Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated: Season One, Volume One review
Starring
Frank Welker, Mindy Cohn, Grey DeLisle, Matthew Lillard, Patrick Warburton, Gary Cole, Frances Conroy, Vivica A. Fox, Lewis Black, Casey Kasem, Jennifer Hale, Kevin Dunn
Director
Various
Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated: Season
One, Volume One

Reviewed by Will Harris

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T

rue or False? For as many reboots, re-imaginings, spin-offs, and live-action adaptations that have gone on within the “Scooby-Doo” franchise, if you were to poll the general populace, you would find that the favorite entity among the bunch would still be the original series, “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!”

Oh, come on, you know it’s true. I mean, we’re talking major landslide victory here.

Even if you’re someone who’s willing to come out of the closet and admit to being a fan of “A Pup Named Scooby Doo” or, God forbid, anything involving Scrappy Doo, surely you can admit that everything that has ever made any incarnation of “Scooby-Doo” work stems forth from the wellspring that is “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” Yet for some reason, much of the 40-year history of Scooby’s franchise has been spent trying to figure out ways to move the greatest Great Dane of them all into territory where he doesn’t belong. Granted, some have worked better than others (who among us didn’t get a kick out of the concept of “The New Scooby-Doo Movies,” where Scooby and the gang teamed up with an odd blend of celebrities and fictional characters?), but if TV history has taught us anything, it’s that the original concept was the best concept: four teenagers and a dog solving mysteries.

Given the depths to which we’ve seen Scooby sink before, you may be surprised to learn that the producers of Cartoon Network’s “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated” actually understand this concept.

Indeed, the initial four episodes of the series offered on this “Season One, Volume One” set reveal that a new bar has been established for how to reinvigorate a classic property. It’s not so much that they’ve gone back to basics. It’s that, not unlike “The Brady Bunch Movie,” they’ve managed to look at the original series through the eyes of a fan and a cynic simultaneously, coming up with a new take on the classic mythos that respects the source material while asking the hard-hitting questions like, “Say, where the hell are the parents of these kids?”

Yes, in the first episode of “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated,” we do finally meet the parents of Fred, Daphne, Velma and Shaggy. For the first time, we also see a “Scooby-Doo” series which acknowledges that it’s impossible to put two teenage boys and two teenage girls in a van and not have some sort of sexual tension erupt, but it’s done with a wink and a smile: Fred misses Daphne’s unabashed flirtations because he’s so obsessed with building the perfect trap to catch monsters and criminals, while a burgeoning relationship between Velma and Shaggy is being stymied by Shaggy’s concern that it’ll blow Scooby’s mind.

This isn’t the first time they’ve attempted to modernize Scooby and the gang, but it’s the first time they’ve done it in a way which makes the show more adult-friendly without alienating the youth audience. When Warner Brothers made the first live-action “Scooby-Doo” movie, it looked for a brief moment as if they were going to get it right, going back to basics and drawing from the original cartoon. Where they went wrong, however, was in deciding to eschew intelligent humor in favor of lowbrow shenanigans at virtually every turn. Here, not only is there quick wit at work throughout, but the tone is darker (some of the monsters are legitimately frightening), and there are even continuing story arcs, most notably the one revolving around the enigmatic Mr. E, who’s sending the gang messages that are leaving them seriously creeped out. In a nod to the kids’ past encounters with local law enforcement, there’s also the character of Sheriff Bronson Stone, voiced by Patrick Warburton, who’s constantly annoyed with the way these teenagers are stepping into what’s arguably his area of expertise.

Few forces are quite as powerful as nostalgia, but rather than just lazily playing on existing material, “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated” instead builds on it, and the result is one of the most enjoyable animated series of the past several years.

It’s just a shame that Warner Brothers Animation has decided to dole out the DVDs of the series in unforgivably tiny doses: by the time this disc – which, again, includes a mere four episodes – hits stores in late January 2011, Cartoon Network had aired 13 episodes. Rather than an attempt to sell the show to an older audience who might embrace the continuing story arcs, it simply feels like a desperate attempt to grab a few bucks from the kiddie crowd. It’s an embarrassingly shabby effort for a show that deserves far better treatment. If there were more episodes and even a half-hearted attempt at bonus material, this would’ve earned a five-star review, but as it is…

Special Features: None, aside from a couple of trailers for other Warner Brothers productions. This is precisely what you’d expect from as poorly-conceived a disc as this one, of course, but if the situation isn’t remedied when the inevitable full-season set is released, I’m going to be pissed.

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