Literally everyone knows Scooby-Doo. The mystery-solving Great Dane is as ubiquitous a pop culture character as Batman or Bugs Bunny, and, unlike the Looney Tunes, has remained relevant through various reboots and re-toolings over the years. And it’s been 50 years! For just about everyone reading this, Scooby-Doo and the gang have just
Though I definitely remember seeing reruns of
Hanna-Barbera had already created dozens of beloved cartoon series in the ’60s, from
And this brings me to the first sticking point. Every single episode of
This formula is particularly formulaic, and has since become the go-to reference about
In one season one episode, “A Gaggle of Galloping Ghosts,” the gang comes across a Gypsy woman outside Franken Castle and then run afoul of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and a werewolf. It turns out
The second season keeps pretty much everything introduced by the first, except the music, employing a completely new, more polished version of the opening song and credits sequence. (I have to admit I don’t like it as much as the first season song.)
Season two also sees the addition of a bubblegum poppy “chase song” in each of the episodes. This is where you get the now infamous shots of Scooby and the gang running in and out of doors or around a hedge maze chased by the episode’s phony monster. Again, to capitalize on the Archies’ hit “Sugar Sugar,” there’s a weird pop song in each episode. And these songs have
Things change up a little bit in the third season… which can’t really be called “the third season,” actually. The first season ran for 17 episodes from 1969 to 1970, with the second stretch of eight episodes airing that year. What this 50th anniversary set calls “season three” is alternately called
Anyway, back to the third season. Perhaps having learned from the way the previous incarnation worked, this set of episodes always features plenty of possible suspects, and the gang actually has to figure out who the perp is prior to the unmasking. They arent’ always right, but at least there’s a bit more of an actual whodunit element.
Take, for instance, the late series episode “The Diabolical Disc Demon,” in which a KISS reject called “the Phantom” haunts a record studio. That episode has a cold open in which the Phantom attacks a prominent songwriter. When the gang arrives to meet their friend, he tells them the songwriter has disappeared. Then there are five suspects to deal with thereafter.
So these are the nuts and bolts of the episodes. The next question is: how did they catch on? Why were they so popular? I think a big part of it is the safety of them. Hanna-Barbera had long mastered the ability to use the limited budgets of television to their advantage. The animation is limited, so the character designs and backgrounds had to be particularly engaging. The creepy settings of each of the episodes, full of Gothic and foreboding imagery, really bring the right tone for the mystery. Similarly, each and every one of the ghoulish foes are brilliantly realized and actually quite threatening. The scary atmosphere is pitch-perfect.
And at the same time, it never gets too scary, because of our main cast. Fred, Daphne, and Velma never get too scared of anything and usually think their way out of jams. There’s a calming influence with each of them. Shaggy and Scooby on the other hand are over-the-top cowardly and usually quickly come up with a uniquely cartoony method for getting free of the ghoul prior to its unmasking. The scares are never truly scary, because Scooby and Shaggy are silly. And there’s a laugh track, for Pete’s sake!
For generations of kids,
So 50 years down the line, I have to say that despite my scoff at
Just not Scrappy-Doo.