My “arts essay” on Scooby-Doo turned out wonderfully!
My creative non-fiction professor said he “couldn’t find fault with it” and that it had excellent diction, and the class seemed to enjoy it. I wasn’t able to put in all the details I wanted because I was afraid too much information would confuse them and I wanted to stick to the core thesis of story and character, but I think it’s a good introduction to why people should watch Mystery Incorporated!
The Scooby-Doo series has seen multiple incarnations since the dog’s debut in 1969 and after 43 years of shows and movies in varying degrees of quality, he and his friends are finally living up to their dramatic potential. Cartoon Network’s recent series Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated isn’t another tired reboot in an endless franchise but a lovingly crafted reimagining that pays homage to the original show while deconstructing and surpassing it. The average episode involves the same snacks, traps, and rubber masks that the story has relied on for decades, but they aren’t part of the hackneyed cartoon plots that audiences are used to. Mystery Incorporated takes Scooby and the gang and sticks them in a small town of curses, conspiracies, and suspicious authority figures, where the unsolved disappearance of a similar group of teen sleuths years before hangs over their heads like a foreboding storm cloud. The show is dark, complex, legitimately frightening at times, shocking at others, and altogether brilliant.
The characters all look the same as they did in 1969, no updated modern outfits here, but they don’t act the same. They feel guilt and longing, hold grudges against each other, and are driven by deeper needs than just “solve today’s mystery,” “fix the van,” or “get something to eat.” Fred always had a fondness for traps, but Mystery Incorporated turns it into an obsession, a manifestation of his desire for control in a life where his mother is missing and his father, the mayor of their busy Crystal Cove, hardly speaks an approving word to him. Daphne is now the youngest member of an aristocratic family with a series of successful daughters and she struggles with getting others, especially Fred, to see her as someone special. Velma is similarly romantically frustrated, growing bitter and aloof as her attempts to engage Shaggy in a relationship are met with hesitation and mire her in as much uncertainty as the mysteries she tries to unravel. Shaggy just wants to stay in his comfort zone with his snacks and his dog and not have anyone ask him to make tough decisions or put himself at risk but he doesn’t know what actions to take to reconcile his confusion and fear with his loyalty to his friends. And finally, far from the cowardly oaf he was at the beginning of his career, Scooby-Doo is an active investigator aware of the peril his friends often find themselves in and often more than capable of the ferocity it takes to get them out of harm’s way.
The cases they face include the usual assortment of conniving townsfolk masquerading as ghouls and monsters, but every episode is threaded with hints to a deeper, more dangerous mystery. Cryptic messages from a shadowy figure known as Mr. E leads the kids to the trail of another group of four teenagers and an animal mascot who meddled in the town twenty years prior. The humans ventured into a cave on the edge of town never to be seen again and their unnaturally intelligent parrot was supposedly traumatized into silence by whatever catastrophic event happened that night. The first words that the parrot speaks in two decades throw the gang into a web of secret identities, underground mansions, a puzzling golden disk, a missionary town sunk into the sea, an interplanetary collision, and the discovery that they are only the latest in a long line of mystery solving teams always made of four humans and an animal. And every time the animal is a harbinger of disaster, leaving the last episode with the horrifying implication that the team may have to kill Scooby-Doo to stop him from turning to some supernatural dark side and bringing the downfall of his friends, their town, and possibly the entire world.
“This has all happened before” is the chilling warning of the kids’ mentors and antagonists alike, alluding not only to the epic scale of the story’s mythology, but also serving as an ironic nod to the legacy of the show itself. Mystery Incorporated draws from the same characters and plot tropes that the Scooby-Doo series has used for half a lifetime, but it is a creature entirely its own, one far darker and more mature than its predecessors. The gang is battling a circle of lies, destruction of the earth, literal murder, and the threat of having to mortally sacrifice one of their own – nothing like this has happened before. However, Mystery Incorporated’s solid combination of the old and the new doesn’t make it feel like a gritty reboot to attract an edgy youth audience, but a natural destination the franchise never knew it was journeying towards. The series has grown from bubbly Saturday morning fare to high-stakes serial drama with a side of camp and it works incredibly, blending humor, fright, genuine teenage emotions, and arcane mysteries into one of the best animated series for smart viewers of any age.