Posts Tagged ‘Scooby Doo’

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero and Related Scooby Doo Thoughts

Have you seen Meddling Kids, squiders? The cover on my copy is neon pink and green, with tentacles, so it’s rather striking. I picked up the book because I enjoyed Cantero’s first novel The Supernatural Enhancements (2014, which I probably picked up because it was a novel told in letters and interviews, and I seem drawn to those even though the quality seems to vary wildly) and also because the premise seemed relevant to my interests: what if, one time, it wasn’t just a guy in a mask?

(Also, Cantero is from Barcelona, so English is not his first language, but you’d never know it.)

Meddling Kids explores the aftermath of the Blyton Summer Detective Club’s last case. While they caught a guy in a monster suit, there were other things on that isolated island, things that have haunted the kids over the past 13 years. NPR had a story about the novel a week or so ago, and all the comments were essentially that it sounded like a rip-off of Stephen King’s IT, which, first of all, heaven forbid that you read a book that has a similar concept to another that you’ve read, and second of all, having read Stephen King (though not IT specifically) I can’t imagine the books are AT ALL similar, but eh, whatever.

Meddling Kids does a good job of bridging between the obvious inspiration and darker themes of Lovecraftian horror. The book never gets too dark or too horror-y, and manages to wrap in your classic monster chase scenes and ridiculous traps in a way that makes sense and feels realistic. And while the Blyton Summer Detective Club is constructed of four kids and a dog, each are their own characters created for this story rather than being direct analogies to Mystery, Inc. (Kerri, for example, is both the beauty and the brains.)

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, so if it sounds interesting to you, I’d recommend picking it up.

And speaking of Mystery, Inc. and Scooby Doo, I know I’ve talked previously about how, despite the many incarnations of the show, the characters tend to remain stereotypes, though the stereotypes vary from version to version. However, at long last, I have found some exceptions to this rule, and that’s the modern Scooby Doo movies.

These are direct-to-video episodes, about 75 minutes in length, that stick to the original versions of the characters (rather than some of the newer television shows such as Mystery Incorporated). Not sure why, whether it’s because they’ve got fifty years of character familiarity behind them or because there’s less riding on them and so they’ve got more creative freedom, but each one tends to work on an actual character arc for at least one character (though of course, whatever progress has been made doesn’t carry over to anything else).

Cartoon Network shows these episodes periodically, and a handful are available on streaming at any point in time. The offspring were big into Scooby-Doo! Legend of the Phantosaur for a bit (ghost dinosaurs, who can blame them?) which is where I noticed this, because they give Shaggy the opportunity to be brave throughout. The offspring are onto Scooby-Doo! Abracadabra-Doo now, which again focuses on giving Shaggy a reason to be brave, as well as Daphne working on not always being the damsel in distress.

I’m not saying that they’re all amazing or that they’re great at the characterizations across the board, but it’s like someone finally realized that if they added an internal character arc it made the story more interesting.

(The first of these movies is Scooby Doo on Zombie Island which came out when I was a kid, and has always been one of my favorite versions, because it shows the kids post-Mystery Inc. and also features a mystery where it’s not just a guy in a mask. The offspring won’t watch it with me when it comes up on rotation because it’s “too scary.” Alas.)

Anyway! Read Meddling Kids or The Supernatural Enhancements, squiders? Let’s talk about them! Or let’s talk about Scooby Doo, because apparently I’m always up for that too.

Bad Characterization at Work: Scooby Doo

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about Avatar: the Last Airbender and its excellent treatment of its characters. The larger, mobile one is now back on Scooby Doo, which was a favorite of his about two years ago, so much so that he dressed up as Scooby for Halloween.

Steal this image and I will hunt you down.

(Cherish that picture. You will probably never get another.)

(Also, this was actually the third Halloween my husband and I spent as Shaggy and Daphne. Before we had offspring he had a stuffed Scooby that he used to wear on his shoulder like a pirate’s parrot.)

(Crazy things happen when dressed up as Shaggy and Daphne. The stories I could tell.)

(Also, my husband kind of looks like Shaggy in general, so much so that when we went to Universal Studios Hollywood for our first anniversary, the Shaggy and Scooby went right for him when they came out.)

(Anyway.)

Now, there are a million versions of Scooby Doo, and I realize that some versions treat character better than others, but in general, Scooby Doo is an exercise in stereotypes. And, funnily, the stereotypes vary from version to version, but pretty much all of them are unflattering to all involved.

Let’s go over them all in general terms shall we:

Fred: Fred is often portrayed as a dumb jock or as an airhead.
Daphne: Daphne is a pretty girl concerned mostly with shoes and clothes (and boys, in some versions).
Velma: Often the only one of the group with any brains, but also often portrayed as not attractive. Apparently completely blind without her glasses.
Shaggy: Dumb stoner obsessed with food.
Scooby: Scooby actually suffers from stereotypes less than the others. Is it because he’s the “lead” character? Because he’s a dog? A lot of times he gets stuffed into the same categories as Shaggy, but even then he tends to be more observant and occasionally find clues.

We’re not touching anyone else, because that’s madness.

And yet, the show has hung on for almost fifty years.

Now, of course, some of this is format. Scooby Doo, in most of its iterations, is episodic, and there’s only so much characterization you can stuff into a 20-minute episode. And, with such a large cast for such a short time slot, it makes sense to use stereotypes as people can readily identify them in the cultural norm.

Part of it may be the longevity of the characters at this point. If you did a new series and tried to give the characters arcs, would people accept that? The series that our library has, Mystery Incorporated, which ran from 2010 to 2013, tries to some extent, and, really, it’s all bad. That’s the choices they made, not necessarily an argument against giving the gang some characterization in general. (Like, do we really need to pair Velma and Shaggy up? And also we switch Velma’s normal stereotype for naggy girlfriend which is the worst.)

Would you agree with me that the characterization in the Scooby Doo shows is bad? Any thoughts on why or why not? Who’s your favorite member of the gang? (Mine’s Velma in most cases but Shaggy in some versions.)

Reinventing Beloved Characters

There are beloved characters in our culture, characters that everyone knows about, even if they haven’t seen or read the originating material. And they get used in phrases or idioms, or you can use them for comparison or descriptions, and everyone knows what you mean.

Beloved characters seem to fall into two categories:
1) Characters who are sacred
2) Characters who are reinvented over and over

And it seems, as time goes on, that they all tend to eventually fall into category 2. The longer a character exists, the longer they’re popular, the more likely they are to be re-used, re-invented, re-imagined, until eventually there’s hundreds of versions and yet they all seem to somehow be the same person.

Doctor Who may be the most obvious version of this–as the Doctor is literally re-invented every few years, taken on by a new actor, written and played slightly different. But it’s every incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, Peter Pan, King Arthur. Every time someone retells Oz a little differently. Every time someone takes a fairy tale and spins a new thread through.

And it can be seen in newer characters as well. Admittedly what made me think of this is that the small, mobile one and I rented some of the newest Scooby Doo series from the library. Now, Scooby and the gang are pretty old for cartoons, but in the great cultural timeline, they’re pretty new.

And how many versions of Scooby Doo has there been? There’s been different animated series on since it premiered in the ’60s. There’s live-action versions, puppet version, and the prerequisite version where everyone is kids. And the characters get tweaked. Shaggy’s intelligence level (I think he’s slowly gotten more useful as time has gone on), whether Fred and Daphne are dating, Velma’s level of nerdiness, Daphne’s level of stuck-upness, Fred’s level of stupid-jockness. Some combinations work better than others.

(I am not a fan of Velma in this newest series, which is lame because normally Velma is awesome.)

But through it all, the essence of the characters remain the same. Daphne is Daphne is Daphne. Shaggy will be eternally hungry. Velma will say “Jinkies!”

And that’s what’s important in a reinvention. Each character has something that makes them them, and as long as you retain that, you can move that character through time periods, alternate realities, and genres. Robert Downey Jr., Basil Rathbone, and Benedict Cumberbatch are all wildly different Sherlock Holmes, but, at the same time, there is something about them that is Sherlock.

And, as long as that essence can be retained, I say go for it. These characters resonate through our culture for a reason, after all.

What do you think, Squiders? Are you a purist, or do you like it when characters get a new story, a new plot? What are you favorites?

(Also, what is your favorite version of Scooby Doo?)