Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided our writer with a free copy of the Blu-ray reviewed in this post. The opinions shared are his own.
As your resident Scooby-Doo specialist, I've been excited to see what Warner Bros has in store for the 50th Anniversary of this franchise. As I've noted in the past couple reviews, the franchise is at a near all-time low in creativity and level of commitment by WB. So will there be a push to celebrate a character that doesn't have the same appeal to the current crop of young viewers? The first batch of releases include a long sought after collection of The New Scooby-Doo Movies. I will address the "(Almost)" of the title and be done with it. The missing episode (we get 23 of the 24) is the "Scooby-Doo Meets the Addams Family" episode which is known in most circles as "Wednesday Is Missing". It's arguably the best of this series because of the natural crossover but rights demands were supposedly too much to make this a viable addition to the release. I am disappointed but it doesn't detract from the other episodes here that weren't previously available.
The Blu-ray release of The New Scooby-Doo Movies: The (Almost) Complete Collection is a two-disc collection of what was the second Scooby-Doo series. The first series, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, had ended after two seasons in 1970. This series started up on Saturday mornings on CBS in 1972 and ran into the next season in 1973, Unlike the original series, this one had hour-long episodes. After this version, the series would migrate to ABC two years later for a three-year run of shows under the generic title of The Scooby-Doo Show on Saturday mornings, which is where I fondly grew to know and love the series in a pre-Scrappy-Doo era. The 23 episodes here represent their first grouping together as many were not granted rights in the previous releases. For those who previously bought the 2005 DVD release The Best of The New Scooby-Doo Movies, which contained 15 episodes, there is The Best of The New Scooby-Doo Movies: The Lost Episodes on DVD, which contains eight episodes and will create an (almost) complete collection.
What to expect: the mysteries all revolve around a fictional character guest star - either a Hanna-Barbera character or real-life star that might later be added to the animated Hanna-Barbera Universe. The hourlong format gives time to hit all the expected highlights of a Scooby mystery along with incorporating the specific talents of the guest star. The voice of Velma (Nicole Jaffe) from the original series is here one last time. It's funny how ingrained a voice is to a character and after 46 years of not being the voice of Velma, it's still what I hear in my head when I think of the character. There's the ever-present Hanna-Barbera laugh track. They couldn't help themselves in that era to make a show without one, especially cartoons, but the "movie" format would seem to call for less liberal use of the laughter.
Here are a few of the highlights:
Ep.1 - "Ghastly Ghost Town" (with Special Guests The Three Stooges). Our gang crashes into a sand dune and ends up discovering that the Three Stooges (Larry, Moe, and Curly Joe) are running an amusement park in a ghost town. A haunted amusement park in a haunted ghost town. All of the best elements of a Scooby-Doo mystery are in play here as we can have chases through both am Old West saloon and a house of mirrors. Oh, did I mention a mechanical dinosaur too? This episode gets the series off to a fast start. Although the writers seem unsure how to work in the guest stars as the Three Stooges are sent off into the mine for a length of time and out of their element which is when they are having to work together like a construction project. The Three Stooges will be back later this season in "The Ghost of the Red Baron," a far inferior episode with Curly Joe as a "competent" pilot and a convoluted plot.
Ep.2 - "The Dynamic Scooby-Doo Affair" (with Special Guests Batman and Robin). This was the episode that seemed to air the most often when it was in syndication. It's also probably my favorite of the series. It's essentially three separate mysteries all under the umbrella of the gang crossing over with Batman and Robin in Gotham. It was certainly an introductory link for the children of that era to make sure they were going to watch all the Superfriends cartoons too. There's a mysterious airplane crash where we can discuss the problems of illegal immigration, a smuggling mystery of counterfeit money (in which we learn that Abraham Lincoln didn't typically wear a turtleneck), and a disappearing house. The disappearing house leads them back to Batman and Robin in the Batcave and we end up at an amusement park to solve a crime committed by the Joker and the Penguin. An amusement park! Once again the default pitch of an amusement park lends itself to comfortable and repeated jokes. This is a super fun episode although upon watching it again, I find it interesting that Shaggy was often a step ahead of the Dynamic Duo in finding the clues.
Ep.14 - "The Caped Crusader Caper" (with Special Guests Batman and Robin). The Joker and the Penguin are back again along with the Dynamic Duo. The plot revolves around the theft of Prof. Flakey's flying suit. I love the name Flakey. The plot here is much more simple than the last appearance of Batman and Robin. In fact, as this season goes along, there seems to be a simplifying of the plots and more reliance on the guest stars to drive the plot. Scooby and Shaggy end up doing most of the work at the Gotham Rubber plant to capture the Joker and Penguin and Batman and Robin swoop in to save the day at the very end. It's not as good as the previous episode with these two but having a duo that is used to solving mysteries team up with our group makes the most sense.
Ep.15 - "The Loch Ness Mess" (with Special Guests The Harlem Globetrotters). The Globetrotters were a global phenomenom in the Seventies. They would have animated and live-action Saturday morning shows during the decade. They were in full promotional mode for Hanna-Barbera. This is the second of three appearances by the group in this show. Batman and Robin had two appearances. Don Knotts had two mysteries with the group. The Globetrotters represented by Curly Neal, Meadowlark Lemon, Geese Ausbie, and Gip Gipson among others. This is the same group that would battle against robots on Gilligan's Island. The plot of this is simple with bad guys trying to keep people away from the lake that contains a sunken ship with treasure by using a Loch Ness Monster. It's a plot that's been done about three or four other times in the short history of the show. But pepper it with antics of a hilarious basketball team and somehow it's more entertaining. The plot is really secondary as is our Gang. The three episodes with the Globetrotters show just what I think Hanna-Barbera wanted to accomplish with the concept of the Scooby-Doo Movies.
The discs come with some solid extra features. There's "The Hanna-Barbera Kennel Club Roasts Scooby-Doo" that falls a little flat. The "Uptown with Scooby-Doo and the Harlem Globetrotters" is a funny short piece. "Girls Rock!" is a great piece on Daphne and Velma.
The guest stars on the episodes may not hold the same cache as they did to a child in the Seventies. These were beloved characters in my childhood and I'm still tickled to see Don Knotts and Tim Conway and Jonathan Winters as Maude Fricket. I'm happy to report that they hold up well as a period piece and they are entertaining as a solid entry in the franchise. The longer format is hit and miss. I mostly remember them as they were syndicated as two half-hour episodes. They are much better unedited. Let's hope that as the 50th Anniversary year continues we see more restoration of complete and (almost) complete collections.