Scooby Doo: Where Are You! The Complete First and Second Seasons Review
Mystery Inc have apprehended their latest villain, seemingly a Neolithic caveman, by trapping him in a giant clam in a research lab called Oceanland. But who is he?
Villain: Someone get me out of here!
Shaggy: Hey, like he can talk!
Fred: Let's pull him out Shag, and we'll see who he really is. All together now, pull!
They pull him out and his disguise slips off, revealing his true identity.
All: It's Professor Wayne!
Sheriff: You mean to say this whole caveman thing was a hoax?
Fred: Not entirely, Sheriff. The two-million-year-old caveman that was lost at sea was for real.
Velma: And that's what gave Professor Wayne the idea for his scheme.
Fred: First he froze the dummy caveman in a block of ice out at the old fishing boat. Then he set it adrift, knowing it would float to Oceanland.
Daphne: Then he melted the ice with an electric heater and made it appear that the caveman had come to life and caused himself and Ingstrom to vanish.
Shaggy: Once Ingstrom was out of the way, Wayne would return claiming to have escaped from the caveman.
Sheriff: But why did he do it?
Ingstrom: I can answer that. He was after my invention, a revolutionary marine-life communicator.
Shaggy: Like wow, you mean you can talk to fish with it?
Scooby: (into the machine) Scooby-Doo!
Fish: Scooby-Doo! Scooby-Doo!
Scooby looks shocked, then
Ingstrom: That invention is worth a fortune.
Wayne: And it would have been mine if it hadn't been for those meddling kids.
- Scooby's Night With a Frozen Fright
My mother went to school with the members of Mystery Inc. A bold statement, I know and I don't have any proof, but I do have a Clue, and in the world of fake ghosts and goblins and spooks that Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo live in, that's practically as good as a framed certificate of proof. My Clue is her school yearbook, which a couple of years ago was unearthed in a long-neglected corner of the attic. She grew up in the United States in the early Sixties, so for me it was an intriguing relic from another world which I spent a while studying in detail. Amid the expected pictures of jocks, nerds, cheerleaders and Fonzes (I was pleased to see that the stereotypical picture of high schools from that era is a largely accurate one) I came across photos of graduates so like the fearless foursome that it's hard to believe it was a coincidence. Shaggy had the same cheerful, slightly dopey face and unkempt hair, Fred and Daphne (both on the same double-page no less) had respectively the open, slightly smug expression and the coy, head tilted, God-I-know-I’m-gorgeous eye-lashes fluttering face and Velma was – what else? – the librarian, complete with round glasses and pudding bowl hair. She was even wearing a jumper, although not the high-collared kind from the cartoon. They had different names, of course – no doubt they changed them in the cartoon to protect their identities – and were a little younger but the likenesses were uncanny.
There are only two explanations. One is that my Mum missed out the chance to be the fifth member of Mystery Inc, for which I could perhaps never forgive her, or that the characters in Scooby-Doo are, as they were meant to be, genuinely close reflections of typical college school kids. While the former is the more attractive reason, part of me has to confess that perhaps it is this latter that is more likely. Walk into any school during that time and you'd have found kids very similar to the Mystery Machine foursome, although whether you'd have seen a talking dog too would probably have depended how much time you spent around the Shaggys. The fact that the characters are so true to life is what lies at the heart of all of Hanna-Barbera's greatest successes - despite the fact that, often, their heroes are cats or dogs or bears or whatever, they are all ultimately average Joes who you wouldn't mind sharing a beer with (Fred Flintstone), having a jolly jape with (Top Cat) or, in the case of Mystery Inc, chilling on the dance floor with. Cannily aimed at the teenage market, the characters almost defies failure.
Indeed, the genesis of the show came not so much from the fact a series about chasing men dressed up as masks was required, but a show with attractive young leads who would have universal appeal. The four have very specific points of inspiration, namely the live action sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis and the cartoon series The Archie Show. In 1968 the huge success of this latter show on CBS got network executive Fred Silverman looking round for another series with similar appeal. The Archie Show was centred around a teenage rock group, which was of course a very hip thing to be at the time, and Silverman decided he wanted the same basic premise, but with the added bonus that in-between gigs the members of the group go about solving mysteries. Hanna-Barbera were commissioned, and William and Joe handed the job to two of their most experienced writers, Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, and head artist and designer Iawo Takamoto, all of whom had been involved in their big-hitters for the past few years.
The creation of the series wasn’t all plain-sailing and the first attempt, originally called The Mysteries Five and then Who's S-S-Scared? was rejected by CBS for being “too scary.” American TV was going through one of its intermittent spasms of excessive censorship, this time led by a parental group called Action for Children’s Television (ACT), and as this initial version featured real supernatural phenomena such as ghosts, zombies and so on, it was judged not suitable at all. However, Silverman asked them to give it another go as the network had a cartoon-shaped hole in their schedules and so they went off and had a rethink. This was where several key changes were made: the scary artwork was toned down, the rock band element dropped and the focus turned far more onto Shaggy and Scooby, who at this point was called Too Much (famously, his name was changed when Silverman heard Frank Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night played on the radio, complete with its Scooby-dooby-doo refrain). This new version was given the thumbs up, and the first episode was broadcast on 13th September, 1969.
Everyone knows the basic premise of the episodes. Each time the gang arrive at some lonely destination, discover it has a ghostly problem, get chased around by it for a bit and then finally capture it, usually by some variation of Shaggy and/or Scooby sitting on its head, before the climactic unmasking and a quick trip back to the Malt Shop for something refreshing and a bit of a dance. It’s pretty simple stuff, and at first glance seems as though it would grow old very quickly, but for some inexplicable reason it doesn’t. While it’s true there’s not much to challenge the older viewer, there’s a cosy nostalgia about it, in the same way you can reminiscence with old friends the same memories time and time again without them growing stale. As all HB cartoons of this period do, the show riffs past films and stories, so we get tales about werewolves and mummies and vampires and other such standards. Each episode takes place in a different location: as well as the traditionally spooky ones such as castles, old museums and swamps, there are stories set in the big top, the theatre, the fairground and, in one episode that flirts with the idea of post-modernism about twenty years early, a film set, in which the baddie disguises himself as the monster from the movie that is being made. Through all these our heroes chase, and get by chased, the villains, always surprised when the rogues are finally unmasked before inexplicably being about to explain instantly why they knew it was them all the time (I’m not convinced personally). The humour (underlined by the canned laughter, HB cartoons being the only time the use of which is remotely acceptable) is both from the characters’ reactions to what is going on (especially Shaggy and Scooby’s) and the slapstick antics as everyone runs about. While the latter won’t do much for those of us with ages in double figures, it’s still genial enough to prevent boredom, and if the intended verbal jokes are just too corny for words, well, it’s a good-old slice of gentle Americana for you. (It’s the same with The Munsters - never makes me laugh, but I love watching it all the same).
At the heart of the show, of course, are Shaggy and Scooby, the two bestest buds in the entire world. Two inseparable companions, bonded by a common love of food, terrible jokes and running away, they are at the heart of what has made the series so enduring. Who can fail to love the good-natured hippy who ambles along, perfectly happy in his own little world, not even bothering to stand up straight as it’s all too much effort. Viewed dispassionately, he is a lazy bugger who will probably never do a day’s work in his life, but that matters not one jot: his carefree nature, together with an unfortunate habit of constantly stumbling into danger, make him a joy to be around. It’s also notable that he isn’t entirely without brains: even though he gives the impression of being a bit light in the old grey matter department, he’s still able (as the opening quote shows) to put two and two together when it matters. What’s great for him, though, is it doesn’t matter that often: normally, he gets by just drifting along in a bucolic daze, content to have his pal at his side, becoming alert only when he catches the smell of food in the air. This approach to life works too: nearly every episode climaxes with him capturing the bad guy, almost always entirely accidentally. Who needs to plan ahead when Fate is constantly on your side (even if it does like giving you a good fright or two beforehand)? Why he seems in a haze has been at the centre of endless speculation that Shaggy spends his days permanently stoned, which in one fell swoop explains everything from the way he’s constantly scoffing down Scooby snacks to the fact his best friend is a large talking dog. While this latter observation, which suggests that Scooby isn’t real at all or is, in fact, just another person, is manifestly wrong, it is entirely possible, if not probable, that otherwise Shaggy does enjoy the odd spliff (hell, even his tshirt is green) - if his real life counterparts in the beatnik community did it, why not him? His raspy voice, coming courtesy of Casey Kasem, adds credence this too. Kasem is perfectly cast and has become so synonymous with the role it is hard to imagine anyone else taking on the role. (It’s a pleasing connection that Kasem’s voice can also be heard in the original film of Ghostbusters, playing himself: he’s the DJ who relates how the Ghostbusters did a job and then “danced the night away with some of the lovely ladies who witnessed the disturbance.” An apt role for a man whose most famous role is as the original Ghostbuster).
Scooby, played by Hanna-Barbera veteran Don Messick, does not look like a typical Great Dane. When first designing the character, Iawo Takamoto asked a breeder of Great Danes for advice, and then ignored it all - for example, Great Danes don't have double chins or any spots. It doesn’t matter though – not many Great Danes can talk either – as it’s difficult to imagine him looking anything different. Unlike Shaggy, he genuinely is a bit of a dope, constantly puzzled by things and slow on the uptake. He’s also a bit of a show-off, and reminds one of a small relative who can’t stand not being the centre of attention: whenever anything else is going on (most notably at the end of episodes when the others are explaining the villain’s evil schemes to the Sheriff) he has to bound in and do something, punctuated by his (on reflection) rather egotistical “Scooby-Dooby-Doo.” However, as with that small relative, ultimately you are not annoyed but just want to ruffle his head and pat him on the back. He is, in short, a typical lap dog (and he is a dog: despite the popular theory, these first episodes show that it’s not just Shaggy who see him as a dog – in one episode Scooby inherits a house and the newspapers report it, complete with picture). In many ways he’s not any more remarkable than other animals from that period of animation, so perhaps the reason he has remained so popular is the unique relationship he has with Shaggy. Unlike, say, Top Cat or Yogi Bear, who are humans in animal skins and complete entities, Shaggy and Scooby are arguably one character split into two. It’s very telling how important Shaggy is to the series that, even when Fred, Daphne and Velma were ditched in the early 1980s there was never any question of Shaggy going too. Scooby without Shaggy is as inconceivable as Laurel without Hardy or Holmes without Watson. And vice versa too: they are two sides of the same coin, one character split down the middle, with virtually the same characteristics. (Another reason why Scrappy-Doo ultimately failed to muscle in, aside from the fact he was an annoying little tit). Or maybe I’m just over-intellectualising a cartoon about a guy with a dog.
That isn’t to say that Fred, Daphne and Velma are not important too. The early Eighties experiment in ditching them just didn't work and the others were brought back after a few very mediocre series. That said, they are far less interesting on paper than Shaggy and Scooby as they have no special characteristics of their own (despite everything said, the casting of Freddie Prinze Jr in the live-action film was an amusingly ironic piece of casting, given both the actor and the character’s blandness, although he still managed to mess it up) but the very fact they are typical of that generation, together with their single dimensions, makes them light, easy companions. Much of their appeal can be attributed to the actors giving voice to them: HB always put a lot of emphasis on their vocal artists, and had a canny knack for good casting. For Fred Welker, who aptly played Fred, it was his first major role in what was to become (and still is) a hugely prolific career in animation – his credits list on the imdb runs to over four hundred and fifty regular appearances, and that’s not including shows he just guested on. The fact he is still the voice of Fred nearly thirty years after the series started shows how far his career has spanned. On the other hand Nicole Jaffe, the voice of Velma, hasn’t done much since Scooby-Doo (although in the last ten years she’s returned to the role) but that shouldn't reflect on her performance here, which is fine, giving her character just the right mixture of geekdom coupled with humour. (On a side note, the running gag about Velma constantly losing her specs - "My glasses, I can't see without them!" - was inspired by Jaffe losing her own glasses during an early read-through and saying something very similar). Daphne was voiced by two actors: the first was a rather intriguing lady who then went by the name Steffanianna Christopherson who left after one season and seems to have had a very exotic life since, while the second, Heather North, does a good job in imitating her. They all add depth to their superficial characters, and make sure Scooby and Shaggy don’t overshadow them, not always an easy task given those two get the bulk of the laughs. And as for those rumours that Fred's quasi-catchphrase "Right gang, let's all split up!" is just a ruse so he and Daphne can go off and have some nooky? Absolute nonsense - Fred's far too square to be doing anything as risque as that.
Complimenting the actors is the artwork. While the repeating backgrounds have already been mentioned, this shouldn’t be taken to mean the look of the show is dull: far from it. Although the initial premise that the show should be scary was toned down, the look is always highly atmospheric. Creaking mansions really do feel as though they could be haunted, ghost ships loom out of the fog, and mad scientists’ laboratories have the requisite beakers full of bubbling green liquid. There are still plenty of instances when the screen isn’t cluttered with detail to cut costs: a lot of the close-ups in the first season have no background at all, and there’s a fair bit of stock footage reused at several points (if you see Fred and Daphne dancing once on the beach, you see it half a dozen times) but the variety of the show, coupled with the characters themselves, means this is one of the more visually arresting shows HB produced during that period. Once again this is down to Iawo Takamoto, one of the great designers working in animation at the time, a man who could spin gold from the thinnest of materials. The only criticism it’s possible to have is that a lot of the monster disguises are much of a muchness, with the same sorts of green skin and bulbous features, but as I can never have too much of ghost pirates that's not necessarily a bad thing. The music isn’t at the same level, being rather generic, but at least it fits in with what’s going on and, when required, provides the appropriate atmosphere.
The second season differs from the first in a couple of ways. As well as North taking over the role of Daphne, the opening sequence is changed, and while there’s little to choose between the two the second is more active and therefore more attractive to watch. Not so good is the new version of the theme sung by Austin Roberts of La La Productions, giving the tune a cheesy feel that sounds a bit pleased with itself. La La Productions were also involved in the other big change to the show’s detriment: each episode now has a slapstick chase sequence, accompanied by a song by Roberts. These sound as though they have come from a second-rate Beach Boys clone and have amusingly eccentric lyrics with only the faintest connection to what is happening on screen: in one episode, for example, Shaggy and Scooby are being chased by Mr Hyde (of Dr Jekyll fame) while the singer warbles “Yesterday, I got to dreaming about a recipe for my love, took all the things I was feeling, things around us are just not enough. I tried, I tried to find out the secret for my recipe, but all of these things couldn’t make up my baby and what my baby means to me.” Yes, well quite. Although these were regrettable developments, no doubt the young ‘uns loved the knockabout stuff, and they are only minor variations – given the changes in format that were to come later, these are still top drawer stuff as far as the series is concerned.
And that's why that, although officially Scooby-Doo is now the longest-running cartoon in television history, this isn’t really true as the format has changed so much throughout the years. It is therefore a joy to go back and watch these first twenty-five episodes - they are, simply, the best Scooby Doo has ever been, before the show was bastardised and guest stars starting arriving to help solve crime (“It’s the Three Stooges!”) before Scooby-Dum (anyone remember him?) and Crappy-Doo, and before it was decided it would be a good idea to focus purely on Shaggy, Scooby and Scrappy, abandoning the others altogether. This is the real deal, as well as being arguably the last big original success HB would ever have. Admittedly the format is repetitive, but that’s part of the joy of it: these moments are the equivalent of humming along to your favourite tunes in a musical or laughing at a catchphrase in a comedy. So much of it is iconic now: Scooby’s dog tag, the Mystery Machine van, the catchphrases, the repeating scenery (although looping backgrounds had been standard practice for years, it’s largely associated with this show, perhaps because so much of it is concerned with running about) and even Shaggy’s loping gait, all are instantly recognisable and all come from these first two seasons (although the trademark “And I would have got away with it too, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids and their pesky dog” only crops up a handful of times, with episode eleven being the earliest example.) Together with the animation (the more sophisticated modern versions just don’t have the same charm), the music, the acting and the exuberance, these Scooby snacks are well worth the effort of hunting down.
This R2 edition is an exclusive to HMV, and there are several differences to the R1 version. Not having had the US box physically in my hand, I don't know if this cover is identical, but all of the other R1 titles in this HB Collection series have had transparencies on the cover, through which could be seen interior art, while this box doesn't, the cover just having the plain picture you can see above. (It's pedantic to note, but the stars are less twinkly on this UK cover too). The R2 also loses a disk: the R1 has four single-sided disks, while this set has three double-sided ones, which means we lose the designs on the disks themselves. The interior artwork appears to conform to the same general design the other R1 titles follow, with attractive illustrations of the characters and a couple of trivia questions, as well as a complete episode and extras listing for each disk, but as said before not having seen the R1 set I can't comment whether anything has gone astray here. A couple of extras from the American disks have definitely gone: a music video entitled Everyone Loves Scooby-Doo, a featurette on Fan's Favourite Episodes and the Scooby-Doo Challenge.
All the sides hold four episodes, with the exception of Side 2 on Disk 2 which holds the last five of Season One. The menu opens with an attractive zoom out from a haunted house, through a graveyard, to find our heroes waiting at the gate ready for another adventure. All static, but nice nonetheless. There are four options on this Main Menu: Play (the Play All button), Episodes, Special Features and Languages. Highlighting each option results in a different character shining their torch on it to illuminate it. All the episodes and extras are subtitled, with the exception of the trailers.
The prints this transfer was taken from were evidently very dirty, and there's a lot of minor blemishes still to be seen. The image itself is as clear as anything, meaning every imperfection the original cels evidently had can be seen in all their glory. There are plenty of specks of dirt, and it's often clear even which layer of cel they were on, as they move or remain static depending on what that particular cel is doing in the scene. While these flaws may not have been noticeable of the televisions of thirty years ago, in this crisp digital age they are, as is the heavy layer of grain over the whole thing. All that said, at least you can see those problems in crystal clear vision: the transfer itself seems to have gone fine, with no obvious digitising problems aside from the occasional flicker.
As you would expect. The audio doesn't particularly show its age and is always clear, but it's a basic mono track which will hardly challenge your speakers.
Funky Fashions (4:51)
Short little featurette in which a narrator who sounds like she’s come off a shampoo commercial reveals what the members of Mystery Inc’s clothes say about them. Fred, apparently, is comfortable with his feminine side but secure in his masculinity, while purple is “definitely” Daphne’s colour. A slightly odd way of looking at the characters given the target audience, but a bit of fun nevertheless, and amusingly edited together.
Scooby Doo’s Ultimate Fans (11:52)
Profile of three collectors of Scooby-Doo merchandise who are quite possibly clinically insane. Cramming their house full of Mystery Inc memorabilia (although one of them also has a Jetsons poster on display, leading me to question his dedication), they talk about their hobby and mention wives we never see. Includes the guy who voiced Scrappy-Doo in the live-action film (“I tend to over-doo things,” he chortles to himself at several points) and a man who spent a night in a haunted house for the “ultimate Scooby-Doo experience.” Good-natured nutters the lot of them.
Get The Picture (2:18)
Utterly useless featurette featuring someone drawing a pencil sketch of Scooby and his friends. Played at least five times faster than normal speed, this is far too quick to teach anyone anything about drawing these characters, especially if you are as useless at drawing as I am. “It may take a little practise,” says the cheerful narrator at the end, “but you can draw Scooby-Doo and the gang. You really can!” Yes, well he knows where he can shove his pencil, get the picture?
There are three trailers for other associated titles: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 2, Tom and Jerry and The Flintstones Season 1.
The cartoons themselves are classics, and the beginning of one of Hanna-Barbera's biggest contributions to popular culture. The extras, however, are weak: no commentaries or documentaries (no excuse given how many of the artists, writers and actors are still around) and no archival material at all - it would be great to see the original animated sequence that was part of the original pitch to the studio, for example, or the original artwork that was deemed too frightening. This R2 edition suffers further by losing some of the extras that there were on the R1 and, although it's still visually an attractive package, there's no reason not to import. In Doo terms, far more of a Scrappy than a Scooby.
(PS - I don't really think my mother went to school with Mystery Inc. Although she did once date Officer Dibble.)