Scooby-Doo! and the Curse of the 13th Ghost is the 32nd direct-to-video release of the series. Just let that sink in a second. A show that has been around since 1969 has had 13 different series and since 1998, there have been 32 direct-to-video movies. For a series that is celebrating 50 years, it's amazing how vibrant and up-to-date it can feel after feeling so dated and out of touch just a few releases earlier. I've been reviewing the different series and movies off and on for the past 12 years. This newest release is an interesting finale to the The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo! - a Saturday morning show from 1985 that only lasted through the capture of twelve ghosts. Scooby-Doo! and the Curse of the 13th Ghost is being released on DVD by Warner Bros.
The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo! was the end of what I consider the original run of the characters. The show ran on Saturday mornings almost consistently from 1968 until this show ended in 1985. There would be a show of the characters as "babies" briefly but it would be until 2002 before the show returned to television and continued on direct-to-video starting in 1998 with the release of Zombie Island. The continuity of the series has been loose at best. Each reincarnation and film sort of set up their own rules of where the gang is at in their level of experience with ghosts. Unless it serves the plot, there is rarely a memory of previous cases. So it's interesting that one of the first series The 13 Ghosts that was built upon continuity was cancelled early and that 34 years later they pick up the plot where it left off to bring viewers some closure.
Mystery Inc. has shut down their business after capturing the wrong man in a case. They are quickly back to work with the return of their warlock friend, Vincent Van Ghoul. Now the group has to address the past mystery where they captured twelve of thirteen ghosts. The group must track down the final ghost that is out there wreaking havoc in the world. The original series didn't include our usual cast. Fred and Velma weren't in the series but there was a new character, Flim-Flam and Scrappy. The full cast is reunited here, minus Scrappy, and Flim-Flam has grown up.
I love the flexibility that the long history of this show gives the writers. They can crossover with Batman, KISS, and famous chefs with equal aplomb. So revisiting a series that was fully apart of the Eighties culture and having it appeal to modern viewers is a challenge. Does it work? Yes. Mostly. The story ends up being in large part a journey for Fred who wasn't even in the original series. The story is that Fred was off at Trap Camp while these adventures were happening. The big difference with this series when it first came out was that instead of people in costumes, this series featured "real ghosts". The series has been torn between the tradition of bad guys in costumes and dealing with the paranormal over the past decade but this was new at the time.
All of the tropes you came to love in the original series are still here. There are hungry Shaggy and Scooby, crazy traps, and wacky chases. I'm on the fence about how they treat Scrappy in modern continuity. At the time of the series, he was very important to the storylines. Here, he's given only a very unkind joke reference. I don't love him but he's the elephant in the room for older fans. He is a part of the series and he is in need of a rebrand the way that Velma and Daphne have grown in importance and intelligence with each new release.
The movie does a better job at rewarding longtime viewers than most of the direct-to-video releases. There are references and flashbacks to the original series (always without Scrappy) in order to keep new viewers up to speed. There are a number of "trophies" from other TV episodes and movies including the Abominable Snowman mask from one of my favorites, Chill Out, Scooby-Doo!. Props to Maurice LaMarche for his absolute dead on impersonation of Vincent Price's voice as Vincent Van Ghoul. The comedy-relief ghosts, Weerd and Bogel from the original series, are left out of this and never mentioned and never missed. If you need reminders - the bonus episodes on the disc are "To All The Ghouls I've Loved Before" and "Horror-Scope Scoob" both from The 13 Ghosts series.
For longtime fans, this is the type of closure that we love. It's a nice balance of nostalgia and moving the older stories into current times. That's always been something I love about the show is the ability to bend to different types of stories. This isn't groundbreaking story or animation but it's the comfort of hanging out with old Saturday morning friends again. Thanks, Mystery Inc.