I was too young to remember this, but my parents have told me many times that when I was my son’s age I was a big fan of Scooby-Doo. Just the other day my mom told me about how I sat and watched rerun after rerun while movers loaded up our family’s things for a move. I was only shaken from my reverie when they loaded my baby sister’s bassinet, I guess because I wanted to make sure they didn’t take EVERYTHING important out of the house.
Anyway, at some point in my youth I revisited some episodes of Scooby-Doo on Cartoon Network and found them a little…how do I say this delicately? I found them a little crappy. The reasons have been done to death: every episode is the same, the cheap animation, the terrible laugh track. I understand that there’s a lot of nostalgia there, but lets not kid ourselves okay? It was a cheap cartoon, done cheaply because it was assumed kids wouldn’t care, and Hanna-Barbara were laughing all the way to the bank. (I do think more cartoons could stand to meet the Harlem Globetrotters, however.)
One of the strange things about parenting these days is that most of the terrible cartoons of my youth have been brought back in surprisingly competent formats. Everyone knows how My Little Pony is arguably bigger now than at any point in history, but there’s also a new (to me) Care Bears cartoon on Netflix. Not that there’s ever going to be a lot of oomph to anything with the Care Bears, but it actually feels like the animators are committed to having some quality, or at least something beyond just the commercial that it is. Scooby-Doo was also brought back in 2010, in the form of a show called “Mystery Incorporated.” It’s on Netflix, and my son has taken a shine to it.
Here’s the surprise for me. It’s not just competent. It’s actually pretty darn good. The characters all are recognizable from their original forms, but they’ve been given some more specificity and nuance. The stories are a lot more atmospheric and creepy, even if it’s still always just a guy in a mask. And most impressive of all, it’s actually pretty funny. Freddie, voiced as always by Frank Welker, is obsessed with traps, which he uses to capture the bad guys. It’s not something I would have expected you could build a character around, but to the show’s credit they commit to it. He’s subscribed to magazines about traps, and he continually is blind to Daphne’s affections because he just can’t stop thinking about traps. The gang even gets to build some regular supporting characters, since the stories are all set in the same town.
And watching it with The Big One, who always enjoys light goofy stories with monsters, I realize that the core concept of the original show was actually pretty solid. The original execution might have been cheap and lazy, but Mystery Incorporated shows that done well it’s a pretty great idea. And I probably shouldn’t be too hard on the animation, since the characters all pass the Groening test of being recognizable in silhouette.
So it’s been another one of those pleasures of being a parent. You sometimes get to discover something new that your kid likes, and sometimes your kid discovers something that you assumed was best left in your childhood. It’s always gratifying to know that little Nate didn’t have completely poor taste.