Sure it's fun...but don't you want the whole series in that spiffy new collector's tin? Warner Bros. has released Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? Volume 4 - Spooked Bayou, which gathers together the last four episodes of the very first season of the classic animated Saturday morning cartoon (all the way back to 1969!). Episodes included are Which Witch is Which?, Go Away Ghost Ship, Spooky Space Kook, and A Night of Fright is No Delight. I've never met anyone who didn't like some version or form of the Scooby-Doo franchise, and certainly, these original efforts provide a heavy dose of nostalgia for viewers who grew up on their endless reruns--along with can't-miss laughs for newcomers. But four episodes is a pretty skimpy line-up, especially when you can readily get the entire series on DVD, or just tune into Boomerang.
Do I really need to outline the series' premise? There's someone out there that doesn't know about Scooby-Doo? Well, the rules here at DVDTalk say I do have to give a brief synopsis, so here goes. Saturday morning in America, circa 1969. In what appears to be an old Chevy Sportvan labeled the "Mystery Machine," and painted in the very latest psychedelic colors, travels the teenaged Mystery, Inc. gang: blond, buff Fred Jones (voice talent of Frank Welker), dewy redhead Daphne Blake (voice talent of Indira Stefanianna Christopherson), nerdy Velma Dinkley (voice talent of Nicole Jaffe), beatnik (not hippie) Norville "Shaggy" Rogers (voice talent of Casey Kasem), and sway-backed, double-chinned, talking Great Dane, Scooby-Doo (voice talent of Don Messick). Roaming the back roads of America, the gang is perpetually sidetracked in their pursuit of healthy, normal, teenage activities (fishing trips, vacations, going to the movies, etc.), stumbling upon one mystery after another--every one of which involves some supernatural or extraterrestrial element such as marauding ghosts, evil witches, killer UFO robots, and swamp zombies. Through a combination of super-smart Velma's sleuthing, Freddie's bravery, Daphne's ability to look gorgeous at all times, and cowardly Scooby's and Shaggy's non-stop eating and whimpering, the creatures are always caught, and unmasked for what they really are....
I've written a few reviews for the later incarnations of the Scooby-Doo franchise here at DVDTalk, but this is my first time with the one that started it all. And quite frankly...what the hell am I supposed to say about it that hasn't already been written? That's always a problem with reviewers who have to cover classics and icons that have been beaten to death in the popular culture: a feeling of helplessness comes over them when they realize there's very little new ground to cover...particularly when the material is as slim as Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?. Now, don't get me wrong; "slim" isn't meant as a pejorative here. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? may be slight in terms of content and execution, but it's always light and fun and goofily charming, and it must have done something right to have outlasted so many of its contemporaries (when's the last time you saw The Archies on TV? Or a movie version of Magilla Gorilla?). And as far as coming back "clean" to a show I've watched probably hundreds or maybe even thousands of times (I was four when the series premiered, so you can bet I was prime fodder for all the endless reruns and re-packages), it's almost impossible, because of my advancing years and through the sheer grind of repetition, to get a sense of why it originally attracted me in the first place.
Fortunately, I always have a few kids running around here, so I grabbed an assortment of them to help watch this with me (the youngest ones I didn't have to ask; the older ones quickly found something else to do...). Unfortunately (and you would think I'd know this by now), watching them watch Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? didn't help a bit, really, to get my own mind around the show. After all: who knows what a little kid is really thinking when they're laughing at Scoob or hiding from a scary ghost? You can ask them later, but all you're going to get is, "It was funny," or "It was scary." Fat lot of good that does me. Anyways, they're not coming to the show "clean" the way I did as a kid. They've seen all of the original toons before, but jumbled up with the newer ones, as well as the straight-to-DVD movies, so Scooby-Doo is an entity to them that has no real beginning or end. He just is, and one Scooby adventure has the same weight as another, even if 40 years separates the creation of the two.
Which brings this review right back to square one: me and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?. I suppose I can list all the things that still amuse me about the show. The opening title sequence, set to that incessantly groovy tune sung by Larry Marks, still creates an addictive sense of fun and excitement to come, as the themes of suspense, comedy and supernatural elements are all prominently displayed. The clockwork set-ups never vary, which breeds not contempt but anticipation of more of the same (it works once, it works a hundred times). Shaggy and Scooby are still a funny team, with Scooby a natural kid surrogate (whiney and giggly and impish and silly); it's no wonder they've remained untouched in the franchise as Freddie, Daphne and Velma are retooled or even eliminated in later incarnations. And their gags, while childish and predictable, are at the same time child-like and reassuringly repetitive--a must for kids who want the same story told over and over again, or the same joke, or the same game played (you're telling me you don't laugh a little bit whenever Scooby giggles after getting the better of his faux-supernatural betters?). And I particularly like how this first incarnation of the franchise stays firmly rooted in William Castle territory, where spooks and ghosts are merely manifestations of venal, grasping humans and their crooked, petty schemes. That aspect always made these particular toons seem more "adult," somehow; after all, had the witches and zombies been real (as they've mistakenly made them for later Scoobys), that would have been too easy, too predictable, even for a kid.
As for this particular release, though...I'm not too sure what the point of it is. With only four short cartoons on it (and not much to speak of in extras), it's difficult to see the marketing reasons behind it. The entire original series can still be had from earlier DVD releases, as well as a new one coming out this Christmas season, complete with a collector tin in the shape of the "Mystery Machine" (sweet). Those would seem to be better choices than this small smattering of toons, particularly since you can see any and all of them every day on Boomerang or Cartoon Network. I suppose Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? Volume 4 - Spooked Bayou might be okay for a stocking stuffer (after all, it's we adults who get all hung up on having complete sets that are pristine; little kids don't care), but if I were a Scooby-Doo-loving child, I'd want all of them.
The full-screen, 1.33:1 video transfers for Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? Volume 4 - Spooked Bayou looks as good as they're going to look with this series, if you take into account the sometimes sloppy original animation process (lots of dirt and specks in the cells). Colors are bright, and the image is sharp.
Dolby Digital English, French, and Spanish mono tracks are available, and they're all adequate to the job, with decent recording levels and original hiss intact. English and French subtitles are available, and English close-captions, too.
Lightning Strikes Twice, an episode from the awful Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue! incarnation, has been included. Thanks, but no thanks. Trailers for You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Hot Wheels: Battle Force 5, and Scooby-Doo and the Samurai Sword.
It's great to see the ones that started it all...but, zoinks, only four of them? Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? Volume 4 - Spooked Bayou (I dislike the newish-looking cover art and the tacked on "Spooked Bayou") may be a good rental for kids not exposed to the series yet (are you keeping them under a rock?), or a stocking stuffer if you don't want to commit to the whole series (you cheapskate and very possibly bad parent), but I would think most parents and kids would want the whole series. Still...you know it's still funny, and I'm never going to give anything less than "Recommended" for the original Scoob.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.