Exactly 49 years ago today, the very first episode of Scooby-Doo was airing on televisions across the world.
Since then, we've had a lot of interesting incarnations of the franchise. Scooby-Doo has gone from the original "Where Are You" format that we all know and love, to episodes featuring the gang teaming up with famous guest stars, episodes that show what the gang was like when they were kids, episodes involving Scooby's nephew Scrappy-Doo, and even a series where the gang takes on "13 of the most terrifying ghosts upon the face of the Earth."
With the latest series, Scooby-Doo! and Guess Who?, recently announced, there has been a lot of talk among fans about where the franchise is going, especially since we are quickly approaching 50 years of our favorite cartoon canine.
One large complaint among fans lately is in regards to all the films which feature celebrity guest stars helping the gang solve a mystery. While most fans enjoy crossovers, many feel that Warner Brothers is relying on the crossover idea too much. In the past five years, 7 of the 11 direct-to-video films have featured Scooby-Doo crossing over with a famous celebrity or property (i.e. LEGO).
A lot of fans also feel that the quality of the franchise is significantly declining, claiming that Warner Brothers is using the crossover idea as a crutch rather than a plot device. Many people feel that WB is no longer trying, and just copying elements from previous crossover films to make new crossovers.
This comment on the ScoobyAddicts forum from Russm sums the situation up humorously.
Writer 1: "Well we could write a tight script that is focused on the interactions between the gang as they solve a mystery, how they have each others' back and how each contribute towards the solution."
Writer 2: "But we have celebrities to service and it's getting late."
Writer 1: "OK, just take the script from Speed Demon, do a global find and replace on wrestler with cook and we're done!"
Writer 3: "Wooo-hoo home early!"
Okay, obviously the situation isn't that bad, but I thought it was an amusing way to sum up the complaints of declining quality from fans.
In my personal opinion, I fully agree that the quality of the franchise is declining, at least somewhat. While the more recent Scooby-Doo movies are still entertaining, they tend to overuse celebrities and focus on Shaggy and Scooby too much. This causes the plot to be a bit thin, and while the writers' attempts are in good faith, it takes away significantly from the plot.
In the films that they are not using celebrities, however, the quality is still very good and stays true to the classic style of the show, while deviating just enough to make each film different and interesting. Shaggy's Showdown, for instance, was one of the best Scooby-Doo films in years and contained a very entertaining plot and good character development in my opinion. The most recent live-action film, Daphne & Velma, was a really fun, silly little feel good movie which provided an interesting plot and very three-dimensional characters. Daphne & Velma is for sure my favorite live-action movie, and is definitely up there in my top 10 favorites list for Scooby films.
One large issue with this is that most fans want different things from the franchise. Some people want a return to the classic Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? style, others want a more updated What's New, Scooby-Doo? look for the animation. When it comes to tone, some people want lighthearted and silly like Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!, while others want a much darker, more serious tone like Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated had. Some people want Warner Brothers to play it safe and stick with the simple formula we all know and love, while others are more deviant and want radical changes made to the formula, such as the Shaggy/Scooby/Daphne and Scrappy format to make a return. I could probably go on and on, but I'm guessing you all probably got the point that everyone's idea of "great" is different.
While I am looking forward to the upcoming Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? series, I am a bit worried for what it means for the future of the franchise. I love a good crossover every now and then, but after a while, it gets to be a bit much. Having an entire series dedicated to celebrity crossovers might be a bit excessive, especially when future crossover movies have already been announced to happen in the near future, such as Scooby-Doo and KISS 2. I hope that if WB decides to continue with their current pattern of mainly crossover DTV films, along with the new series, that they will mix it up a bit plot wise. That meaning that they focus more on the gang, develop the characters throughout the series, and not rely on the celebrities as a crutch.
Where should we go from here, though? As unfortunate as it is to say, it feels like the franchise doesn't have a very clear direction at the moment. With the extensive celebrity crossovers, it feels like we're spinning in circles. One huge example demonstrating this is the whole "Daphne's in love with Fred" plotline in Stage Fright, despite that the relationship has been explored so many different times already. I think the whole Scooby fandom simultaneously cringed when Daphne "shockingly" announced that she was in love with Fred lol.
Initially, I was a bit saddened when I heard the comment at the end of this video. For those who haven't had a chance to watch, the narrator mentions that after Cyber Chase, he never had the urge to watch any other Scooby content because he knew the quality of the content was declining (presuming he heard from friends or something). However, in the past few months, I can actually say that I definitely understand why a less invested Scooby fan might lose the urge to keep up with the franchise. On the other hand, as a hardcore Scooby nerd (and just a generally dorky/quirky person in general, lol), I don't think I would ever stop watching Scooby until the quality got to the point where it was just a one-dimensional line across a white background haha.
Silliness aside, I argue that the franchise should go back in the direction of the "revival" era movies, those being Zombie Island, Witch's Ghost, Alien Invaders and Cyber Chase. I can honestly say that I have never met a Scooby fan who doesn't like those movies. While there may be a rare outlier, I would say the majority of fans enjoy the more mature tone and character dynamic throughout the films. I think it would be the perfect tone for the franchise, because the films are mature enough to please the adult fans, why not being overly mature or scary to alienate the fans that are children.
When I first saw Scoobynatural earlier this year, my first thought was "They should totally make a whole series like this!" That particular crossover was the only one, in my opinion, that even came remotely close to the revival films. I believe that making a full series in that sort of tone would please the vast majority of the fandom, at least more so than the current tone is. Scoobynatural was certainly the most hyped up Scooby-Doo related thing of the year, so clearly it would be beneficial for WB to push the franchise back in that direction, both to please fans and for them to bring in more revenue from the films.
While it's unfortunately doubtful we'll ever get a full series like this, I hope someday, we at least get another taste of the tone of the Zombie Island era films. In those films, it felt the franchise was evolving and growing (unlike the current films), which I would argue is necessary for any franchise to flourish. Let's keep our fingers crossed that WB will someday bring us back to that wonderful era of films, or better yet, that they're reading this post! :D