Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Toon-arama: Why Scooby Doo Worked

I’m a big fan of Scooby Doo. There’s just something about that show that really works, and none of the copycats (e.g. Jabberjaw, Josie and the Pussycats) had it. So what made Scooby so special? Here are my thoughts.

The Strong Relationship Between Scooby And Shaggy: The biggest point is perhaps the most obvious: like so many other human-dog relationships, Scooby and Shaggy love each other unconditionally. They also have become very much like each other, sharing the same traits and same hobbies. This makes them the best of friends. And the best moments in the series are those where Scooby or Shaggy sneak off to eat or are scared out of their minds and yet rise up without a second thought to save their friend who they believe is in danger. None of the copycats ever had similar relationships.
Diversity: When you look at the original gang the way they are written, what you will see is a diverse swath of high school cliques gathered together. Fred is the athletic preppy. Daphne is the hot chick. Velma is the science nerd. Shaggy is the skateboarding dope smoker. The message was clear and powerful: it doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, you can still be great friends.

I find it interesting that such an emphasis has since been placed on including this message in things like Disney and Nickelodeon television shows, but they mess the message up. Rather than showing across-the-school diversity like this, in modern shows, you tend to see the nerds banding together with the minority kids. Thus, these modern shows that are meant to encourage diversity are actually encouraging the opposite, sending the message that blacks and Asians and Hispanics should hang out with white nerds, but rich, good looking, popular white kids should still hang out separately.

In fact, if we were going to squeeze Scooby Doo into the modern “diverse” formula, Fred and Daphne would need to be assh*les who are constantly competing against Velma, Shaggy, and GenericBlackCharacter.
Culturally Significant Monsters: One of the things Scooby is totally known for is the wide swath of monsters. They cover everything that Leonard Nimoy would soon be covering in In Search Of: aliens, pirate ghosts, the Yeti, haunted mines, ghost towns, vampires, werewolves, witches, swamp monsters, etc. In effect, Scooby zeroed in on the cryptid and alien crazes that were about to hit and would continue through the present day... they were riding a rising wave of exactly the types of things that would come to dominate American culture.

The copycats tended to use generic power-mad villains with no cultural resonance.
The Fake Monsters: One of the comforting aspects of Scooby Doo was that at the end of the day, all the monsters were fake and the villains surrendered easily once they were exposed. In fact, they were typically quite ashamed of what they had done and apologized. This is a reassuring way to end each episode because it sets the world right again: there are no monsters and good will end evil. The copycats, on the other hand, typically ended with the villains being hauled off screaming about coming back and doing it again. The message there was, the monsters are real and they can only be contained, they can’t truly be defeated.

The Adventurous Human Spirit: Finally, Scooby Doo tapped into the human instinct to investigate anomalies and things we believe can’t be true. This is the impulse that draws us to detective stories, draws us to science, and makes us want to know how the magician did his tricks. The copycats never got that and they took the approach of having their characters accidentally pulled into an evil plot. That makes them reactive, which doesn’t trigger our sense of adventure or discovery, but instead triggers our sense of self-preservation. By comparison, Scooby and the gang actively investigate, which triggers all kinds of good impulses on our part.

Thoughts? Did I miss anything?


Kit said...

"The message was clear and powerful: it doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, you can still be great friends."

In other words, they were the original Breakfast Club?

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, In a way, though they were genuine friends, i.e. they didn't have to learn to like each other. Basically, they were this idea that no matter what clique you came from, you could still all be good friends.

AndrewPrice said...

Further, Kit, compare them to the shows today which openly preach that this is the message they are sending (Scooby never preached). The shows today aren't about friendship, they are just about flipping around which group we're supposed to like. Now the cool kids are supposed to be seen as evil and stupid.

Kit said...

I think you make interesting points. This one is going on my Facebook page. :-)

But one question: What about Scrappy?

Kit said...

"Now the cool kids are supposed to be seen as evil and stupid."

I think its part of the modern-day Cult of Victimhood. Its making those who are/were less popular in High School feel better by making those who are/were more popular look bad.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Thanks! Facebook away!

There is no Scrappy... never happened. Actually, in all seriousness, by the time Scrappy came along, the original series was already two generations removed and the show had changed. They were basically trying to exploit the Scrappy character and a few cliches from the other characters. There wasn't much left of the original feel of the show.

AndrewPrice said...

I think you're right about the Cult of Victimhood. There was no attempt to claim victimhood in Scooby Doo. These people liked each other and got along. No one ever complained about anything being unfair. Even the bad guys never claimed that their actions were excused for some reason.

But watch the Disney Channel today and it's crawling with shows where the main characters are constantly claiming the victim cloak.

Kit said...

Have you watched the show's most recent incarnation, Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated?

AndrewPrice said...

Yes. There are some things I'm not thrilled with as a fan of the original in those, but overall I really liked it. It was an excellent reboot.

That said, I am not at all happy with the Scooby Doo stuff from the 1990s and 2000s. That was PC garbage.

Unknown said...

"And I would have gotten away with it if it hadn't been for you meddling kids!"

(Couldn't resist!)

PDBronco said...

Another Hanna-Barbera series that was lovingly poked fun at in the Adult Swim series Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. Shaggy and Scooby are pulled over for "driving under the influence", but ultimately get off after a monster reveal in court. If you haven't seen it, try to find it. Here's a wiki link to the episode list:

Other classic episodes of Harvey Birdman include a Jonny Quest spoof (where Race is suing Dr. Quest for custody) and The Flintstones (a Sopranos/Godfather takeoff where Fred thinks he's the Don, or is he...). A fun series you should give a try, but definitely not for the kiddies.

shawn said...

And here I thought it was because Velma was rocking those knee socks.

PikeBishop said...

Shawn: Even as a seven year old watching the originals, I always thought it interesting that when the team split up Freddy always got to be with BOTH girls, while Shaggy and Scooby were always together. (Eyebrow cocks)

PikeBishop said...

Andrew: Cracked did an interesting piece a few years ago that posited the idea that Scooby Doo takes place after a complete economic collapse. Everything they came across was abandoned, haunted looking or dilapidated, even places like amusement parks or beach resorts. Maybe the kids were also "looking for work" in addition to solving mysteries? Most of the stories dealt with simple monetary gain( I swear half of them must have featured lost gold coins), not political or social control or taking over the world, and the villains were highly competent and skilled individuals before they became criminals.

Here's the link: Its a fun thought: http://www.cracked.com/article_19496_6-classic-kids-shows-secretly-set-in-nightmarish-universes.html

KRS said...

Andrew, I can't believe you haven't mentioned the movies yet. I know a few fans and every one despises the movies. Me, I thought they nailed Shaggy and the rest of it was good fun.

I still marvel at the cartoons I saw as a kid that will not be shown today, except after severe editing, and the homogenized, fat free, sugar free rice cakes that pass for kid's TV animation today.

AndrewPrice said...

John, That is a hard one to resist! LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

PDBronco, I haven't seen those. Thanks for the tip!

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, LOL! Yeah, that too.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, It's an interesting idea except that it ignores the fact that except when they go to these places, which are always described as way out in the boonies, the towns are usually hopping with economic activity. Also, many of the crimes were real estate crimes with the intent of scaring people off because rundown land was about to become valuable as something was moving into the area or because something like gold was found on the land. In fact, I would say that the ease with which they spend money without any visible sign of having a job suggests that they live in a pretty prosperous period, which would fit with the boom-time culture of Southern California in the early 1960s, when this was made.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, I'm actually a fan of the movies. I thought they nailed Shaggy perfectly as well as the Shaggy-Scooby relationship. I think they were unfair to Fred and Daphne, but not so much that I disliked the films. They were fun and funny with a good sense of humor and a bit of parody mixed in.

I also love how they make Scrappy out as a monster.

Tennessee Jed said...

I liked Scooby, but my knowledge of Toons is limited to grandkids age brackets. I could get behind an animated Prince Valiant or Phantom, though :)

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That's because you grew up before the age of constant television. That's probably a good thing actually. :)

Kit said...


What were your problems with the newest Scooby-Doo cartoon? And what did you like about it?

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, In Mystery, Inc., the TV show, I thought they made Fred too bumbling and blinded by his obsession with traps and they made introduced a crush angle with Velma and Shaggy that I didn't like. That said, I enjoyed the way the characters were written and voiced and drawn. I thought the stories were a notch above anything I'd seen in a long time. I liked the continuing nature of the story as well.

Now, the new movies are totally excellent. They are super well animated, excellently voiced, solidly written and with lots of fun twists and turns.

Kit said...

My problem with the show was the inconsistent schedule that made it impossible to know when a new episode was airing. :-)

What did you think of Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island? The one set in New Orleans with real monsters?

By the way, Grey Delisle, the voice of Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender has also been the voice of Daphne since Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase since the tragic death of voice actress Mary Kay Bergman in 1999.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, On the direct-to-video Scooby Doo...

These are bad:

1 Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island September 22, 1998
2 Scooby-Doo! and the Witch's Ghost October 5, 1999
3 Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders October 3, 2000
4 Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase October 9, 2001
5 Scooby-Doo! and the Legend of the Vampire March 4, 2003
6 Scooby-Doo! and the Monster of Mexico September 30, 2003
7 Scooby-Doo! and the Loch Ness Monster June 22, 2004
8 Aloha, Scooby-Doo! February 8, 2005
9 Scooby-Doo! in Where's My Mummy? December 13, 2005
10 Scooby-Doo! Pirates Ahoy! February 24, 2006
11 Chill Out, Scooby-Doo! September 4, 2007
12 Scooby-Doo! and the Goblin King September 23, 2008
13 Scooby-Doo! and the Samurai Sword April 7, 2009

These were bad because they were all about pushing PC feminist, environmental and pro-wicca messages. The stories were packed with the message that white males were evil and stupid and girls needed to prove their athletic prowess by being better than the males around them to show their worth. Witch's Ghost comes across as an hour long advertisement for wicca. The monsters were real. The characters displayed no real friendships. The animation was generic. The stories were weak and predictable.

In 2010, that changed. The monsters became fake again. The friendships returned. The animation improved. The stories became stronger. And ALL the PC elements vanished. That resulted in the following films which are really very good.

14 Scooby-Doo! Abracadabra-Doo February 16, 2010
15 Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare September 14, 2010
16 Scooby-Doo! Legend of the Phantosaur September 6, 2011
17 Scooby-Doo! Music of the Vampire March 13, 2012
18 Big Top Scooby-Doo! October 9, 2012
19 Scooby-Doo! Mask of the Blue Falcon February 26, 2013
20 Scooby-Doo! Stage Fright August 20, 2013

I highly recommend each of those.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. The inconsistent scheduling was a real problem with Mystery, Inc.. Plus, they didn't do a lot of episodes.

Outlaw13 said...

But Josie and the Pussycats were hot. I'll take your work for it but I always thought those two shows were contemporaries, not that Josie was an attempted knock off. I always thought the Groovie Goolies were a knock off of something terrible. Fat Albert had the same kind of vibe about everyone being friends as well.

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, Josie and the Pussycats were indeed hot. :)

Scooby debuted in Sept. 1969. Josie debuted a year later in Sept. 1970.

Unknown said...

I love Scooby-Doo (pre Scrappy, obviously). It is a great cartoon for everyone, but is particularly valuable during the age when children are beginning to realise that all is not well in the adult world (crime, war, famine, etc.). Here a team of children and a dog solve problems that adults cannot deal with because they are too busy, too complacent, too prejudiced, too gullible, too indifferent or too complicit. It sends out a whole host of positive messages: "it is okay to be afraid", but then "confront your fears", for example (a message one can find in not nearly so convincing a way in self-help books). Scooby-Doo deals with teamwork, loyalty, persistence, and so many other substantial things, while also being gloriously playful and funny. I rate it as one of the best cartoon series of all time.

Anonymous said...

Josie and the Pussycats were hotter than you know. One of them was Cheryl Ladd! ;)

Kit said...

Interesting points, John Jameson.

AndrewPrice said...

John, I totally agree about the positive messages. The original Scooby Doo sends an amazing number of positive messages to kids. And as you note, it's gloriously playful and funny. That's why I rate this as one of the best as well.

AndrewPrice said...

GypsyTyger, Great point! LOL!

Kit said...

Read up on Scrappy. To his credit he apparently did save it from cancellation which may have helped keep the show in the spotlight.

The problem I had with him as a kid was that he was just annoying. He would try to pick fights with monsters he had no hope of defeating.

Also, remember Flim-Flam?

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, I've heard that, that he kept it from being cancelled. But his episodes are truly horrible, and he is a deeply unpleasant character.

Yeah, I remember Flim Flam. I can't stand him either.

PikeBishop said...

Wasn't there also a "Scooby Dumb" or "Scooby Dope" character that came in after Scrappy? I have vague recollections of a buck toothed Scooby clone with a redneck style fishing hat. Am I imagaining this? I was born in 65, and Scrappy came along right about the time I was hoping Carol would come to the door in her tight shorts to greet me as I delivered their newspaper! Talking detective dogs were becoming less important to me around that time. ;-)

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, There was indeed a Scooby Dum. He was a cousin who lived in a swamp and spoke like a hillbilly. And yes, he wore a fishing hat. He showed up in a handful of episodes.


PikeBishop said...

Ugh! I was hoping I imagined it. BTW, my neighbor Carol, a year behind me in school had kind of a proto-Sarah Palin vibe, looked dynamite in glasses and did I mention the tight shorts? ;-) Talking dogs?

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, I understand there were tight shorts? ;-P

Anonymous said...

Re: Diversity, it just goes to show you that sometimes all people need are a shared interest/love/value (or sometimes an enemy) etc., to build a friendship. Mystery Inc. got nuthin' on Carl & Ellie from Up, though. :)

Speaking of Mystery Inc., were they actually a corporation? Did they make any money solving mysteries? Did they solve other mysteries in between shows, and the shows were simply their pro bono work? (No, that's not a Scooby-Doo "Movies" w/ Sonny & Cher joke.)

I have a theory that one of them must be heir to the Scooby Snacks fortune. It would explain how they could afford to tool around with no clear source of income and why they seemed to have an infinite supply of Scooby Snacks. Daphne seems like the rich girl type. Or Shaggy could be the one. (Not clear if the snacks were named after Scooby or vice versa.) I also figured Fred owned the van, and Velma was helping make sure nobody got killed by some criminal psychopath.

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