Review: “Scooby-Doo! and Batman: The Brave and the Bold” is a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of Cartoon Goodness
Warner Bros. Animation has finally come to its senses and given us a Batman: The Brave and the Bold DTV movie, even if it took a tie-in to Scooby-Doo to do it. The mix of the two properties yields a variation on how Scooby-Doo Meets KISS managed to inject something new into both, though in this case Scooby-Doo is the primary beneficiary of the special sauce. Scooby-Doo! and Batman: The Brave and the Bold is a movie that will surely satisfy fans of either, presenting wonderful fun and laughs along with some solid action and enough plot twists to keep viewers on their toes.
After solving a typical mystery with the assistance of the one and only Batman, the Scooby gang finds themselves invited to the Mystery Analysts of Gotham, a crimefighting organization consisting of Batman, J’onn J’onzz, Detective Chimp, Black Canary, the Question, and Plastic Man (with a guest seat for the out-RAGE-ous Aquaman). Before long, Batman’s single cold case has suddenly turned hot again, centering around a mysterious figure called the Crimson Cloak. Can even the combined mystery-busting powers of Batman and Mystery Incorporated be enough to foil the Cloak’s sinister plans?
It’s really not a spoiler to say, “Of course they can.” Scooby-Doo especially relies quite heavily on its formula, and the continuing quality of the Scooby-Doo DTV movies demonstrates that there’s nothing wrong with the formula at all. However, the superhero genre relies on formula as much or more than Scooby-Doo does, especially in the 50’s and 60’s-inflected tales that Batman: The Brave and the Bold updated so wonderfully while it was on TV. So, it’s not a matter of whether Batman and the Scooby gang will eventually rip off a rubber mask and someone will complain right before getting carted off by the cops that they would have gotten away with it, too. The fun of it all comes from watching them fumble their way through the mystery and separate the red-herrings from the real clues. Scooby and Batman’s journey through the mystery is our journey through the mystery, and I suspect this is a major reason why the formula still works across generational lines and in multiple settings.
The difference, of course, is that the world of Batman has people with genuine super powers, not to mention a major villain named “Gentleman Ghost” where the latter half of his nom de guerre is completely accurate. The monsters, ghosts, and other creepy crawlies that are inevitably someone playing at the supernatural in Scooby-Doo can be the genuine article if you’re going to play fair in a crossover with Batman: The Brave and the Bold. It’s that exact mix that injects a bit of originality to the expected Scooby-Doo formula. This happens to be the same trick that Scooby-Doo Meets KISS played with by revealing that KISS was hiding in plain sight with their fright makeup and rock band serving as a cover for their true roles as supernatural superheroes. That’s just enough to keep the Scooby gang (and us) off-balance with the possibility that it ISN’T someone in a rubber mask after all, and that possibility is enough of a change from the formula to keep things interesting. At least, it is for the Scooby gang. It’s par for the course for Batman, of course, which means the plot has to find ways to make him reliant on the Scooby gang to solve the mystery. In this, Scooby-Doo! and Batman: The Brave and the Bold may not be quite as successful, but it’s hard to find many critical words once the third act kicks in and the gang hammers out a role for themselves in Batman’s world.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold was always willing to let its title character serve as the straight man and fixed point of reference for a variety of more bizarre friends and acquaintances, and he continues to play that role in Scooby-Doo! and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Being the straight man to a talking dog and his human friends who solve mysteries rather than to characters like Booster Gold or B’wana Beast or Gorilla Grodd is really not that much of a stretch at all (nor was it when Scooby and his friends guest-starred on Batman: The Brave and the Bold all those years ago). It certainly helps that the movie fully grasps exactly what makes both Scooby-Doo and this incarnation of Batman fun, and can play up to the strengths of both simultaneously, starting right at the beginning with a mini-mystery teaser, followed by a brilliant opening credits sequence that blends the two together perfectly. It’s hard to imagine a version of the Batman: The Brave and the Bold theme song that’s even more 60’s-inflected than the original, but the crew behind this film pull it off wonderfully by injecting the styles of the classic Scooby-Doo theme song in there as well. That’s pretty much a perfect metaphor for the rest of the movie.
All the major voiceover talent reprise their respective roles, which is exactly as it should be. It wouldn’t be Batman: The Brave and the Bold without Diedrich Bader as Batman or John DiMaggio as Aquaman, nor would it be Scooby-Doo without Frank Welker as Fred and Scooby or Matthew Lillard as Shaggy. It is a delight by the time the movie hits a major string of Batman guest villains, which leads to a major chase sequence involving the Mystery Machine dodging the Jokermobile. I also appreciate that they don’t play some of the usual angles; while Fred clearly has a major crush on Black Canary and Plastic Man flirts shamelessly with Daphne, neither one exhibits the slightest jealousy over the interlopers. The animation feels the same quality as Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which also puts it in line with most of the newer Scooby-Doo animated features.
Scooby-Doo! and Batman: The Brave and the Bold comes on DVD, and the home video presentation is as good as a non-high-definition medium can be. The only bonuses are the two appearances of Batman and Robin on The New Scooby-Doo Movies (voiced by Olan Soule and Casey Kasem, respectively). While fond nostalgic memories colors both of these vintage episodes in my eyes, it’s hard for their thoroughly unsophisticated cheese to measure up to the more polished DTV movie. I’m not at all certain that modern kids would find them as charming as I do. For what it’s worth, it always annoyed me that Batman and Robin (and the villains, for that matter) acted like they were meeting Scooby and the gang for the first time in both those movies; re-visiting these episodes back-to-back on this DVD was a nice reminder that the continuity-heavy shows of today are still relatively new.
In the end, the fact that Scooby-Doo and Batman have both evolved from what they were in the early 1970’s is a good thing. Scooby-Doo! and Batman: The Brave and the Bold is a marvelous mixture of mayhem and monsters, ensuring that the hammers of justice and those meddling kids and their dog can stay fresh in the current day.
Now if Batman could meet Jonny Quest…