I LOVE Scooby-Doo. I’ve watched it ever since I was a little kid. And honestly, I think I was born at the best time to watch the Mystery Inc. gang. I’ll explain with a little history.
In the early-to-mid nineties, Hanna-Barbera properties like Johnny Quest, The Jetsons, and of course Scooby-Doo were gaining new popularity as they were rerun on the newly created Cartoon Network. At that time CN didn’t have much or any original content to air, so they used old H-B shows to fill the time. People loved it.
Everyone from little kids, college students, and adults who were starving for nostalgia loved seeing these classic Saturday Morning shows come back again. So, the folks over at Turner Broadcasting, who ran the Network, decided to put some money into creating new content, specifically for Scooby-Doo.
Scooby has always tested well. He’s the most easily recognized character in Hanna-Barbera’s catalog. It only makes sense that they’d create what’s now become known as the Scooby Renaissance, which are four movies made with higher budgets and a whole heap of creativity. These movies set up the series for a wave of popularity that it’s been riding ever since.
Even so, let’s get to this week’s recommended films, I think you should watch the four direct-to-video (DTV) Scooby movies they made between 1998 and 2001: Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost, Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders, and Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase.
Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island
This is the gold standard. Yes, I realize how weird it sounds to say that about an entry in a children’s cartoon series, but dude: it’s a children’s cartoon series that’s lasted over fifty years. There’s bound to be something good. And this is one of the best. Not only that, but I’d also put it as one of the best animated movies of the nineties. Yes, I know how that sounds as well. But it’s my article, dang it!
In this one, Scooby and the gang have been broken up for years. Having reached adulthood, they’ve drifted apart. But in honor of Daphne’s birthday, Fred decides to get them back together to film a series for Daph’s show Coast to Coast with Daphne Blake where the gang travels across the country trying to find real haunted sites. Unfortunately, they keep unmasking the ghosts as hoaxes. Just like the good old days! But on a trip through New Orleans, they come in contact with a young woman who lives in a house that just might really be haunted. Haunted by pirate ghosts…and more. And as the trailer says, “This time…The Monsters are REAL!”
Now, there’s no way I can critically assess this movie—I saw it too young and liked it too much to do that, even as an adult nowadays. But I know it’s imperfect, and yet I know there’s real quality here. The voice acting is top notch. The main cast (Scott Innes as Scooby, Billy West as Shaggy, Frank Welker as Fred, Mary Kay Bergman as Daphne, and B.J. Ward as Velma) perfectly adapt the characters to a then-modern setting with much higher stakes. The supporting cast, featuring Tara Strong, Adrienne Barbeau, Jim Cummings, and Mark Hamill, are just as good. Add in shockingly good and dynamic animation (compared to the limited animation of H-B’s past), a wonderful score, and some of the best writing on a Scooby project to date, and you’ve got a recipe for a great spooky movie night! This one is actually a lot scarier than you may think, too, so this is a bundle of fun for kids and adults.
Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost
With the success of Zombie Island, Witch’s Ghost was rushed into production. This one features the gang visiting a northeastern town called Oakhaven, invited by famous horror author Ben Ravencroft. They then get wrapped up in a mystery surrounding the supposed ghostly return of a witch who was executed in the 1600s, an ancestor of Ravencroft.
Because of some slight plot difficulties, one can tell this one was rushed. The animation and art are still top-notch, though, especially some of the beautiful backgrounds of autumnal trees. The dialogue is comparable to what you’d get in any animated Warner title from that time—if you can’t tell, that’s a good thing. Add in some great voice acting from the main cast, great side characters — THE HEX GIRLS! — and a wonderful celebrity role from Tim Curry as Ravencroft, and you get yet another solid entry.
Now, this one does involve some witchy stuff, so use your own discretion for that, but the magic is very generalized and a lot of it is seen as a negative thing. There is some talk of “Wicca,” but in this version setting it’s not even a religion. Sure, there’s some stuff you may have to talk to the kids about later; but isn’t that better than letting them hear about it in middle school? Give this one a shot, that’s all I’m saying.
Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders
In this one Mystery Inc. heads out to the desert on a trip, where the Mystery Machine breaks down and they become embroiled in a mystery involving broccoli-like aliens. Yep, that’s right. The backs of their heads look like broccoli. And yet it works!
This one, like the other two, drips with atmosphere, and it may have been the one that spooked me the most as a kid. Now, I am inordinately afraid of aliens, so that probably explains it, but there’s some creepy stuff here — including an abduction. Anyway, the cast is great yet again and the art continues to impress. The story is less strong here, but the gags really work and the love story angle (you’ll get it when you see it) is actually pretty touching. Who knew puppy love could be so tragic and comic at the same time? Also: one totally unexpected musical number that will make your heart swell. (*Swelling not guaranteed. Remember, I’m obsessive about this stuff).
There’s not much to disclaim here, but there are some ever-so-slightly sensualized females (as there are throughout this series), so give that a think before you throw this on.
Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase
Finally, the five kids and dog go visit a grad student friend at a university. Turns out when they get there a living computer virus has used some high tech to enter the real world. Soon trapped within a Mystery Inc. themed computer game, the gang has to fight their way out to solve the mystery.
This one is the weakest of the bunch. The cold open ain’t half bad and the last fifteen or twenty minutes are pretty remarkable, but the convoluted plot and less effective art really brings this one down. According to the artists who worked on it, this one wasn’t a fun or easy project. Still, it’s not a bad time, especially on a Sunday afternoon after church and lunch. You’re basically getting what you expect from a movie of this nature, content-wise.
Not all of these are the best Scooby movies. My personal top five of the series includes three of these four, but also two others. Even so, rarely is a Scooby-Doo DTV movie a total waste of time. Mostly, they’re worthwhile slot-fillers for entertaining the whole family. If you want more, I suggest taking a look at HBOMax which has all of these and more. Nonetheless, to wrap an article as one wraps a Scooby flick: iris in; grin at the camera; and howl! “Scooby-Dooby-Doooooooooo!”
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Stephen McFerron likes movies. It’s that simple. From the lowest depths of the drive-in to the highest peaks of arthouse; the grand golden age to superhero spectacles, he’s all in! Since watching Gremlins and Jaws at a young age, Stephen has had an appetite for the strange and fantastic, as well as the old! If you’re here to explore movie history, or learn more about the best of today, Stephen’s your guide! He may even say something mildly profound along the way… if he’s lucky!