Can I be honest with you? Okay, I better be or else you’ve been reading the wrong website so of course I’m going to be honest. This may not be a popular thing to say but…I should hate A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. The questionable humor choices doubled down from The 13 Ghosts, the strange alterations to characters, especially Fred and Velma, and for some reason Casey Kasem and Don Messick (his final appearance as Scooby) are the only returning performers. This should be one of my least favorite versions.
While all that is true and what keeps this from being my favorite incarnation, I actually don’t hate it. If anything it gets right what the previous show did wrong. At this point the franchise had been off of Saturday morning TV for a few years, only appearing in a set of TV movies: Scooby-Doo Meets The Boo Brothers, another example of combining the real and fake supernatural before the direct-to-video-movies that I thought was okay, Scooby-Doo And The Ghoul School, which goes back to both the all chase years and 13 Ghosts and yet somehow is my favorite of the three films, and Scooby-Doo & The Reluctant Werewolf, an attempt to bring in a new character and Shaggy’s first on-screen girlfriend as they and the dogs deal with a group of racing monsters. ABC decided it was time to return the show to their Saturday morning lineup…but producer Tom Ruegger actually did more of what I didn’t like previously…and actually made it work by doing one thing The 13 Ghosts failed to do…actually make the comedy and tone match.
Where The 13 Of Scooby-Doo tried to match the spooky aspects with bad comedy, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo embraced the comedic aspects, changing the tone to match the comedy. Of course this continued a trend of making younger versions of the characters, which you can blame the Muppets for. In The Muppets Take Manhattan a dream sequence has Miss Piggy imagining what would happen if they all met as babies. Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Scooter, Rolf, Animal, and Gonzo were the ones chosen. (The first cartoon would add a sister named Skeeter for Scooter.)
Hanna-Barbera must have loved the idea because they did it three other times. In addition to this show you had Yo Yogi turning Yogi Bear and friends (the same ones that formed the “Yogi Yahooies” in Laff-A-Lympics) into teens who solve mysteries, which was the obsession of that version of Yogi. The Flintstone Kids not only did the same with the Flintstone characters but also introduced another trend of “famous character now has kids” that I think was started by Popeye And Son and would include characters like the Pink Panther in that trend. In this case it was Captain Caveman getting his own son…but as characters in a TV show Fred and company enjoyed. The one time I’ve seen this trend that didn’t mildly or heavily alter characters was Tom And Jerry Kids, which turned the cat and mouse into kids…and ALSO had a still adult Droopy get a son. It was a weird time that hasn’t ended as seen with Baby Looney Tunes and a remake of Muppet Babies, bringing the idea full circle. Then again, Disney did have that show with the characters from The Jungle Book as Jungle Cubs.
The intro shows why it worked for A Pup Named Scooby-Doo more than some of these other ones. The tone was changed to be more silly, kind of like the Looney Tunes and later Tiny Toon Adventures would look. (In fact you can see a lot of visual styling between Scooby-Pup and the Tiny Toons. Not surprising since Ruegger would go on to work on Tiny Toon Adventures and some of the other Steven Spielberg-produced Warner Brothers shows on Fox Kids and Kids WB.) This meant the comedy that felt out of place in The 13 Ghosts was easier to accept here. Meanwhile the show returned to the mystery formula, the most telling line being “you can help us solve the crime”. If you’ve read my reviews of the Scooby comics or been following this intro retrospective I have said that this what set Scooby’s shows apart and losing it was always a mistake. Sadly that mistake will show up again. The intro also shows the lighthearted nature of the show, so you know exactly what you’re getting with this intro, always a sign they cared about what used to be how you drew an audience to see your show before the days of on-demand binge watching marathons.
A few things from here became canon to the series. This is when chase music returned for the first time since CBS had the show, and has since been included in later versions. Daphne being rich started here, and would be ignored on and off throughout the franchise. If memory serves this is even the first time we learned Shaggy’s real name wasn’t Shaggy (which would be fine for a kids show) but “Norville”. Yeah, I’d adopt a nickname as my name too. I’m talking legally changing it. We finally got to see what Scooby Snacks look like close-up instead of those little cookie balls from the past. The town the gang live in finally gets a name, and I’ll take Coolsville over Crystal Cove anyday. Also, WE FINALLY MEET THEIR PARENTS! We’d seen Scooby’s before and even Scrappy’s but outside of uncles and grandparents we never met the kids’ actual parents until this show. However there were changes I didn’t care for.
Freddy being obsessed with mysteries I can handle. Fred being obsessed with traps is dumb but that’s not here yet. No, here he’s obsessed with conspiracy theories and urban legends and this just feels a bit too far. Arguably it’s worse for Velma, who only speaks when she finds a clue (which sometimes the show has to point out so you know it’s not just a gag) and is the one who always solves the mystery. That wasn’t the case before. The gang each had a part in the past, even Shaggy and Scooby. I think this is where the idea stuck when it came time for those live-action wastes of celluloid. Meanwhile nothing really changes for Shaggy and Scooby. Shaggy gets a little sister and that’s about it. Yet of all these “reworked into kids” shows this one actually fits into previous canon with only minor changes. These are the younger versions of the characters, we never see how Shaggy and Scooby met in prior versions, and you can see them growing out of these characters into the ones we know. Even the mysteries they solved, if you drew the wacky hijinks and fourth-wall breaking out of it, could have worked in those old CBS and early ABC versions.
That’s why in the end I do enjoy this version. It works on levels it shouldn’t and where it should work it does so competently. Maybe this is the reason fans remember it so fondly.
Well, next week is the last week of October and with another topic I want to cover before the week is out, next week (outside of the Chapter By Chapter) will be dedicated to finishing this series up until the next series pops up. So next week we leave the Hanna-Barbera years of Scooby-Doo and enter the Warner Brothers Animation years…with all the good and bad that came with it!