The Scooby-Doo and Dynomutt Hour: The Complete Series Review
Despite its ubiquitous presence on television, by 1976 no new episodes of Scooby-Doo had been made for nearly three years. Instead, its home network CBS had relied on reruns, helped by the fact that the show had a not-unfair reputation for being exactly the same every time; why bother commissioning a new batch when all the old stuff blends into one homogenous whole, with little other than the different villains to distinguish between individual instalments? It certainly didn’t do the cartoon’s popularity any harm: despite the fact there were only forty-nine episodes in existence at that point, Scooby and the gang were fast-becoming an iconic part of the period, establishing themselves as what would turn out to be the last great contribution Hanna-Barbera made to popular culture.
Fred Silverman, the television executive who had greenlit the first season back in 1969 and contributed several significant elements towards its final format, had always had an affection for the Great Dane and his ghostbusting companions. In 1976 he had moved onto a new position on rival network ABC and, noting that CBS seemed content to rest on their laurels as far as the show went, he decided to attempt to bring the show over and under his control again. This proved remarkably easy, his belief about CBS’ indifference towards the title confirmed when enquiries discovered that his old employers were more than to happy to allow the show to leave their stable. HB were happy too, and Silverman put the original co-creators, Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, back in charge of their pet project (no pun intended). The only change in format dictated by the move in channels was to pare down the episodes from the hour-long version seen in The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries back to its original half hour length, a no-doubt eminently sensible decision (although I personally thoroughly enjoy the hour-long version, they are essentially no more than padded-out stories which could easily have been accommodated in half the time).
To make the show a more attractive sell, Silverman asked Ruby and Spears to come up with a new companion series which would run immediately after the new episodes, to make up an hour’s package. Very quickly the three of them decided that it should be something stylistically similar to Scooby - big dumb dog as the star having adventures with his human sidekicks - and Ruby and Spears turned to the pages of comic book for inspiration. Just as Scooby had been made as an affectionate pastiche of old hackneyed horror flicks of the Thirties and Forties, so this new series would be a similar lampoon of another popular genre, namely superheroes and superhero comics. Taking as their template Batman, and in particular the Adam West series of the previous decade and the subsequent Filmation animations, they created the character of the Blue Falcon, aka millionaire playboy Radley Crown who, from a hidden base in his mansion, sallies forth to fight the various weird and wonderful supervillains of Big City with the aid of his canine sidekick Dynomutt. Satisfied with this premise, Silverman gave the nod for sixteen episodes of each series to be made, to launch on ABC under the umbrella title The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour which it did on 11th September 1976.
In regards to the more famous portion of the show, everyone knows what to expect from a Scooby-Doo episode and this is an utterly archetypal bunch, the only change from the last batch of CBS episodes being Pat Stevens effortlessly taking over the role of Velma from Nicole Jarre. In comparison to what had gone before, the stories are slightly better than the Season Two episodes (the ones with the irritating songs during each chase sequence) and on a par with Season One and the best of the so-called Movies, and introduces several villains who have ended up being amongst Mystery Inc’s most famous adversaries, such as the 10,000 Volt Ghost (recently seen in the almost irredeemable second live-action movie). If occasionally there’s a sense that the writers are coasting then perhaps it’s just down to lack of inspiration - after all, how many times can you write about a gang running round an old ghost town before tearing your hair out? - but the format is so indestructible it’s a negligible problem and only noticeable if you’ve recently watched, as I have, a previous season (in my case the Movies).
However, in one important way they do mark a transitional shift for the franchise. ABC, which would be the series’ home for the rest of the century, were far more willing to experiment with the format - one of the reasons it has become the longest-running cartoon series ever made - and the first indication of that is to be seen here, with the introduction of a new character in the form of Scooby-Dum, Scooby-Doo’s even dozier cousin. Although he only appears in two episodes, he is but the tip of an iceberg which saw, over the next decade, the series constantly evolving, changing almost every year. I hardly need mention the name Crappy-Doo to illustrate not all these changes were for the better, and while Dum is not nearly as tiresome as that little pipsqueak, he is still an irritating character who adds nothing to the two stories he appears in.
Similarly, at first glance Dynomutt is irritating as well. Stylised as a goofy yokel without the charm of, well, Goofy, the hook for his character is that he is half-dog half-superhero swiss army knife, his body a robotic repository for all manner of gadgets and gizmos, most notably his fully extendable limbs and neck. Unfortunately, as the Robin to the Blue Falcon’s Batman he’s rather more Dog Blunder than Boy Wonder, and frequently manages to activate the wrong contraption, tripping either himself or the Falcon up and allowing their quarry to escape pursuit, much to his master’s exasperation. As is always the way with such things, however, in the end his slapstick antics manage to ensnare the villain of the week, leading to a pat on the back and some robotic doggy biscuits.
Just as Scooby-Doo is never entirely sure whether it is an out-and-out Abbot & Costello-style spoof of the horror genre or a light-hearted tribute, so Dynomutt feels oddly like a more-straightforward retelling of Batman-style stories than at first appears. As you couldn’t get much more absurd than the live-action West series a parody of such would not only be superfluous but also nigh on impossible and as such this cartoon version is actually far less self-aware and knowing than a modern viewer might expect. Nothing is taken seriously, but neither do the writers go in for any commentary on the genre, instead telling relatively straight forward tales of superhero slapstick. Ironically, this is one spoof that ends up being, by virtual of its identity as a kid's cartoon, more sensible than its target.
As such the pleasure to be taken from the series, if one ignores the central character’s pratfalls which are typical Saturday morning animation fare, is in the exaggerations an animated version of the Batman-eque world allows. From the similar William Dozier-style opening narrations by Ron Feinberg (“Big City at night and the Queen Hornet has ensnared the Blue Falcon again! Can Dynomutt rescue him before she had her wicked way with him?”) who bizarrely sounds much like Ron Burgundy, through to the literally outlandish villains, who include a talking worm and the rather wet-sounding FishFace as well as many Batman homages such as ManyFaces, Mr Cool and the aforementioned Queen Hornet. There are even substitutes for CommissionerGordon and Chief O’Hara in the Mayor and the Chiefs Quimby and Wimby. Given that this is, technically speaking at least, an original show, the fact that it is not Batman even gives it the edge over the vaguely terrible Filmation version of Bruce Wayne and co, which emasculated the Dark Knight unforgivably in a way that the West series, somehow, did not.
The two principal voice artists, Gary Owens as the Blue Falcon and Frank “Fred from Scooby-Doo” Welker as Dynomutt throw themselves into their roles with the expected gusto (Welker, generally regarded as one of the finest voice actors of his generation, is unrecognisable as the Dog Wonder in comparison to his Fred) while the rest of the Scooby-Doo cast pitch in as various villains. The artwork is quite detailed, which makes stylistically a nice change from the sometimes sparse locales the Mystery Inc team find themselves in, Big City an attractively designed environment full of bright colours (it’s unnecessary to add that the buildings are perhaps the absolute antithesis of the word “gothic”) and, while an intellectual analysis of the episodes show they are deeply formulaic, perhaps it is simply because of the different variety and modus operandis of the villains involved, the stories do feel as thought they have more variety to them than the Scoobys … do.
Indeed, in that way and many others, Dynomutt makes a perfect companion to its parent show, succeeding in being both complimentary (in theme) and a nice contrast (in style and look). It would be wrong to say that either show is a grade A entry into the HB list of credits - Dynomutt is too derivative a concept, and Scooby-Doo shows at times the merest hint of running out of ideas - but as Saturday morning entertainment they are perfectly judged, and still hold up today as crowd-pleasing entertainers. As someone with a special place for Scooby in his heart, it's been fun to spend more time with the Mystery Inc gang, while my opinion of Dynomutt went from finding the show a little flat on watching the first couple of episodes to coming to appreciate that what it was doing and what I had assumed it was trying to do were slightly different and as such liking it a lot more. Great fun, both.
Although all sixteen episodes of the 1976-7 season of the Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour are presented in this current set they are not the original versions as broadcast at that time. Those first airings had one opening sequence which encompassed both shows, whereas on this set each individual Scooby and Dynomutt episode comes with its own opening sequence, as per the subsequent syndicated broadcasts. This is not the first time that the Hanna-Barbera Golden Collection have done this: the version of The Perils of Penelope released was also the syndicated versions. There is also at least one sound effect missing: in the ninth Dynomutt episode, “The Queen Hornet,” in the Jabberjaw song sequence, Dynomutt gets his head trapped between two cymbals. In the original version, there was a subsequent “wobble” sound effect as Dynomutt’s head vibrated from his squashing but this is missing here, as per a version screened in the 1990s. (Many thanks to The Falcon's Lair for the tip-off on this).
The episodes come on four dual-layered disks, the latter two of which are also double-sided. They are held in a fold-out cardboard box which is lavishly illustrated with new artwork inspired by the series, and lists the names of the episodes on each disk. This, in turn, is held in a sturdy cardboard box, again illustrated from the series, and all-in-all is another very attractive package from the Hanna-Barbera Golden Collection.
The Main Menus open with a black screen, in which a couple of spooky eyes loom out. Scooby then appears, careering into the centre of the screen in a minecart, before being quickly joined by the other members of Mystery Inc, the Blue Falcon and Dynomutt, all of whom then start twitching uncontrollably, which is a bit off-putting. Nitpickers will be pleased to note that Daphne, who starts off in the minecart, inexplicably steps out without lifting her legs over the side. The options are Play, Episodes, Special Features and Languages, all of which lead to their appropriate submenus. The admin of the disk is a little thoughtless in places - on the Episode Select screen, for example, it lists both the Scooby and Dynomutt sections but you can’t select the latter separately, so if you wish to only see the latest goings-on in Big City, you have to start the Scooby episode and then skip forwards. Hardly an onerous task, but given other HB disks in the past have given the option of watching each segment separately, a bit slipshod. In addition, although there is a Special Features option on every disk, the Features themselves are only found on the second side of Disk Four which is daft. That said, the menus are attractive to look at and have an aesthetically pleasing layout.
All the episodes are subtitled but none of the extras are. It’s worth noting a sound effect from
Bit dirty really. Colours are fine and fairly vivid, but there’s plenty of dirt and grain on the prints, as well as faded line delineation at times, which suggests some sort of problems with the digital conversion. Perfectly watchable, but not as top notch as some of the other titles in the Golden Collection.
Fine for what it is - a faithful soundtrack for a Seventies cartoon series produced for television. It’s not pin sharp at times, with a bit of blurry sounds, but in general the dialogue is okay and the music comes across quite well in a mono kind of way.
Eerie Mystery of Scooby-Doo and Dynomutt’s History (12:42)
Very nice featurette that makes the effort and assembles contributions from a goodly collection of people involved with the making of the show. People such as head writer Ken Spears and lead animator Iawo Takamoto talk us through both Scooby and Dynomutt’s genesis and there’s even some brief archive footage of the Hanna-Barbera team at work. Meanwhile Silverman discusses the impact of the show and why it was so important to the schedules. Very good.
In Their Own Words (7:38)
It’s always slightly spooky to see the voices behind cartoon characters, especially as they are often look completely unlike their onscreen personas (hello Dan Castellaneta). However, it appears the exception to this rule is the cast of Scooby-Doo, who nearly all look pretty much as you would expect. In this fun but inconsequential featurette all the voice artists on the show, such as Casey Kasem and Frank Welker, talk about their characters and churn up typical lines. Welker spends the majority of the featurette making strange noises - seems he did a lot of the audio effects as well as his voice work - and is quite possibly certifiable, but in a hugely endearing way.
The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Files
I don’t usually like galleries on DVDs but this is rather good. A collection of forty rare behind-the-scenes material, including artists’ guides to drawing individual characters and vehicles, storyboards, and other related paraphernalia, this is both interesting and well laid out. An initial screen of thumbnails allows one to scan ten of the pictures of the time, any of which can be zoomed in on for a closer look.
Trailers are included for Kid Easter, (nope, I’ve never heard of it either) The Flintstones Season Five, Justice League and Batman Beyond Season One as well as, er, The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour.
Another highly enjoyable - and, given its transfer to ABC, historic - collection of Scooby-Doo episodes is twinned with the less-great but still entertaining Dynomutt in another fine set from the HB archives. On the extras front the small amount of features is compensated by the care that has gone into them, adding up to another highly recommended set for all fans of Great Danes and shaggy dog stories.