Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television, and games.
"What's your favorite Scooby-Doo movie?"
It could be either an easy or difficult question to answer since the franchise has lived through television movies, direct-to-video films, and theatrical films.
The most common answer would be the first four direct-to-video films (Zombie Island to Cyber Chase) for their focus on the gang solving mysteries involving real supernatural creatures.
However, during Hanna-Barbera's Superstar 10 television movie series, there was one Scooby-Doo film that many have fond memories of growing up watching and became a cult classic over time among many fans. That movie was Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School.
Previously, Scooby-Doo Meets The Boo Brothers continued the franchise’s experimental take on the characters encountering real ghosts. While not a bad nor great film, it was still a tolerable experience with a clever mystery and nice visuals, but confusing with the abundance of characters and lack of focus. With Ghoul School, they took some assets from its predecessor and improved them for an unforgettable adventure.
Scooby, Shaggy, and Scrappy (voiced by Don Messick and Casey Kasem) are hired as gym teachers for a girls' finishing school, which is actually a school for girl ghouls.
A Child-Friendly Monster Mash with Future Potential
The set-up is established as last time where it's just Scooby, Shaggy and Scrappy alone with no sight of Fred, Velma, and Daphne. Once the main trio sets foot into the school, this is where the concept's execution begins to blossom.
Some animation fans might argue this is one of the first cartoons where monster children attend school. Continuing the light-hearted tone, this movie gives a welcoming and intriguing feel to the idea alone. With the students themselves being the daughters of the classic Universal Monsters, it felt like Hanna-Barbera paid a cute tribute to the Universal Monsters films during the 1930s and 1940s. In fact, in the end, there were cameos of new students that range from Creature of the Black Lagoon to even Godzilla. For a deeper analysis, the movie also gives a subtle message about prejudice where just someone looks scary doesn't automatically mean that they are. Given the girls a younger age, it helps benefit the message thanks to their polite and innocent nature. In comparison to Boo Brothers, this idea takes a full supernatural and adventurous direction and takes a break from the franchise's formula. Granted, the problem-solving component is still present during the third act when the villain captures the girls and provides clues for Scooby and the gang to save them. For the rest of the film, there is genuine character development when the main characters gradually bond with the students and help them in whatever trouble they're in.
If you took Scooby-Doo out of the equation, the idea involving the Grimwood girls on their own would actually had the potential to be an original spin-off series with endless possibilities. With all the forced spin-offs and crossovers Hanna-Barbera has made over the years, this felt like a missed opportunity.
One element that would be considered a "double-edged sword" is the use of humor. Unlike Boo Brothers, the movie relies more on puns than slapstick. Knowing that this is a movie aimed at young children, there is nothing wrong with having a little wordplay to give some laughs. For the movie's case, it sometimes becomes a little too much whenever a character makes a pun involving either bats or fire. Then again, they are overall harmless in their own right and there are occasionally some chuckle-worthy moments. Nonetheless, you will be invested and charmed by this ingenious story.
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Ghoulish Visuals Galore
Out of all the Scooby-Doo movies in this decade, Ghoul School is the most visually creative. After being familiar with the faithful designs of the main characters and the limited animation, we turn our attention to the character designs and the environments around them.
The Grimwood students are designed to have an appealing and wholesome image to coincide with the upbeat nature along with some imaginative spooky-looking creatures. Miss Grimwood's Finishing School for Ghouls has a variety of ghostly yet interesting features. You will be waiting at the door under a moat with a two-headed shark. Once you are inside, you would be offered some refreshments like "fungus fudge" or "toadstool tea". For some exercise, you would either take ballet in the upper room or play volleyball outside with a spider-web net. The Calloway Military School is more down-to-earth and grounded with nifty technology, such as a remote-controlled volleyball or a wind-up bugle call toy. Barren Bog is a bleak swamp full of quicksand and alligators worth avoiding. DO NOT visit Revolta's castle. Her residence is full of traps and monsters ready to kill. One minute you'll be chased by an evil reflection on yourself. The next thing you know, you would watch out for spider-bat hybrids or a monstrous water beast known as a Well Dweller. With those descriptions said, it is clear that the animators have spent a lot of fun and put a lot more effort into what they could offer previously. Not to mention, a good amount of shadows and lighting to give that haunting atmosphere. The only setback, outside being a movie being made for television, is the occasional animation errors. Despite being a television film, the animation is executed effectively.
The Grimwood Girls: Top Class Characters
If there's anything that fans would remember from this movie are its characters. Starting with Scooby-Doo and Shaggy, they are still the fraidy, comedic, and hungry duo as fans would expect. In this movie, they are the gym teachers that were initially afraid of the girls upon arrival. Once they train the girls for their volleyball game, Scooby and Shaggy became more humble towards them and willing to protect them no matter what. Scrappy-Doo is still toned down as the fearless, polite, and smart member of the crew. Sure, there is a scene near the end where he does a rap number but it is not as problematic as Scrappy in general.
But then, we have the standout characters: The Grimwood Girls: Sibella is Count Dracula's most kind and helpful daughter. Winnie is the Wolf Man's tomboyish daughter with a knack for howling. Elsa is the Frankenstein Monster's strongest and plain-spoken daughter. Phantasma is the Phantom's hyperactive and musically gifted daughter. Tanis is the Mummy's youngest and brave daughter. Speaking of the aforementioned fathers, they are depicted as soft parents but do have a cautious side in case something happens to their daughters.
The faculty of the school includes the amiable headmistress Miss Grimwood, her pet ill-tempered dragon Matches, her floating hand servant, and an octopus butler.
At the rival Calloway Academy, there is the rigorous Colonel Calloway and his group of cadets: Tug the leader, Miguel the inventor, Jamal the professional, Grunt the brawn, and Baxter the youngest. The "negative" aspect about them is their competitive nature and sometimes cheating, even during the volleyball scene. But on the "affirmative" side, they later show devotion and respect for the Grimwood girls, including saving them during the climax.
And then, we have our villain: Revolta, the Witch of the Web. She is an evil spider-witch that plans to kidnap the Grimwood girls and permanently makes them her evil slaves for world domination. Accompanying her is her wicked assistant, The Grim Creeper, and her mind-controlling Spider-Bats. Out of all the monsters in Scooby-Doo history, she is the most underrated and has a diabolical nature. We also have an evil mirror monster that resembles Shaggy after trapping the real Shaggy in the mirror and freely chases Scooby. Before Zombie Island, this character would be nightmare fuel.
As for the voice acting, we get the usual talented performances from Don Messick and Casey Kasem. But, we also get to hear some veteran television voice actors like Susan Blu, Hamilton Camp, Russi Taylor, and Frank Welker. Here's a fun fact: a couple of the child actors who played the Calloway cadets actually went places in their voice-acting careers like Scott Menville and Bumper Robinson. Did I forget to mention Chunk from The Goonies did the voice of Grunt? With a cast of charming characters, you will be glad to remember them.
A Harmless Thrill
Overall, Scooby Doo and the Ghoul School still holds up as a fan-favorite among the Scooby-Doo movie line-up. The story has a thoughtful concept with a cute message, highly imaginative animation, and memorable characters with both familiar and new voices. Even though the use of puns would get overdone and has that television animation quality, this movie will delight any Scooby-Doo fan of all ages. For anyone else, it’s easily a harmless thrill to watch with little kids. They’ll eat this up around the Halloween season.
The Grimwood girls themselves actually made a surprise guest appearance in the Cartoon Network show OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes! where the surviving actresses reprised their roles and new actresses taking over the remaining characters. The episode alone is worth a watch if you adore this movie. When you really think about it, this is the closest to having that potential spin-off. Heck, if The Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby-Doo got its conclusion and Zombie Island received a sequel, surely it wouldn’t hurt for Scooby-Doo to see the Ghoul School again. ...Maybe someday. Literally, ONE MONTH LATER, we reach the end of the trilogy with noticeable changes. It may not be up there among the favorites, it is on par with Boo Brothers.