Happy Halloween, Scooby Doo!
USA 2020 Directed by Maxwell Atoms
Warner Bros DVD Region 1
Warning: Zoinks! There are a few very small spoilers here.
Happy Halloween, Scooby Doo! is the latest Scooby Doo Halloween Special, taking the form of a straight-to-home video format release for this year’s spook season. I’m not sure how much of a bite Halloween has in a world which is living through the first year of the horrors of Covid-19 but I guess people can get more comfort out of made up terrors as a counter to the current, real life ones.
I have to be honest, this film would not have been on my hit list at all if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s also the latest movie featuring Cassandra Peterson as the voice of her famous creation Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark. This was a big selling point for me and was pretty much my only reason for purchasing this. Other guests include Bill Nye playing himself (who is not well known over here in the UK at all, I had to look him up) and Dwight Schultz, who I’m guessing most people will best remember as Murdock in The A Team and Barclay in Star Trek - The Next Generation.
Here, Schultz plays Jonathan Crane, aka The Scarecrow. That’s right, the super villain from Gotham City has escaped from Arkham Asylum and I was fully expecting, after the not bad Scooby Doo & Batman: The Brave And The Bold (reviewed here), a little cameo from the caped crusader himself. Alas, that doesn’t happen but the way the writers use The Scarecrow’s appearance here, as a diversionary tactic to make the audience think that he is the villain of the piece, is kind of an interesting slant. Here, instead of being the main villainous lead, he’s used almost as a Hannibal Lecter character (as he was originally presented). That is to say, he’s the one Velma goes to consult with after she figures out he’s not the one behind a reign of terror caused by monstrous, animated pumpkins which are eating and terrorising people in a small town. And then we get to see a side of Johnathan Crane that I don’t remember seeing before but, I’ll leave it up to the Batman fans out there to figure out if this is a huge deviation from the canon of the DC super villain or not. I thought it was an interesting take on the way this kind of ‘established character’ is used, however.
Elvira is, of course, wonderful... although, it’s fair to say she doesn’t have the best lines in this. I know this is for a child friendly audience but, the character doesn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders in a way although, to be fair, it’s still a pleasure to hear her and she certainly doesn’t do anything to betray the spirit of her famous Elvira personae (I met her at the London Film and Comic Con a couple of decades ago, before it got more successful and crowded... she’s a really nice person).
The story is fine with the usual twists and turns of the regular Scooby Doo’s from yesteryear. The opening credits are nicely done although, I have to say, I was somewhat shocked as to why Shaggy and Scooby were cramming their mouths full of sweets before they’d bothered to take the wrappings off but, after all, it’s a Halloween special I guess. There’s a nice homage to, I don’t know, either Wacky Races or Mad Max 2 and 4 in terms of an overlong ‘pumpkin pursuit’ vehicle chase, which I’ve heard cited as a weakness of this feature but, personally, I didn’t mind it at all. Another referential scene was supposed, it turns out, to be a reference to the first Predator movie but, heck, I assumed it was a Rambo reference so, yeah, I guess my general unfamiliarity with the first Predator film (last time I saw it was the once, on its original cinema release back in 1987) made me miss it.
Another bizarre thing which I felt should have been a reference but, I don’t think it was, was a sound effect I heard used twice which basically matched the same sound effect that you would hear when Steve Austin (as played by Lee Majors) would do anything remotely ‘bionic’ in any episode of The Six Million Dollar Man. However, the use of this sound effect seemed to just be servicing the on screen narrative and, although it would certainly make someone of my generation leap up and take note, it seems to have been used in a genuinely un-ironic manner here. Very strange.
The animation is kind of ropey but it’s not out of place with the early Scooby Doo shows, with the standard Hanna-Barbera ‘xeroxed look’ where the main objects are just moved around almost statically in an uncomplicated manner... although the lighting and colouring is less flat and more interesting in places. Although, the fact that none of the characters had white eyes and, instead, had eyes which blended with their faces, gave me a creepy vibe, for sure. I certainly didn’t love the simplified look to Elivira with the de-emphasising of her boobs but, on the other hand, her final scene with the wig reveal and... all that comes after that... was genuinely bizarre enough that I didn’t feel too cheated by the way the character was handled here. So, yeah, as far as this main, feature cartoon goes, if you’re a Scooby Doo admirer then I’d have to say Happy Halloween, Scooby Doo! is not a bad attempt at a Halloween celebration.
The extras, on the other hand, are strictly for completists only, I guess. When I heard they were three more, 20 minute Scooby Doo Halloween specials from recent years (the 1980s to five years ago), I was quite excited. I kind of stopped watching the TV show a little while ago, in the late 1970s because, frankly, Scrappy Doo and the recorded laughter tracks finally got the better of me. So what these three extras ultimately mean to me is a look into where the show headed after I was done with it. The answer to that seems to be, headed to unwatchable cartoon hell...
The first of the three featured, Be Cool, Scooby Doo - Halloween (from 2015), has a nice enough story but the look of the characters is hideous, with everyone looking like they stepped out of a Rugrats cartoon. The second one, the 2002 What’s New Scooby Doo? - A Scooby Doo Halloween, has closer character design to the ones I used to watch in the 1970s (and you can see the whites of their eyes, hoorah) but had a simplistic, childishly simple story and a horrible laughter track. And as for the third one, the 1988 episode of A Pup Named Scooby Doo - Ghost Who’s Coming To Dinner, well... I couldn’t even get through the full opening credits. The whole thing, with all the characters rendered into young, kiddie versions of themselves (even more so than the 2015 episode) was just too much to take and I really felt offended enough by the lows of animated history that these three shows represented, that this third banality was the straw that broke the Great Dane’s back, as far as I’m concerned. So, as far as the DVD goes (why no Blu Ray?), Happy Halloween, Scooby Doo! is certainly worth spending some time with but, don’t look at the bonus cartoons unless you want your childhood memories compromised by the depths to which the show gradually stooped.