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"Scooby Doo, Where Are You?": The Kooky Box Caper

by on November 19, 2010

Scooby Doo, Where Are You?: The Complete Series needs a review less than it needs a consumer product report.

Look, the fact is that everyone knows Scooby-Doo. The cowardly, ghost-chasing dog has been on TV for forty-plus years now, and for the last decade he has gotten a succession of new iterations to keep him freshly in front of children. A series of feature films has been successfully launched, less successfully sequelized, dropped into the straight-to-DVD bin, and are probably even now winding their way toward the inevitable reboot. (Really, how long will it be before Warner Bros. adds Scooby-Doo Begins to its project list?) The only problem for consumers is keeping the various series straight.

So, for the record, this collectors’ set includes the series that launched it all: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? That’s the one that premiered in 1969 and got a second season in 1970; the one with classic monsters like the Phantom Shadow, the Ghost Clown, Captain Cutler, the Spooky Space Kook, and the Black Knight. It is, for my money, the best of the series, because it was still new and naïve enough not to treat its own premise ironically; it tried to make the monsters and situations genuinely thrilling and scary while still indulging in screwball comedy; and it often looked beautiful, with grotty, expressionistic backgrounds that owed more to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari than to Yogi Bear. They are also so relentless square and unhip that they can’t really age. The computers and cell phones and cargo pants that started showing up in the 1990s will date horribly (when they haven’t already), but Where Are You is just groovy kids, a funny dog, and the occasional tiki monster or ghost yeti. It’s not elegant, exactly, but it has a spareness of conception that doesn’t snag on the period furniture. Face it: Victorian houses and pipe organs will always be “spooky.”

More misleadingly, this set includes the “complete” Where Are You?, which means it includes a “season three” from the late 1970s. The problem is that this is just a matter of semantics. After meeting Don Knotts, Sandy Duncan, the Addams Family, and a clutch of other “celebrities” from the early ’70s in The New Scooby Doo Movies, the gang got a new lease on life in 1976 as part of The Scooby Doo/Dynomutt Hour. The next season they starred in more episodes as part of Scooby’s All-Star Laff-a-Lympics. In 1978 (if Wikipedia has this right), more new episodes aired under a variety of titles, including Scooby’s All-Stars and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?. It is this 1978 season that is being advertised as “Season 3” of Where Are You?, even though most of its epsisodes were never broadcast under that title, and have far more in common with the episodes that had been broadcast as part of the 1976 and 1977 seasons. (All three seasons were eventually collected and syndicated as The Scooby-Doo Show.

So, viewers of a certain age will recognize the iconic monsters and designs and stories of the 1969-1971 seasons; they will also recognize certain monsters and designs and stories from the late 1970s. But they may also wonder what happened to the Vanilla, Chocolate, and Strawberry Phantoms; or the Headless Horseman; or the 10,000 Volt Ghost; or to Mamba Wamba. They may also wonder why Scooby’s cousin Scooby-Dum (prominently featured in the opening credits of season 3) is nowhere in any of its episodes. They may also wonder what happened to Scooby-Dee, another cousin. The answer is that they were in episodes that are not included in this set, even though they have just as much (or as little) claim to be here. In other words, this packaging is almost perversely designed to upset purists like me.

For the record, the episodes are presented on seven DVDs. Some of these contain extra featurettes (mostly previously released material) and an eighth DVD of bonus featurettes (again, most of which have been previously released). The best featurette profiles and catches up with the voice actors; the other good featurette describes the genesis of the show, and includes many perceptive and candid stories from programming director Fred Silverman, who Louis B. Mayer-like shepherded an unpromising pitch through byzantine network channels, keeping the oddball elements intact while emphasizing the safer elements that would give it better playability.

The really striking thing about this set, though, is the packaging. The discs come in a fairly cheap eight-DVD folder, but that folder is enclosed in a large and well-functioning Mystery Machine. The van is made of sturdy plastic with working wheels and has no loose or weak bits I can find that could be a hazard to children, which means it can double as a fun toy for kids. (If you go this route, though, I strongly advise you invest in good DVD cases for the DVDs themselves.) My only complaint is that the doors to the Mystery Machine do not open and that the large and attractive Scooby and Shaggy figures are not removable.

If you are a collector of classic cartoons, then you stand a good chance of already having most of this material. If you are a collector of Scooby merchandise, though, you will be rewarded with an attractive DVD holder in the form of the van. And if you are a parent you will get some very good cartoons along with a reasonably fun toy. My complaints about the episode choice notwithstanding, this is a pretty good product that Warner Home Video has put out.

A list of “season three” episodes (spoiler alert: villain identities are revealed) can be found here.

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