My new book MAXIMILIAN STANDFORTH AND THE CASE OF THE DANGEROUS DARE has been released via amazon.com in eBook and print.
I thought it would be fun to write on some of the influences for the novel. This week I will discuss my obsession with the kids who drive The Mystery Machine.
It has always amazed me how few people get Scooby-Doo, Where are You. I’m not talking the kids or the parents or simply those who find it while flipping through the stations. No, I mean the producers, the directors, and the actual writers of the characters. Yes, Hollywood never got the friends of Mystery, Inc.
One of the first articles I ever wrote for the internet, back in 2001, was related to the genius of Scooby-Doo (I was venting in the article about my dismay around the casting and scripting around the first Scooby-Doo live action movie; that was even before I saw the disaster of a movie), and how surprised I was then (and still am), how wrong they were being. Honestly, who could blame those producers? When the actual cartoonists, after the original series’ run, rarely gave the property any respect; turning it into a device to showcase B-level stars or worse having Scooby chase 13 real ghosts.
Real ghosts? Seriously?
That idea right there is almost more damaging to the fictional reality created for Scooby-Doo and his friends than the introduction of Scrappy and Scooby’s other relatives. Even as a young kid that questionable variation to our hero’s adventures, in I am certain an attempt to steal some thunder from Ghostbusters, made me groan (and don’t get me started on the character of Flim-Flam).
When I was studying film writing, I once said in a class that I would love to adapt Scooby-Doo someday for the big screen. Some thought I was joking and laughed, others looked at me as if I was crazy, but one got where I was coming from and we both shared a nod. See, in the right hands, Scooby-Doo is awesome in its simplistic horror madcap comedy spree.
Jinkies! Pass the Scooby Snacks.
As children we are all scared of the dark.
We all have evenings that we remember, staring at the closet door, waiting for it to slowly open and a slimy tentacle to emerge. Why wouldn’t a monster or an alien or a villain be interested in us? So we peek under the bed to see what is lurking there, turn on our lights, maybe even sneak into our parents’ bed.
See, that is what the good Scooby-Doo stories tap into, because in these dark lonely moments as children we are all of the mystery gang, from Scooby and Shaggy’s fear to the other gang’s desire to stop it and figure out the truth.
Yes, we are each of them when we face fear, starting as a Scooby and slowly working ourselves to the Velma- the one who reveals the truth with the pulling off of the mask.
So often today, Hollywood doesn’t understand how to do thrillers for kids. They either go too far, or they simply just make it comical. No wonder movies are all PG-13. It’s easier! Just make an adult movie, and cut out a lot of the swearing, gore and nudity. Done and done. Yet, there was a time when Hollywood and writers did a good job scaring kids and making it fun. Scooby-Doo was the cartoon child of those times… I mean, puppy, not child.
It is so easy to dismiss the plots of Scooby-Doo, but you lose the art in the simplicity if you do. The roots of Scooby-Doo seem to me to go all the way back to the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books. Like in those stories, there were always a smuggler and a dark cave to explore, and only the teenagers have a chance to solve the mystery. The threat of death is not there, just fear.
Then there is the connection to gothic stories (the shadows, the monsters; and the mysterious homes filled with cobwebs, secret passages, and ghouls), not to mention the black-and-white thrillers that involve monsters of the deep (with zippers in the costumes), a small town, and teenagers… there were always teenagers.
Yet, Scooby-Doo is more than the sum of its parts, because it does all of this in about 22 minutes, taking the best from these previous inspirations and blending them all together with a talking dog, creating in the end something very unique.
What I always loved about the stories is that the mystery gang never had any skin in the game. In other words, they had no reason to really solve any of the mysteries! They could have walked away at any time, called the cops; heck, there is no guarantee that they were even given a dime from anyone for their work. What drove our heroes on was simply, “curiosity.” They just wanted to solve the case, solve the mystery, nothing more, nothing less. A child-like innocence and simply genius.
Watching the show now with my kids, what I appreciate the most is that they never used guns. Never.
There is also no fighting, or violence of any nature. Yes, the villains in the masks chase the kids, but what they will do with them if they catch them is always open to interpretation.
The villains simply use their brains to come up with a hair-brained scheme and the heroes use their brains to solve the problem… and somewhere in there are some Scooby snacks.
As a parent, how could you not love all of this?
The Mystery Gang
Shaggy and Velma? Velma and Daphne? Fred and Shaggy? They would be in different cliques in school, and yet they are all the best of friends, completely trusting in each other, no matter what crazy trap they might plan (and how much it might put one of the members in danger).
Fred, Daphne and Velma are obviously inspired by the stereotypes that fill the monster movies of the 1950’s. The hero football star, the cool girl and the nerd that figures it out. Usually, at the start of such an adventure they wouldn’t get along (the Daphne and the Fred might be dating), but they will learn respect for the Velma character, follow her… Of course, there is also a good chance the the Daphne character wouldn’t survive beyond the first 15 minutes.
And yet, there they all are, a gang that you wish you could be part of, where the pretty ones could be friends with the nerd and the… okay, what is Shaggy?
The easy answer for Shaggy is the stoner, with his dirty looking, baggy clothes and the fact he is always after munchies, but I don’t buy it. He is not dazed or confused. He is with it and perceptive of what is going around. Yes, he talks to a dog, but everyone talks to the dog!
One thing I have always been annoyed about when people analyze the characters of the show is the misperception that Shaggy is somehow stupid. I don’t buy that either. I don’t think the rest of the gang would hang out with him if he was. Watch any episode and you’ll realize how fast Shaggy thinks on his feet. Can you put on a dress, take on an accent and a scene, and pretend to trick a monster as quickly as him? I think not! Improv comedians would be lucky to have his talent.
If anything, Shaggy is probably the most original character on the show, completely unique in cartoons, a trustworthy friend to man and beast and always good for a very bad pun.
Remember how I began this article stating that Hollywood doesn’t get Scooby-Doo? There are a few like me that do, have you seen the show Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated? In many ways, if I had my dream, my Scooby-Doo creation would have been just like this show. It respects the characters, the inspiration behind the series and builds on the premise with actual character growth (I know! Awesome, right?).
Of course, Cartoon Network buried it and then canceled it.
Yet, it is still a relief for me to know that for three years, fans like me were in charge, giving our beloved great dane the respect he deserves… and, of course, a lot of Scooby snacks along the way… and a pizza… and some ice cream with pickles… and three hamburgers… and…
If you liked reading my article, why not check out some of my published books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, the new A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or Doors and Megan as an eBook on Google eBooks here. Thanks for reading!