I had known Scooby-Doo cartoons my whole life. They had always just been that Saturday morning staple and I never missed an episode. For me, the main incarnation was the umbrella of The Scooby-Doo Show from 1976 – 1978. It contained repeats of the Scooby-Doo: Where Are You? and new cartoons including the hilarious Scooby-Dum. It was paired with Dynomutt and the Blue Falcon for a time and then as part of the Laff-A Lympics. Then in the Fall of 1979, as I was eleven and about to turn twelve, my show changed pretty drastically. This was the Fall that Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo debuted on ABC.
This season of Saturday-morning cartoons marked the beginning of the end of my cartoon watching on Saturday mornings. It would last into the mid-’80s but it would never be the same as it was in the ’70s. The change in my core cartoons made it clear that a pre-teen wasn’t the core audience. Fred and Barney weren’t The Flintstones anymore, they had a Shmoo now. It wasn’t just Popeye – he had brought along four nephews and Eugene the Jeep. Even Godzilla wasn’t a villain anymore and he had a cute cousin named Godzuki. But the most painful of all was that my Scooby-Doo had a nephew with a catchphrase, Scrappy-Doo.
I watched them out of duty during that season. I fought it the whole way. And I just quit Scooby-Doo until I would find him again when I had my own children in the late 1990s. The series ran 16 episodes and featured mainly Scooby, Scrappy, and Shaggy as the main crime-solvers. Fred, Velma, and Daphne were moved to mere co-starring roles. I think that was a panic move because of ratings drops that just didn’t understand the appeal of the series in the first place. It was a mystery show. It was not a funny-dog show. Ultimately, it was monsters and mysteries that kept the show entertaining. Warner Bros has released the Scooby-Doo! and Scrappy-Doo! Complete Season 1 on DVD finally and I thought it was time to give it a fair shake.
Let’s start with the good. “Shiver and Shake, That Demon’s a Snake” (Ep. 5) – Taking place in the Florida Keys with elements of voodoo and possession in Haiti and New Orleans. Daphne buys a haunted idol. It’s the plot point for many of their mysteries but this one feels like a classic. “Rocky Mountain Yiiii!” (Ep. 13) – I found this ski-lodge haunting to have the perfect balance of Scrappy to classic story. The gang is at a ski lodge haunted by the ghost of Jeremiah Pratt. Scrappy provides comic relief without really getting in the way of solving the mystery. While the dogs and Shaggy are busy having ski adventures, it’s mostly Velma and Daphne who do the leg work and solve the mystery.
But these are too few between a mess of wrong-thinking episodes. There are painful movie parodies that just aren’t well thought out – “Twenty Thousand Screams Under the Sea” (Ep. 9) and “Strange Encounters of a Scooby Kind” (Ep. 3). The main place they go wrong is when they just try to feature Scooby and Scrappy doing crazy things. It’s bad enough when it’s just pandering to current trends like “The Neon Phantom of the Roller Disco” (Ep. 4), but there are just painful episodes aimed at much younger children than are usually drawn to the show. “The Demon of the Dugout” (Ep. 7) takes place during a baseball game in Japan. I fear this was influenced by the Bad News Bears visiting Japan, but this ends even more painfully. The episode includes Shaggy and Scooby dressed as baseball players, out-of-control fireworks, and Scrappy firing baseballs at the Dragon Beast. It also includes at least 15 potentially offensive stereotypes about the Japanese within a short running time.
The verdict? I’m going to be kind. It has its place in the Scooby-Doo! history, a history that seems to flow from high to low and then back to high again. The series would devolve further with the jettison of the supporting cast and just getting down to Shaggy, Scooby, and Scrappy and them teaming up on Saturday mornings with Richie Rich. So, in retrospect these episodes still stick pretty close to the formula I loved. And it would take them down a bad “puppy power” path until they returned strong with the series of Cartoon Network films.
The DVD doesn’t contain any extras beyond the episodes of this initial season. I can see where this didn’t appeal to the almost teenager in me that was enjoying Jason of Star Command and Shazam! The addition of the puppy was like the adding of a baby to a show that’s faltering. It rarely works. But in this case it bought the franchise a few more years on the air. So behold “Puppy Power” does work.