Tuesday, June 15, 2010

THE 13 GHOSTS OF SCOOBY DOO

The Scooby Doo television cartoon franchise has been chugging along for over 40 years now, and the formula – although constantly adjusted and tweaked – has remained essentially unchanged. A group of teenagers – handsome Fred, pretty Daphne, brainy Velma, and (let’s be charitable) slacker Shaggy – and their comic Great Dane (or various permutations of same), investigate reports of supernatural activity, and after twenty-five minutes or so of mild slapstick comedy and running gags, they solve the “mystery of the week.”

In the original incarnation of the show, the apparently supernatural menaces were all revealed to have mundane, real-world explanations (usually real estate fraud), but over the decades, the gang has encountered more than a few legitimately paranormal situations, too.

In 1985‘s THE 13 GHOSTS OF SCOOBY DOO, Daphne, Shaggy, Scooby and Scrappy Doo – joined by the indeterminately ethnic preteen con artist named Flim Flam – are on a worldwide hunt to track down the titular specters and return them to a magic chest. Of course, it was Shaggy and Scooby that released the ill-tempered spirits in the first place. They are aided in their quest by warlock Vincent VanGhoul (modeled after and voiced by the great Vincent Price, THE PIT & THE PENDULUM, THEATER OF BLOOD), who uses his magic to track down the errant revenants, and a crystal ball to communicate with the ghost-hunters.

The animation is generally better-than-average for Saturday morning cartoons of the era, although it’s wildly inconsistent. For some reason, Daphne has been drastically de-sexualized, and is often drawn horribly off-model. Flim Flam’s race is unclear (“brown?”), and although he’s supposed to be a child, his proportions are frequently dwarfish. The writing is equally erratic, with some episodes demonstrating moments of irreverent wit (poking direct fun at network censors, spoofing classic 30s horror films), while others exhibit extraordinarily lazy plotting and cliché writing of the worst kind. I know it’s “just” a kid’s cartoon, but even children appreciate a little consistency and quality in their entertainment.

For me, the interest was in Vincent Price’s prominent participation in the series, and from the evidence on-screen, he certainly seemed to be having fun, spoofing his screen persona with obvious relish.

Never before on home video in complete form (as far as I can tell), Warner Brothers has brought the 13-episode series to DVD in fine shape. The full-frame transfers are bright and clean, with virtually no dirt or print damage evident. The audio is a perfectly adequate Dolby digital mono. Disc one contains a bonus episode from the much more recent and dramatically reimagined take on the characters, SCOOBY & SHAGGY GET A CLUE, and disc 2 includes a trailer for a new Scooby videogame.

If you –or a kid you know – are a Scooby Doo fan, and just can’t get enough of the cowering canine and his mystery-solving companions, 13 GHOSTS should make a good addition to your collection. The DVDs look just great.

BUY: The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo: The Complete Series