Over the years, there have been countless incarnations and adaptations of the beloved Scooby Doo characters we all know and love. Since the original Scooby-Doo, where are you? The cowardly Grand Dane, first aired in 1969, and his friends have solved mysteries on every conceivable screen. From animated series to live-action feature films (and everything in between), Scooby Doo has become a strong pop culture legend, with Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Velma and Daphne serving as recognizable icons (and popular Halloween costumes) for most of the last fifty years. But the band’s recognizable status aside, only one Scooby the series has managed to transcend the others with its complex character arcs and intricate overall mystery. Yes, we are talking about no less than Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated!
If you have not seen it, you should really give it a shot. Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated, which ran on Cartoon Network from 2010 to 2013, takes place in the small east coast town of Crystal Cove, which has a serious monster problem, and by monsters we mean extremely intelligent people who dress up in artful costumes to scare others away so they can find happiness and fame. Now this may sound like most incarnations of Scooby Doo to you, but what sets Mystery Incorporated apart from the rest, the series’ “in-universe” explanations of the strange events that consistently take place in their small town … Very much like Twin Peaks (a show that is very much referred to SDMI) or the early seasons of Smallville, Mystery Incorporated unravels a complex mythology that encompasses the founding and origins of Crystal Cove, while also extending into the personal history of its most important cast members.
As it turns out, a damn conquistadorian treasure lies beneath the foundation of Crystal Cove, and its deceptive attraction is what has changed the urban population to the corrupt versions of themselves as they are. This has been happening for a long time and Mystery Incorporated makes it clear that most of the others Scooby incarnations are still (somewhat) canon, rather than starting from scratch. Classic Scooby Doo enemies like The Creeper are mentioned and occasionally appear in flashbacks, where their stories continue spiritually through other characters like Alice May (Hynden Walch), who claims to be Creepers daughter after revenge on Mystery Inc (“The Legend of Alice May”).
Episodes like “All Fear the Freak” expertly highlight the seriousness of the 52-episode thrilling mystery and the personal implications of a corrupt city like Crystal Cove by introducing recurring monsters. One of these, The Freak of Crystal Cove (Frank Welker), as he is called, terrorizes the gang in search of their pieces of a mysterious Planesphiric disc, where the season 1 finale reveals this devil and blows Fred’s life into the air in the process. Later, in “Nightmare in Red”, the Freak returns, albeit in a more supernatural trait, and initiates the gang into their final hour. Other recurring monsters, such as Crybaby Clown (Mark Hamill) and even Alice May, put their mark on multiple episodes and force our beloved characters to deal with their personal issues with each other.
But what is more convincing Mystery Incorporated is the series’ ability to seamlessly weave seemingly unrelated mysteries, characters, and plot lines together into its overall narrative. The band’s discovery of Original Mystery Inc. via an ancient medallion, their study of the Darrow family and the origins of Crystal Cove, and ancient legends and apocalyptic prophecies related to the time of Anunaki and Nibirus, all lead Scooby and the gang to the greatest mystery of their careers. Honestly, no Scooby Doo cartoon or direct-to-dvd feature has been able to top it since. As the evil being (Clancy Brown) slowly down Crystal Crystal, only the Mystery Inc. gang can stop him in this series, which often feels more like a sci-fi / fantasy drama than a mysterious cartoon for children.
Regardless of the occasional change in tone, the real consistency comes from Mystery Incorporated‘s engaging combination of the classic Scooby Doo formula and the long-lasting emotional arcs of Fred, Daphne and the gang. Each member of Mystery Inc. get their own upgrades through this show, and round them out more as complex characters than the archetypes we have become accustomed to. Fred Jones (also expressed by Welker), for example, seems to be undergoing the biggest change. Here, the classically confident leader of the band expresses his insecurity through his relationship with Daphne Blake (Gray DeLisle), his love of traps and his constant desire for approval from his father, Mayor Fred Jones, Sr. (Gary Cole). Fred’s somewhat tragic family background combined with his absence from Daphne has catastrophic consequences for their relationship, forcing him to fight for his true love and their friends. Daphne herself undergoes some character growth, going from being just “the distressed girl” (which she still often is) to taking ownership of her own destiny. It’s because of Daphne that the band even discovers the first clue to the series’ overall mystery.
But Fred and Daphne are not the only ones getting an upgrade, Velma Dinkley (Mindy Cohn) is also much more developed here and as always she proves that she is the smartest in space. Although Velma this time is even more technically savvy and has a lot more attitude with him, and even goes so far as to work behind the band’s back for the mysterious Mr. E (Lewis Black). It’s true, Velma has a spout this time, which is understandably due to the fact that she and Shaggy Rogers (Matthew Lillard) begins the series in a relationship that is eventually ruined by Scooby-Doo (Welker) … Yes, Shaggy and Velma are dating, which one would think could force Shaggy to grow up a bit, but the truth is that he chooses his friendship with Scooby over his relationship with Velma. So there it is.
Overall, Shaggy and Scooby are the same silly but lovable characters that you remember from almost every incarnation of Scooby Doo, though there are moments when this duo needs to be braver and more heroic than they are usually known to be. In a world where monsters try to kill you every week and your friends all go through their own emotional issues, a more consistent Shaggy and Scooby make this series feel a little more familiar, and that’s a good thing. The new bit of trivia that Shaggy and Scooby love old horror movies, especially the ones starring Vincent Price-inspired Vincent Von Ghoul (Maurice LaMarche), is a welcome and comes back often.
Mystery Incorporated manages to pull from all corners of pop culture to respectfully emulate some of the greatest movies, books and TV series out there. The recreated version of Von Ghoul, which was actually voiced by Vincent Price in The 13 ghosts from Scooby-Doo cartoons from the 80s, is a fun addition that keeps giving. While 13 ghosts the version was a real warlock, this version is nothing more than a washed-up actor whose biggest fans are a hippie and a talking dog. Then there are science fiction and fantasy writers (and Darrow University professors) HP Hatecraft (Jeffrey Combs), a clear rip-off of HP Lovecraft, and Harlan Ellison, who plays a highly fictionalized version of himself. Hatecraft’s “Char Gar Gothakon” (a Chthulu stand-in) is a particularly notable villain (“The Shrieking Madness”). While Hatecraft and Ellison’s quarrels are funny in themselves, what makes them even better is that they especially hate the vampire novel, Twilight, which is a clear Twilight parody that Daphne loves.
The series also pays tribute to other important pop culture representations such as Dungeons & Dragons in “The Web of Dreamweaver”, where we learn that Sheriff Bronson Stone (Patrick Warburton) grew up playing D&D. The “Dead Justice” episode features a ghost cowboy who looks like one Clint Eastwood character who has come back to decide a score, and “Mystery Solvers State Finals” (a fan favorite) unites Scooby and the gang with several old Hanna-Barbara cartoon tapes incl Speed Buggy, Jabberjaw, and Funky Phantom. However, the series’ pop cultural tribute does not stop there. The mythology-heavy episode “Nightmare in Red” sends the gang to an above-ground red room (with a little man to guide them) that feels eerily similar to the one seen in Twin Peaks, while “Howl of the Fright Hound” has a mechanized dog that pays homage directly The Terminator, with small musical lines and all.
In the second season episode “Heart of Evil”, the band finally meets the Blue Falcon (Troy Baker), a Batman wannabe who originally came from Johnny Quest cartoons (Quest Industries is also often mentioned). “BF”, as Dynomutt (again pronounced by Welker) calls him, is a clear parody of how dark Batman has become over the decades and moves further away from Adam West-style of crime that made the superhero popular. Episodes like this highlight how Mystery Incorporated distinguishes itself by reusing old concepts from movies, television and especially old Hanna-Barbara cartoons and modernizing them to suit their history. It’s really impressive.
Admittedly, there are a lot of them Scooby Doo incarnations to choose from when you decide to see your favorite talking dog, some much more iconic than others. But if you want yours Scooby Doo view to be a little more engaging, honest and interesting Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated is definitely the cartoon for you. It has everything from a long-running serialized mystery to true romance, comedy and everything in between.
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