ANNECY ANIMATION FESTIVAL 2019: Scoob!
During the Annecy film festival we were presented with footage for the upcoming Warner Bros. film Scoob!, the first animated film in the Scooby-Doo franchise to be theatrically released. Of course, there have been plenty of direct to DVD features as well as the poorly executed live action attempts. The crime-stopping dog and his friends have been solving mysteries since 1969 with their unique charm that has resulted in countless spinoffs and knockoffs, making Scooby Doo one of the most recognizable pop-culture icons. It’s hard to think of a cartoon that has been parodied more times than Scooby-doo (which we know is the most sincere form of flattery), especially the famous unmasking scenes. Will Scoob! be able to succeed where so many other incarnations have stumbled? From what I’m seeing, it seems hopeful.
The film will be directed by Warner animation veteran Tony Cervone, who isn’t new to Scooby, as among the many other projects he has directed a few of the direct to DVD Scooby-movies, notably a bizarre crossover between the Scooby gang and the band KISS in Rock and Roll Mystery. Scoob! will be an unusual take on the Scooby mythos. It opens with the first meeting between ten-year-old Shaggy and an adorable puppy Scooby, while also telling the origin of Mystery Incorporated. While the creators have promised us a great caper they didn’t reveal too many details about the actual mystery. They did emphasize that the story will go deeper emotionally than ever before with Scooby and Shaggy’s “bromance” as the central focus, transforming the duo from clowns into real heroes. Recent incarnations focused much more on Fred, Daphne, and Velma rather than the titular character. Scooby is iconic and he deserves a proper exploration.
What is truly impressive is all the hard work that went into transferring Scooby from a traditionally drawn character into this new CGI version. Historically, this type of transition rarely has worked and the creators acknowledged this at the festival by showing the series of rejected character models, including explorations into making Scooby look more like a real dog. An interesting anecdote came from Scooby’s original designer Iwao Takamoto. He read a dog-breeding book to get tips on how a model Great Dane should look, and broke every rule by doing the opposite. Hence Scooby-Doo is a “charming dog but not a beautiful one”.
After years of development, the creators decided to embrace Scooby’s cartoonishness and created a look as close to the original as possible. The movie uses two different Scooby rig-models: one for whenever he has to walk on all fours, and the other one for whenever Scooby is behaving in a more human manner. Much like in the cartoons Scooby sometimes seems to have hands and other times paws. Amusingly, they apparently ran some tests of their Scooby running against the speed of an actual Great Dane. The cartoon Scooby proved to be the winner.
The creators explained that they referenced Tom and Jerry cartoons in creating his movements. This sounds like a strange choice, but most of the people behind the famous cat and mouse duo were the same team that brought the original Scooby Doo show to life. While that cartoon had laughably limited animations, it’s interesting to imagine what they could have done if they had the same budget as Tom and Jerry. Scoob!, of course, isn’t going to suffer from those limitations.
The human characters proved to be more of a challenge. Have you ever noticed that Shaggy’s nose looks identical from every angle? Their clothes also raised a lot of questions. Their original look reflected a lot of the fashions of the era but Scoob! is going to take place in the present day. They hired a stylist to the stars in order to design their contemporary looks but the color choices will be immediately recognizable. The animators presented dozens of rejected designs, including versions of Daphne in a leather jacket or having a green necklace in place of her scarf. Fred’s trademark ascot was sadly among the items that had to go. His strange fashion choice was a result of his original design being representative of a brief period (less than six months) when the ascot was being pushed as the new hip thing. Thankfully, the fashion didn’t stick but it’s always been Fred’s standard look…until now.
Much like Scooby’s redesign, the new look of Mystery Inc. is incredibly charming. Velma and Daphne are looking cuter than ever and The Mystery Machine (“The sixth member of the crew”) got a tad modernized with a special antenna on top and a considerably bigger set of equipment, but the original look is still largely there. At the end of the presentation, we got a sneak-peak at a finished scene. It featured Scooby and Shaggy at a bowling alley being attacked by killer robots that switch between being sweet looking and scorpion-like monstrosities with chainsaws in place of their claws. In the expected Scooby/Shaggy fashion they try to trick the robots by pretending to be waiters but naturally, it doesn’t work out quite as they hoped. Lastly, we were shown a bunch of Easter-eggs in the film. One showed the Quest Institute (as in Johnny Quest) being seen in the background. In another, Fred is wearing an “I was at Jellystone Park” t-shirt (as in Yogi Bear), perhaps hinting at an extended Hanna-Barbara cinematic universe in the future.
After the presentation, I briefly chatted with the creators who mentioned that the movie version of Daphne, while still portrayed as feminine, would also be a very strong lead. This is great news since Daphne has always been the character that they’ve had the hardest time getting right. She has had personality changes in almost every incarnation. From being bland (the original show), to a spoiled brat (a lot of the direct to DVD stuff), to a ditz that made Shaggy competent (the Be Cool Scooby-Doo cartoon), she’s finally getting modernized into a strong female character. The best take on her previously was the Zombie Island Daphne who was the de facto leader of the group. I’m glad they want her to be closer to that version. The producers also assured us that the infamous Scrappy-Doo won’t appear in the film, while still giving lip-service to his fans. Different generations have different favorites, I suppose.
Overall Scoob! feels refreshing, a take that’s very close to the spirit of the original with talented and invested people behind it. While the producer promised that the story will reveal new things about the characters, I’m crossing my fingers that we get what made me fall in love with Scooby’s world as a kid: some seriously spooky atmosphere. Combine that with a suspenseful mystery and perhaps the film will turn out to be a real Scooby-snack.