The upcoming movie Scoob! marks not only a new visual style for the Scooby-Doo franchise but also a brand new origin story for the titular talking mutt and his mystery-solving gang. The first trailer for the animated film tugs at its audiences' heartstrings with child versions of Scooby and Shaggy meeting each other for the first time; adding to the current circumstantial trend of seeing beloved fictional characters squashed down into infant form, ala The Mandalorian's Baby Yoda and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge On The Run's young SpongeBob and Gary.
Scoob!'s synopsis makes it clear, however, that one individual origin story will be of particular importance:
"Now, with hundreds of cases solved and adventures shared, Scooby and the gang face their biggest, most challenging mystery ever: a plot to unleash the ghost dog Cerberus upon the world. As they race to stop this global 'dogpocalypse,' the gang discovers that Scooby has a secret legacy and an epic destiny greater than anyone imagined."
Phrases like "secret legacy" and "epic destiny," as well as the mention of a ghostly version of the three-headed dog that guards the Greek underworld, kind of stick out like sore thumbs for a property that has built its legacy -- largely -- on the idea that monsters and fantasy aren't actually real, but are people in costumes carrying out real estate scams. The introduction of actual magic into the Hanna-Barbera classic is actually nothing new, and neither is the idea of Scooby-Doo being far more than he seems. (More than, you know, the oddity of a Great Dane that talks and behaves like a human.)
The strangest origin to date that Scooby has been given happened in the second most-recent iteration of the series, Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated, which ran for two seasons between 2010-13. The show was remarkable in the Scooby canon for one major reason: it was the first to ditch the solely episodic, "monster-of-the-week" formula used since its inception in 1969, opting to craft a closed, overarching story in-between the gang's usual cases. This story took the show into J.J Abrams-branded television territory, circling around a conspiracy at a place called Crystal Cove and an anonymous, masked figure called "Mr. E" (... get it?) as well as the hidden history of Mystery Inc., a concept that has apparently repeated itself throughout time.
In bringing in the idea of there being an "original" Mystery Inc. -- who have long since disappeared -- Mystery Incorporated replicated the way that DC Comics, amongst others, handled its transitional period from a Golden Age to a more modern one, with the Justice Society of America being replaced by the Justice League. Suitably, Mystery Incorporated is very much a celebration of Hanna-Barbera's own wider history, pulling in legacy players from everything from Fred Flinstone to Yogi Bear, as well as classic Scooby-Doo villains like Miner 49er and The Black Knight. Scoob! looks to be taking a page out of this playbook, too, with the company's other human/dog duos -- Blue Falcon and Dyno-Mutt and Dick Dastardly and (presumably) Mutley -- also confirmed to appear in what will be the first brick in building a Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe.
The other interesting way that the reboot stood out was in its pop culture references. Scooby-Doo has a tradition for crossovers matched by few other properties of its longevity. Icons, both real and fictional, have been teaming up with the busy-body teens and their 'fraidy cat pet since the '70s, whether they had a passion for detective work, like Batman, or not, like Sonny and Cher. More recently, the gang got to meet their rock 'n' roll idols, KISS, in a film that began with the establishment of the band's own Disneyland and ended with them all zooming through a Jack Kirby-inflected view of space on a giant guitar powered by music. Their crossover into the world of Supernatural even used the gang's loss of innocence after witnessing the real, occult terrors of Sam and Dean Winchester's lives as a meta-commentary on the property's modern shift. Safe to say Scooby-Doo hasn't been its old, "meddling kids" self for a number of years now.
Mystery Incorporated used its cultural touching points to fully ingratiate the franchise into the sci-fi/fantasy genre even while trying to maintain some semblance of the show's usual status quo; homaging unexpectedly dark, adult-oriented fare like The Shining and A Nightmare on Elm Street and even the work of more cult creators like David Lynch and H.P Lovecraft -- or, "H.P Hatecraft." Harlan Ellison, the famed writer of cheerful tales like I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, was even a recurring character. All of this served to build-up to the aforementioned strange new origin of Scooby-Doo, which involved interdimensional, shapeshifting aliens.
That's right: in this continuity, Scooby is far from your average, hamburger-chomping dog, he's actually an Anunnaki -- a race of ancient creatures who can cross into our universe and take the forms of wise, talking animals. (God knows what that makes Scrappy-Doo...) The first Mystery Inc. gang had their own secretly alien animal sidekick in the form of the sinister bird, Professor Pericles, and were tricked into liberating another Anunnaki being known only as the "Evil Entity" decades ago. The Entity is a Cthulhu-inspired instrument of cosmic destruction so, naturally, the gang defeat it using the power of friendship... and an ancient Egyptian spear, but mainly friendship.
Despite turning the show's fundamental premise on its head, the show is well-liked by a lot of fans for its high-quality production, deep cuts into geek culture and elevating a cheap Saturday morning cartoon into its own grand mythology. There have been naysayers, though. Writing for The Guardian, Rick Pelley bemoaned the replacement of groovy, '70s camp value with real horrors. "In a traditional half-hour escapade, the slime monster needs to turn out to be a jaded professor not some transdimensional being. How are we supposed to sleep at night, Scoob? Zoinks!"
This could well be a criticism leveled at Scoob! by Scooby-Doo purists should the film follow in Mystery Incorporated's mystical pawprints.
Scoob! stars the voices of Frank Welker, Zac Efron, Gina Rodriguez, Will Forte, Amanda Seyfried, Tracy Morgan, Ken Jeong, Kiersey Clemons, Mark Wahlberg and Jason Isaacs. The film arrives in theaters May 15, 2020.