doo Where Are You! became a resounding success. The television show underwent many incarnations throughout the years and many kids watched a version of the show before going to school or as part of the Saturday morning routine. The plots were simple and the latest series, Scooby-Doo, Mystery Incorporated, takes the concept further. Nearly all the cases the Scooby gang investigates are linked in some way. And now it can be enjoyed with the series fully available on DVD. The last set was released in June.
Part of season one dealt with the Scooby gang discovering that they are part of an exclusive club. Apparently there was another group before them who created Mystery Incorporated, and both fellowships shared similar goals. To have this series slowly reveal details about this older group is intriguing and when the current gang discovers a legend about cursed treasure akin to what existed in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, the stage has been set. The gang slowly finds pieces of an astrolabe known as the Planispheric Disk, and they have to put it together before the coming of Nibiru, aka Planet X.
The direction of them trying to solve an ancient mystery is a fun departure from the traditional paranormal cases they do. And the series spends a fair amount of time exploring what defines the character of Fred Jones, Daphne Blake, Velma Dinkley, Shaggy Rogers and Scooby Doo. Unlike previous versions of the show, their parents are part of the narrative and how they behave reflects on what the Scooby gang could potentially become. Viewers get to see what kind of parent-child conflict exists before they are able to face the world at large. Fred gets the most character development in the series with the discovery of how his father is not his father. That leads to his desire to find his biological parents. But that is met with a harsh revelation that segues into the next season and whom he can look up to as a parental figure. Not many cartoons operate in such a dramatic fashion.
And viewers get to learn just how deep Shaggy and Scooby’s friendship goes. Previous shows like Shaggy and Scooby Doo Get a Clue! and The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo places more emphasis in this pair’s comedic camaraderie. When Mystery Incorporated reinvents the character of Velma to be a love-interest, a big question is raised: will Shaggy ditch Scooby in favour of having a life? That would be like asking if Susie Derkins will ever become Calvin’s girlfriend when they are older. In the Bill Watterson’s comic strip, Calvin’s best pal in all the world is Hobbes. The same can be said about how close Shaggy is with Scooby.
In this series, Fred and Daphne have this on-again off-again romance that nearly everyone can relate to. It is difficult to say those special three words, and Fred is amusing to watch when he has difficulty expressing his feelings. Unlike Shaggy, Scooby and Velma’s dilemma, their world does not fall apart when they cannot decide if they are a couple or not. Even more importantly, how the group behaves in between all these relationship woes does not affect the team when they go around town solving cases.
The in-jokes to various pieces of pop culture lore (from Harlan Ellison providing his own voice to cameos from past cartoons like Dynomutt and movies like Terminator) are a nice touch for older fans to appreciate, but the main reason why this series is enjoyable is because this group of friends is also learning about how to deal with more than a few facts of life. And that experience is something that they will remember when they finally decide to leave the comfort of their hometown, Crystal Cove.
The transition to this final moment is unusual. The series writers of Mystery Incorporated wrote themselves into a hole. In a plot that is even more convoluted than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, everything that happened in the series never did occur since history was rewritten when the master villain, an entity from the world of Nibiru, was defeated.
By setting up the fact that Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated is to precede Scooby-Doo Where Are You! the drama of what the gang has experienced are definitely not referenced in past products, and the question of the direction of what future products will deliver needs to be asked. Sadly, some series writers do not believe that many youths can appreciate long story-arcs. To create a product to appease adults and children alike is tough. Mystery Incorporated succeeds at ending the saga with a bang, but as for what will be next: hijinks and hilarity is the order of the day than engaging mysteries that speaks about the human condition.
Curiously, Warner Home Video elected to do a bare bones release for this series. They might have done that for the best interest of keeping the quality of the colorful visuals in the series intact.
All six “volumes” are available for purchase and sadly there has been some inconsistency in the packaging/titling of these initial individual volume releases. With titles ranging from “season one volume one to volume three” to “Season 1, Part 2: Crystal Cove Curse,” some people may wonder if the company was simply rushing a product out to curb online piracy of this series since broadcast of Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated! was erratic at best. When considering the series had a troubled broadcast history, some folks might have missed noticing the final volume release from last month.
At least the season two packaging does a better job of staying consistent. It’s a two-volume set. The first volume is titled, “Danger in the Deep” and the second, “Spooky Stampede.”
The discs at least retain a similar design, and the contents show that the company is not out to cram as many episodes possible per disc. Each DVD contains four episodes at most, and the quality is quite exceptional. Very little artefacting can be found in the transfer, and the menu design is easy to navigate. When compared to many video releases on blu-ray, this DVD only release can hold its own quite well.
Thankfully, a repackaging of the first season is in the works. Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated: The Complete Season 1 is due October 8, 2013. Now if they will only include a bonus disc with some behind the scenes hijinks from the team who excellently brought this latest chapter to life. Kudos has to go to the fine cast of Mindy Cohn (Velma), Grey DeLisle (Daphne), Matthew Lillard (Shaggy), and Frank Welker (Scooby-Doo, Freddy Jones) for re-igniting the flame for new and old fans alike.