Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided the writer with a free copy of the DVD reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions shared are his own.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment releases the 31st direct-to-video movie in their Scooby-Doo franchise on October 6, 2020. The trailer claims this to be "Their First Halloween Mystery Movie", although that ignores the excellent Scooby-Doo! and the Goblin King and the lesser entertaining but Halloween-themed Scooby-Doo! and KISS: Rock n Roll Mystery. The animated movie arm of the franchise has settled into semi-anual release schedule and in the quickly changing landscape of Home Entertainment, I feel like I'm constantly assessing how their films fit into the current environment. Scooby-Doo has a continued following after fifty years of almost continuous airing as a TV show and in film and direct-to-video movies. The question is how do you keep creating fresh product that creates new fans as opposed to just appealing to fans in their 50s and 60s.
Halloween is a perfect holiday for Shaggy and Scooby. They are already pretty used to costumed monsters and you go door-to-door to get free candy. The plot draws heavily from more current superhero films and television shows with a light dose of Sleepy Hollow. The film plays out as almost two separate mysteries. The first mystery takes place in Crystal Cove during Elvira's Halloween of Horrors Parade. A haunted ghost scarecrow terrorizes the crowd by throwing red balls that explode. The scariest part of this was my fear of Warner Bros. getting a lawsuit from the Hobgoblin over at Marvel for character design and explosive balls. Velma reverse engineers the balls into drones that help capture the haunted scarecrow who happens to be just Scarecrow (aka Jonathan Crane) from the DC Universe on one of his frequent jaunts away from Arkham Asylum. Unfortunately, the ancillary damage of his hijinx is a completely destroyed Mystery Machine.
As the gang is celebrated for solving the mystery, Fred is distraught over the loss of his beloved van and there is some concern over a gas leak in the town. There is a toxic waste leak into the pumpkin patch in town and it causes one of the pumpkins to grow huge and develop a face and teeth, a Jackal-Lantern. Other pumpkins remain relatively pumpkin sized and they all start to attack Shaggy and Scooby. The gang receives a package from Bill Nye, The Science Guy that starts as a small package and pops out to Mystery Machine X. Daphne and Elvira are teamed up as Daphne wants to learn to be more like Elvira. Once everyone is in position, the action can commence. A reporter is abducted by the Jackal-Lanterns and once eaten, becomes a Jackal-Lantern herself. The group starts in three different vehicles being chased by Jackal-Lanterns, eventually condensing to a single vehicle chase. This action sequence serves as the equivalent of the musical chase scene in the original series.
The mystery is eventually solved with the assistance of Jonathan Crane. The solution revolves around a previous mystery, holograms, and lithium mines. Velma is the main force to solve all the key points in the plot. When all is said and done, the crew can enjoy Halloween finally and Bill Nye hologram helps the gang rebuild the original Mystery Machine.
The movie is good on many levels. When I consider the state of the franchise, the natural comparison is to the current success of the DC Animated Universe. This movie continues to close some of those ties as it has in previous crossovers with Batman. The gang has encountered the Scarecrow before although this is much more like a crossover to his current incarnation in the DCU. The tightening of this connection is important because much like Marvel has taken advantage of having a Universe that can contain Dr. Strange, Iron Man, Ant Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy, this could be a rich arm of the DCU that can be light-hearted and yet solve some of the more supernatural mysteries.
The movie plays well to older fans too. With references to the Three Stooges and Phyllis Diller, they reach back to the Scooby-Doo! movies of the early 1970s. The animation is some of the best in the series of Original Movies. There's a link to the previous Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island with both the animation style and the appearance of Elvira. That last few releases have been important to fans as they have closed up open stories from 13 Ghosts and Zombie Island. This movie closes some ongoing stories with the sheriff of Crystal Cove and with a strange mood that has been obvious for Velma.
The franchise is at a strong point right now for the dedicated fans. If you have watched previous movies and the Mystery Incorporated series, these last three films function as a trilogy. For fans that just want to drop in and see a decent mystery movie, this has a good balance of action and characters. The animation has some brilliant colors, espeically all the orange shades with the pumpkins. This isn't Joker and Scooby-Doo movies wouldn't really work in that genre for the animated movies. Until we get to our 2021 releases, this is a great place to leave the franchise.