Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television, and games.
The End of an Era
As we reach the end of the Scooby-Doo film trilogy in the Hanna-Barbera Superstar 10 series, it has been quite a journey for the franchise. It continued its tentative supernatural idea on its first film, Boo Brothers, where it was standard but overwhelming at the same time. Sometime later, Ghoul School was elevated into a cult favorite with highly creative visuals and memorable characters. And, no joke here, one month after Ghoul School premiered, we were treated with one more movie with highly noticeable changes visually and conceptually. Where does it stand among the lineup?
When Count Dracula (voiced by Hamilton Camp) discovers that Shaggy (voiced by Casey Kasem) is next-in-line to become the new werewolf, he forcibly transforms and kidnaps him with the others. Now, Shaggy must win the Monster Road Rally in order to change back to normal.
A Dragged-On Story with Some Legit Laughs
Within one month's time, fans would easily become surprised and confused upon first impression. Just as before, it's Scooby, Shaggy and Scrappy alone with minor differences. We get introduced to a new character, Googie, accompanying the trio while we get a narration establishing both the human and monster setting sides of the spectrum. For the latter, the concept this time gives a more..."wacky" take, where it combines the classic Universal Monsters and road racing. In other words, it felt like Hanna-Barbera was attempting to make an extended pilot for a Wacky Races spin-off, but with monsters, and Scooby-Doo was added at the last minute. Even the ending, without spoilers, looked like the series was going to happen...yet it didn't.
Truth be told, there are actually legit funny moments and it doesn't come from Scooby and the others. To clarify that statement, their material is usually the same as what fans expect out a Scooby-Doo project (i.e. being hungry and afraid) and it's serviceably inoffensive. Even the wordplay and puns are more toned down than last time. Admittedly, there is one hilarious scene where Scooby and the gang first encounter Dracula but believe they’re dreaming and roasting the monsters into fighting each other. The real comedy mostly comes from the monster characters themselves and their commentary on human culture. One scene is where the Hunch Bunch commentates on how two movie monsters that look like them are depicted. Another moment is how the monsters were disgusted that the constellation prize for the race is a trip to Hawaii. That alone is worth laughing out loud. There are also recurring gags that are also chuckle-worthy, along with Dracula being the butt of every joke, which will be discussed later.
As for the idea of Shaggy becoming a werewolf is not that bad of an idea. At first, when Shaggy first became a werewolf, the movie looked like it was heading into a different route with Shaggy struggling with his instincts. For the movie's goofy tone, on the other hand, it was quickly pushed aside and his curse is not treated as seriously as it sounds. Even their encounter with Dracula doesn't seem like a big deal either. It's also strangely funny that the drive-in patrons and a police officer would easily chase after him (despite being afraid of him) like he's an escaped convict more than a monster.
When we do get to the Monster Road Rally itself, it is a mixed bag. The race itself is not the problem. The effort and entertainment factors definitely go into the visual department for the characters, environment and obstacles, which will be talked about soon. Not to mention that the humor helps give Hanna-Barbera fans some love and vibes to Wacky Races. It's the slow pacing that is the issue. It is understandable that it is a television film and it has to raise suspense for what Scooby and the others have to venture through. They've done it before in Boo Brothers. It's just that sometimes it gets a little repetitive when Dracula's schemes literally slow down Shaggy's progress in the race. If they edit it down a bit, it would've been that long. Nonetheless, the story had what it was going for; it just needed some fine-tuning.
Inventive Animation with a Digital Paint Coat
Immediately as the movie starts, you notice that the animation looks different with brighter colors, and is more crisp than usual. That is because Hanna-Barbera studios had begun transitioning from traditional cel animation to digital ink-and-paint. This newfound change definitely benefits the movie's tone. In fact, big-name companies like Disney would later use this technique in their feature films. Many of the familiar characters' designs still carry that Hanna-Barbera style. Although we get to see more of the town that Shaggy and Scooby live in, some locations like the drive-in theater feel generic at best. Once we get into monster territory, that's where the creativity gets to pick up. Most of the monsters sport a jocular look that blends well with the art direction. Their race cars are also imaginative and out-there, which helps pay homage to Wacky Races. Dracula's Castle may be your cliched haunted location with traps and secret passageways yet the land of Transylvania does offer its share of obstacles. Despite how slow and monotonous the pacing is, the animators presented the best of their talent in constructing the racecourse. Obstacles include a swampy area with the Shlockness Monster, man-eating plants and the dreadful Genghis Kong (a.k.a. G.K.) as a last resort. Not to mention that Dracula and the Hunch Bunch have a wide array of vehicles from a helicopter, airplane and the Drac-mobile.
Creativity and art shift aside, this is still a movie made for television with obvious setbacks. A few character models (especially the Witch Sisters) look like they're taken from different Hanna-Barbera projects and gave them a different paint job to differentiate themselves. Plus, the drawings look so flat that sometimes their movements don't sync with the bright backgrounds. Some could make the argument that the previous movies had that problem too, but at least it was hardly noticeable with cel animation and staging giving into dark and gloomy locations. Speaking of character animation, it is the typical limited animation. However, this time, it has moments where the animation and shots would get recycled. The best example that comes to mind is the out-of-nowhere musical number "Werewolf Rock." Don't forget the occasional animation errors. Changing into digital ink-and-paint and creative visuals show enough effort yet not enough for a television movie.
Wacky Monster Racers; Less Personality
With a cast of iconic characters and monsters together in the same movie, surely it would lead to something extraordinary. It almost did. The keyword is "almost." Beginning with Shaggy, since he is the focus of the story, he is now a skillful race driver with his multi-purpose vehicle the Double-Dyno Turbo Blaster, and coincidentally the next werewolf. Hairy or not, Shaggy remains his cowardly, awkward and hungry self as before. Scooby and Scrappy act more as his loyal pets and pit crew. It is important to mention that this is officially the last Scooby-Doo project to feature Scrappy-Doo...until the first live-action movie with an unmentionable circumstance. The exclusive-only addition to the trio is Shaggy's girlfriend, Googie. As interesting and fascinating alone as it is for Shaggy, of all characters, to have a lover, Googie is...well the narrator from the beginning described her best: "adoring, but liberated girlfriend."
But then, we have our monster mash of silly and one-note characters. Having NO relation to the character from the previous film, Count Dracula is the leader and host of the annual Monster Road Rally. In addition, he is depicted as an easily agitated monster with sinister and desperate schemes to reach his achievements and personal desires. He even has his "fangs crossed" whenever you strike a deal with him. The comedy does hit its mark whenever his plans failed and becomes the butt-monkey topping with an over-the-top performance by Hamilton Camp. Plus, mispronouncing Shaggy’s name is also noteworthy. Accompanying him are his devious henchmen, The Hunch Bunch, consisting of Brunch and Crunch. Brunch is the sophisticated and intelligent one while Crunch is the mush-mouthed and dim-witted one.
As for the rest of the monsters, their personalities are on par as the Wacky Races characters: more memorable in design but less as fleshed-out characters. A couple have quirky traits like Frankenstein constantly nagged by his wife Repulsa, and the Witch Sisters would sometimes get into fights with each other. The only exception among the cast is Dracula's girlfriend Vanna Pira. She is easily the most likable among the monsters due to her ditzy and innocent nature with no malice. Her design even looks more appealing to a human than a monster. Other than that, most of the time is focused on Dracula and the Hunch Bunch. The voice acting does earn a bonus point. Mixing Scooby-Doo and the classic Monsters is a great idea, but it didn't fully live up to its potential.
A Mish-Mash of Ideas and Comedy
Overall, Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf is the final film that ended on a mish-mash of ideas and comedy, but doesn't know where to fall. On one hand, the movie gave us some intriguing ideas with some legit laughs, a new style of animation and nice visuals. On the other hand, it slowly gets dull with a prolonged third act, limited animation, and wasted characters. For audiences and kids that enjoy monster-friendly flicks like...Hotel Tranyslvania, it is a rental. For Scooby-Doo and Wacky Races fans, you'll get some substance but not enough to remember. It was quite an adventure for Scooby-Doo, and this movie marked a huge change in the franchise. Hanna-Barbera itself may have lost some of its touch, but a brighter future was yet to come and, years later, Scooby-Doo would continue its movie legacy in a new direction.