An Adaption Done Right: It’s Time To Give Scooby-Doo It’s Flowers

The movie didn’t just subvert expectations; it also created new ones.

[Credit: Warner Bros]

As legend has it, when I was around two years old, I was already able to place a VHS tape in the player as if I was fully aware of my surroundings. My favorite tape was always Scooby-Doo; no matter the iteration or the time of day, I found myself engrossed with a talking Great Dane and his Mystery solving human friends. And, the older I’ve gotten, my love for the campy franchise hasn’t shifted, even more so I appreciate the live-action adaptation that hit theaters in 2002. It doesn’t seem like I’m the only one either; viral tweets giving the critically and fandom panned film its flowers for how to properly do an adaption have surfaced. The script kept the series’ tone but rode on something contemporary, the casting and styling of the characters that felt true to its origins and in line with then-modern fashions. Scooby-Doo (2002) and Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed showcase what a well-versed adaption should entail.

The first movie directed by Raja Gosnell and written by James Gunn was intended to be an R-rated parody of the franchise, featuring Shaggy and Scooby as stoners and Daphne and Velma as former lovers. Remnants of the subversive take of the 60s animated comedy still found itself in the film with small subtexts, such as Shaggy’s love interest being named Mary Jane (played by Isla Fisher), whose name acts as a stand-in for weed. It was small jokes like this that alienated its initial audience and critics but still keeps the films alive in the realm of nostalgia.

With any reboot, things will change; King Kong v. Godzilla upped the storytelling and budget of its predecessors. And, the upcoming The Little Mermaid will see Ariel played by Black singer-actress Halle Bailey. Things will shift when you’re adapting something from one medium to the next (book to film, cartoon to live-action). The interpretation of Mystery Inc. as full-fledged adults rather than groovy teenage 60s time capsules was necessary. It’s supposed to be polarizing, and Scooby-Doo feels exactly like that, yet to make things still feel like a franchise, it must keep its origins intact, which the movie and its 2004 sequel, in fact, do. Monsters Unleashed saw the Scooby Gang face-off with monsters from the various cartoons as they went from people in masks to walking, breathing creatures. It’s the type of plot that only works for a film and still managed to pay homage to its decade-long history.

The movies didn’t just pay homage or subvert their origins; they also innovated them. Until a certain point, Mystery Incorporated was defined by its catchphrases, “Ruh-Roh” and “Jinkies’ ‘, and small quirks such as Velma’s bad eyesight and the marathon eating of Scooby and Shaggy. Some of the most recognizable characters in history lacked nuanced, identifiable development that moved them past running gags that work for 22 minute-episodes. The movies opened the door for Shaggy (played by Matthew Lillard) and Scooby-Doo, who decide to confront their “eat first, solve mystery later” attitude that defined them for years. Backed by the eerie resemblance and voice of Matthew Lillard, Shaggy (and Scooby) rebelled against their characterizations and gained motivations and wants beyond whatever there is in the kitchen. If we’re discussing long-term influence, Lillard now voices the character of Shaggy, keeping the movie’s impact alive for years to come.

Further into the realm of brilliant casting, casting one of TV’s biggest heroines, Buffy The Vampire Slayer ( Sarah Michelle Gellar), to play an infamous damsel in distress, Daphne Blake is as inspired as it comes. Until the early 2000s, Daphne was considered nothing more than the beautiful girl of the group, whose most significant contribution to the Mystery was being captured by or even turned into the monster of the week. The sudden shift into the “action girl” fought back against this, giving Daphne an agency she was denied for so long. Daphne’s entire arc for the first movie focused upon her wanting to rebel against her damsel role, ending the film with a battle scene that set the tone for the character that she would soon become. The capable femme fatale fashionista characterization also leaked into the coinciding animated series, What’s New Scooby-Doo?, the first animated series for the franchise in over a decade. The movie didn’t just subvert expectations; it also created new ones.

The portrayal of Velma by Linda Cardellini leaned into the sarcasm the character always teetered on with subplots that delved into her feelings of unwantedness and undesirability, a perfect criticism of her portrayals as the brighter but less attractive counterpart to Daphne. This vulnerability is something that wasn’t quite seen again until Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, six-years after the second film. Lastly, depicting rom-com staple Freddie Prinze Jr. as the ditzy leader of the mystery-solving gang strayed away from the serious, static portrayal the one serious Fred Jones was once accustomed to. This “himbo” interpretation has taken over how the character has written in the 19 years since. Regardless, if Scooby purists agree, the gang was much more than who they used to be, and that’s the impact necessary for any successful adaptation: set the tone for what will come after.

The most significant shift had to be Scooby’s nephew, Scrappy-Doo, taking on the role of the villain. While this controversial interpretation might’ve been at the discretion of James Gunn’s personal preference, the villainization of Scrappy since has taken him far from the days where he helped reinvigorate the dying franchise. For better or worse, Scooby-Doo (2002) and Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004) helped redefine a brand with its first live-action adaptation.

Even the characters’ stylings felt reminiscent of the initial designs yet and maintained their color schemes without feeling like one colossal anachronism. Daphne’s gogo boots even seem to bear a considerable resemblance to Atelier Versace’s 2015 Patent Leather go-go boots. These welcome and fun looks stray away from more serious, hyper-realistic stylings we’ve been accustomed to. The greatest strength of the live-action Scooby-Doo films is that they decided to have fun with their characters, cast, plots, dialogue, and fashion. As studios look to subvert everything into gritty, hyper-realism, camp has become a dying breed. From the critically-panned DCEU to the formulaic MCU, pure buffoonery is no longer cherished. It’s not that gritty adaptations or large cinematic universes are a bad thing, but whatever happened to waking up to Saturday morning cartoons that allowed us to decompress from the hardships of the week in favor of silly yet captivating singular stories that didn’t always make sense?

Scooby-Doo captures everything its initial series had to offer yet opened the door to do a lot more with something that rarely ventured outside of one-off mysteries and consistent character quirks. It gave the option to explore the long-standing Mystery Incorporated as fully-realized, realistic characters that had more to offer than Mystery solving. If not for its booked A-list cast, it could’ve even worked as a television show that could’ve really given us something to sink our teeth into. Yet, two films are more than enough for me to say that Scooby-Doo (2002) should be the baseline for film adaptations. You can be subversive, innovative, and stay true to the franchise at hand at the same time. What these films have to say, even if they weren’t entirely perfect, is that we’re missing the fun in movies. In the age of adaptations, continuations, reboots, and revivals, let’s hope Hollywood realizes why things worked the first time and further what limited them in the first place. It’s safe to say we will be revisiting former characters for a while, so let’s have fun with it.

Anthony Devone is a student at Morehouse College.

Edited by Harry Todd

21. Student. Jotting down accumulating thoughts through writing.