The faux progressivism of “Scoob!”

The latest Scooby Doo movie, “Scoob!”, is an artificial neo-liberal take on the “pup named Scooby Doo” series. 

 “Scoob!” was meant to be the first entry into the Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe, whatever that is supposed to mean. In the early scenes, Shaggy (Will Forte) is a lonely kid, desperate for friendship. He finds it in a stray dog that he names Scooby (Frank Welker). On one Halloween, they run into Fred Jones (Zac Efron), Daphne Blake (Amanda Seyfried) and Velma Dinkley (Gina Rodriguez) and form the famous Mystery Incorporated detective crew. They age in a cliché montage and eventually Scooby and Shaggy run into some problems at a bowling alley, where the superhero crew led by Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg) saves them.

When they age, the animation takes a notable turn for the worse. The lines on the outside of the characters become more defined, and combined with the more realistic-looking adults, it creates an uneasy feeling — it’s not the “uncanny valley” but it has the same effect.

The animation gives off a faux feeling: it’s like something authentic but not quite. The politics of “Scoob!” function the same. 

Director Tony Cervone and his crew aren’t subtle about their surface-level progressivism. When the characters go trick-or-treating, they dress as their favorite superheroes. Velma’s hero of choice? Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the progressive supreme court justice. Later, Fred gets in a scuffle with Blue Falcon and another character comments on the “toxic masculinity.” These politics feel contrived by not influencing the movie or its characters in any meaningful way. Perhaps the liberalism is meant to placate Hollywood’s more liberal audience. 

One aspect of its politics feels authentic, though. As my hispanic wife noted, “Is Velma hispanic?” It’s hard to tell at first. She speaks Spanish once and is voiced by Gina Rodriguez, who is of Puerto Rican descent. She mostly takes a backseat to Scooby and Shaggy, but it’s a nice change of pace from the traditionally all-white cast. 

Despite the filmmakers’ intentional progressivism, “Scoob!” is geared towards the masculine, a symptom of contrived rather than authentic politics. 

Between directing, screenwriting and “story by” credits, seven men controlled the film — and it’s not terribly hard to tell. The movie fails the Bechdel test, which requires two women to talk to each other about something other than a male. A weird and difficult achievement since two of the main characters are women. 

The film’s immature masculinity also comes through in its jokes: a character named “Dick” shouts that “I am Dick!” repeatedly, Fred cares about his car as much as his friends, and most notably, there is a scene where Fred gets googly eyed for a female cop who turns out to be Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs), the antagonist, and the reveal is used for a punchline. This effectively codes the villain, Dick Dastardly, as gender bending. Queer coding villains, an age-old problem, disposes viewers to think of queer people and queerness as abnormal, especially in children’s movies — the crossdressing and the subsequent same-sex attraction joke in “Scoob!” do just this. 

“Scoob!”, whose theatrical release was canceled by the pandemic, is available for video on demand on most streaming services.