“Scoob!” may be a computer-animated modern reboot of the Hanna-Barbera classic series, but the sleuth squad of childhood legend is nowhere to be found. “Scoob!” has a frightening case of impostor syndrome. The goofy ’70s sound effects are here, the singular exclamations like “zoinks” and “jinkies” are present, but other than Frank Welker’s befuddled “ruff” dog accent as Scooby-Doo himself, everything else is as unbelievable as the existence of real monsters. If director Tony Cervone and four writers (Adam Sztykiel, Matt Lieberman, Derek Elliot, and Jack Donaldson) think this counts as an origin story — now revealed to be a marketing ploy that’s resolved before the familiar intro sequence even begins — then they might need to reevaluate that pop culture definition.
Like all promising stories before disaster strikes, things initially appear to be just fine. A young Shaggy (Iain Armitage) rocks out to some throwback ’90s beats while grabbing lunch at Venice Beach. His loner status is the only dark cloud hovering over this hot Los Angeles day. That is, until a stray Great Dane introduces himself with stolen gyro meat to share. The two instantly bond over their food obsession, and Shaggy has finally made his first friend. The two add more to their coterie on Halloween night when they bump into three plucky teens: Fred (Pierce Gagnon), Daphne (Mckenna Grace), and Velma (Ariana Greenblatt). Somehow the plot forgets it established Shaggy as someone who has an impossible time making human connections. Apparently with Scooby-Doo in tow, authentic characterization can take a backseat to shenanigans.
It doesn’t take long for the group to stumble into a creepy house and uncover a room filled with stolen electronic merchandise. Cue the arrest of a faux garish ghoul, and Mystery Inc. is formed. Let me be frank, Fred, this is the one and only instance of these darn kids meddling in the criminal affairs of a disguised villain. Audiences don’t even get so much as a backstory behind the Mystery Machine’s acquisition — even “Solo: A Star Wars Story” haters can’t argue that the Millennium Falcon’s origin tale wasn’t covered. Instead of sticking with further success stories of the gang’s budding detective enterprise — like 1988’s “A Pup Named Scooby-Doo” — the narrative rushes straight into early adulthood.
Events go from bizarre to moronic once the kids are all grown up. Following the most random celebrity cameo in recent cinematic memory, the adventure veers into the super-heroic and dastardly devious. At a certain point, the writing team figured the Scooby-Doo brand needed a complete genre overhaul, leaving behind their signature spooky mysteries for “Despicable Me”-esque conflicts. Gadgets and gizmos certainly come aplenty, as does the appearance of Shaggy (Will Forte) and Scoob’s favorite hero growing up, Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg in rare peppy form).
Among Falcon’s colleagues are past Hanna-Barbera characters who shall remain nameless to keep the surprise intact, voiced by Kiersey Clemons and Ken Jeong. Jeong’s role in particular merits its own spin-off, but the whole affair with heroes and mechanized warfare is as misplaced in “Scooby-Doo” as aliens were for Harrison Ford in “Indiana Jones and Crystal Skull.” Even the antagonist (another surprise blast from the Hanna-Barbera past, played by Jason Isaacs) is so mustache-twirling on the nose that he belongs more comfortably in something like “Rocky and Bullwinkle” than aggravating Mystery Inc.
The chemistry that stitches the gang together feels forced, intact only for the sake of retro revivalism. While the narrative reveals itself to be more personal for the titular canine, there’s really no antidote for the onslaught of arbitrary wackiness. Entertaining kids doesn’t mean the conflict has to be trivial or the ensuing action oversimplified. The core five themselves are more hollow than ever, especially Daphne (Amanda Seyfried), who once took on a leadership position in 1985’s “The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo.”In “Scoob!”, she offers no major contribution to the team other than nostalgic presence. It’s nice to see Velma (Gina Rodriguez) written as a woman of Latina descent, but other than some Spanglish dialogue, there’s no real prideful acknowledgement of this progressive change. Zac Efron’s Fred is a suavely-dressed meathead with a wandering eye but offers little else to his pigeon-holed personality.
Scooby and Shaggy are the real dorky duo of fandom allure. Their friendship is tested in “Scoob!,” making some emotional moments stick more than others. However, their superglue bond adversely affects their ties with the rest of the band. If a “Scooby-Doo” iteration cannot even convince viewers of the team’s tightness, the real mystery is how it got the greenlight in the first place.