Scooby-Doo! Mystery Inc
Produced by Warner Bros, released 2010, available on DVD
Cartoon Royalty reclaims its throne
Scooby-Doo is one of the greatest cartoons of all time.
Normally, I might qualify that statement or give some context, but in this case, none is needed. The Scooby-Doo franchise is one of the oldest and most beloved series of all time and for good reason. It was innovative, trend-setting, and narratively unique. It’s one of the only successful stories in all of human history where the principle protagonists are complete, total, unabashed cowards.
The original Scooby-Doo! Where Are You? first aired in 1969 and since then, the franchise has been running pretty much nonstop. In fact, there have been only a handful of years during the entire 45-year run of the show that new episodes weren’t being made. More than that, Scooby-Doo spun off a host of knockoffs and imitators. The show has been praised by the likes of Carl Sagan and the characters of the show have becoming iconic the world over.
During the 1980s and into the 1990s, Scooby-Doo got away from formula, however. In a dark era known to be inhabited by a midget monster known as Scrappy-Doo, Scooby-Doo moved away from mystery-solving and turned into bizarre and very generic adventuring. The 2000s saw a return to the classic format of the show, giving rise to the most recent series, Mystery Inc.
Mystery Inc sets the story in Crystal Cove, the purportedly most haunted place on earth. The Scooby Gang are already established mystery solvers, despite all being in their high school years. The town itself is replete with colorful characters, including the Gang’s own families, giving each character a very rich and much-welcome back story. The narrative is likewise evolved, including a love story between Velma and Shaggy as well as romantic troubles between the capable Daphne and the somewhat incompetent Fred. All of this creates an impressive texture to the story against which is set the mystery of each new episode.
Unlike the previous versions of the show, Mystery Inc is an animated series, with each episode building on the previous. An entire mythos is developed involving a previous incarnation of the Mystery Inc, with hidden clues being given by a mystery figure named Mr. E (don’t give me that look; it’s a kid’s show!). This slowly expands the world of the show, culminating into a complex internal history that’s truly impressive. All of it leads to a series finale that masterfully weaves the outstanding show into the established Scooby-Doo canon.
Story – 4 out of 5
Mystery Inc is truly outstanding. The internal logic in the show is more solid than many live-action dramas, which is uncharacteristic for any cartoon, but especially a show like Scooby-Doo. A major outstanding element to the show’s story is the consistent quirkiness of every single character. No one person stands out as particularly zany or particularly sane. Everybody in the show is equally colorful and outlandish, making the story rich and vibrant.
The individual mysteries are a little more complex and far-fetched than previous versions of Scooby-Doo, with the explanations of how criminals got away with their crimes being even more outlandish. But at the same time, each villain is given tremendously colorful motivations that (at least within the dubious logic of the series’ universe) make some sense.
A real treat for cartoon fans is the outstanding way the show works in tiny nods and subtle references to earlier Hanna-Barbera cartoons, including Scooby-Doo but also many other shows. In just about every shot involving extra characters in the background, Don Knotts or Mama Cass can be seen somewhere. Likewise are there references to the aforementioned knockoffs of Scooby-Doo and other Hanna-Barbera shows. The ultimate in fan-service however is the episode ‘Heart of Evil’ which involves an elaborate story of revenge involving the Blue Falcon with Dyno-Mutt as well as Dr Quest and Race Bannon.
Art – 4 out of 5
The art in the show is really good, but not distracting. The show looks and feels like what it is; a modern update of a 1970s classic. As such, the show relies on heavy line work and limited details not seen in form or frame. Each character is recreated very faithfully to the inspiration in the original series, while also helping to remake them with some modern flair.
The one complaint to the show is the way Velma has been recreated. While Velma looks and dresses much like her previous forms, she’s noticeably more slim. She doesn’t come across as being a young woman with a larger frame, which some fans may find undermines some of the character’s appeal. Others, it may not bother.
Animation – 4 out of 5
While the art is unremarkably good, the animation is stellar. Action sequences are smooth and impressive, the transition from traditional-style art to CG sequences are seamless, and the effects of lighting and shadow are amazing. The series is beautifully brought to life and stands out as especially vivid, even compared to other modern shows.
Characters – 5 out of 5
Masterful. This show beautifully recreates, expands, and evolves some of the most memorable characters in modern entertainment. Not one single character in the show is found to be flat and uninspired. Every character, from the leads to the bit-parts have all well-established motivations and inclinations.
The true gem, however, is how the five Scooby Gang members have been reworked. These teens discover they’re larger role in the world of mystery-solving, while at the same time deal with their parents’ expectations, their own romantic relationships, and the uncertainty of the future.
Few shows achieve the richness of character that Mystery Inc accomplishes.
Acting – 5 out of 5
The voice acting is stellar and equally masterful. The well-skilled cast delivers great performances. Series veteran (and heir to the throne of King of the Voice Actors) Frank Welker reprises Fred and Scooby, while others from the original series (like Casey Kasem) return for supporting roles. Likewise does Matthew Lillard, who played Shaggy Rogers in the live-action films (Linda Cardellini also returns, but not as Velma, sadly). Other greats like Mark Hamill, Jeffrey Combs, Gary Cole, Patrick Warburton, and Maurice LaMarche help round out the cast.
Overall – 5 out of 5
What Scooby-Doo is to animation and cartoons, Scooby-Doo! Mystery Inc is to the Scooby-Doo franchise. This is a beautiful series that was masterfully done from top to bottom. Fans of cartoons, animation, anime, Scooby-Doo, modern re-imaginings of classic series, or just flat-out good shows should make it a point to watch this show from start to finish. It’s funny, innovative, at times poignant, and extremely well-done.
Good cartoons and series come and go, but we get truly great cartoons only so often. This is one of those cartoons. See this series.