Reviewing the “banned” 2001 TV movie The Flintstones: On the Rocks kind of got me interested in that early 2000s era of Cartoon Network, when they were marketing the old Hanna-Barbera characters for adults. While the more popular stuff is easy to come by, such as Sealab 2021 and Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law or those Spumco Yogi Bear and Jetsons shorts, I thought I’d dig a little deeper and see what else I could find.
My efforts were rewarded with Night of the Living Doo, a late-night Scooby-Doo TV special geared toward… eh, teenagers, maybe. Or at most young adults.
The plot of Night of the Living Doo is a little hard to describe since the special is a purposely bizarre self-parody. Basically: After picking up a hitchhiking Gary Coleman, Scooby and the gang find themselves stranded at David Cross’s Medieval castle. The joint is haunted by an incompetent zombie that likes to watch ladies changing in the bedrooms, OR IS IT? With the help of swing-revival band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and maybe Mark Hamill, the gang seeks to crack the case.
2001 was a weird in-between time for the Scooby-Doo franchise. It was just getting back on its feet thanks to the rather good 1998 straight-to-video movie Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island and the annual releases that followed. However, the What’s New, Scooby-Doo TV series and the live-action Scooby-Doo movie were still a year away. What’s New would ultimately re-imbed Scooby as a kid’s franchise, but the turn of the century saw the talking dog and meddling kids undergoing the same “let’s market this stuff toward adults” makeover the rest of the Hanna-Barbera crew were receiving. Keep in mind it was about this time that Shaggy and Scooby were charged with marijuana possession in an episode of Harvey Birdman.
Night of the Living Doo was a product of this era, though it doesn’t go as far into the “adult comedy” as The Flintstones: On the Rocks, and not NEARLY as far as the Adult Swim shows it presaged.
The special was part of an all-night Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? marathon that Cartoon Network ran on Halloween. It was initially segmented and shown as commercial bumpers between episodes, then pasted back together into a full half-hour episode at the end of the night. I remember Cartoon Network promoting the heck out of the thing, with the sound of Scooby barking “Rig Rad Roodoo Raddy!” forever etched into the part of my brain that should be recording useful knowledge. I didn’t watch it the one time it aired, probably because I was 16 in 2001 and had better things to do on Halloween than watch a Scooby-Doo marathon. I likely watched a Funky Phantom marathon instead or something.
The special is a self-parody, sometimes obnoxiously so, with the celebrity guest stars constantly taking jabs at the predictable formula of the Scooby series while the classic cast plays it straight. It starts out pretty great, with Gary Coleman foiling Fred’s attempts to breakdown the Mystery Machine outside a creepy location until, in utter frustration, Fred deliberately drives the van into a tree. But by the time David Cross starts joking about hidden switches in the walls, the gimmick threatens to wear you down.
To be fair, the original presentation of this special was as minute-long interstitials spread out across several hours of programming. In that manner, the endless string of “the Scooby formula sure is stupid” prods isn’t quite so tiresome, especially when it’s acting as a compliment to actual Scooby episodes buffeting each sketch. When taken altogether, yeah, it’s sort of the same gag driven into the ground.
That’s not to say the parody jokes aren’t bad or anything, even after a full half hour of them. The ending is just this complete string of nonsense where the obvious suspect turns out to be Mark Hamill in disguise, while the real villain is… Jabberjaw? Hey, that was a legitimate surprise. Gary Coleman tries to question all the logic errors of the reveal, but they ignore him entirely in favor of a corny “laugh until the credits roll” gag.
The adult-oriented humor isn’t as in your face as Fred and Wilma plowing each other in a hotel room, but it’s a little raunchy. The creepy caretaker character uses the old “eyes in a portrait” gag to try and catch Daphne and Velma as they strip down and get ready for bed. As the two girls are off camera, they have a lengthy dialogue about how they didn’t bring their pajamas so they’ll just have to sleep naked, eliciting bug-eyed arousal from the leering creep. Now, try to remember that the voyeuristic caretaker turns out to be Mark Hamill at the end.
Daphne and Velma endure a few more jokes at their expense throughout the special. When a frightened Shaggy leaps into Fred’s arms, he awkwardly apologizes, “Sorry Fred, I was aiming for Daphne”. David Cross also tries to put the moves on Velma, inciting her to warn him, “Watch the hands, pal”.
On a darker note, when the gang tries to break down Jabberjaw’s convoluted real estate scheme during the unmasking, the talking shark corrects them, “Actually, I just planned to eliminate you kids in your sleep.” Well damn, Jabberjaw.
The animation has a definite Adult Swim vibe to it, or rather a Space Ghost Coast to Coast vibe since this predates [as]. It’s a mixture of recycled animation from Scooby-Doo, Where Are You mixed with some new animation (mostly for the celebrity guest stars). Remember how when watching Space Ghost you could always tell the new animation apart from the recycled animation? Like, Zorak angrily shaking his fist looked way different from all the other bits? Well, this is like that. The new animation has a higher framerate than the ’70s Hanna-Barbera clips and the aesthetics don’t mesh too well. But this thing was clearly done on the cheap, so I don’t think I should be looking at the animation with too critical an eye.
I don’t think Cartoon Network ever rebroadcast the special, or at least they haven’t done so in a very long time. It was one of those “catch it once or it’s gone forever” specials that were common back then, but not so regular a practice these days. I remember them doing something similar a year or two before called The Scooby-Doo Project, where a marathon of Scooby cartoons was given bumpers in which the gang found themselves being menaced by the Blair Witch.
Only VCRs remember this stuff.
The copy I found online isn’t so pretty (as evidenced by the screencaps) and looks to be slightly incomplete. All the story segments were included, but it still only runs 15 minutes. Advertisements promoted a special musical appearance from Matthew Sweet, but he and his band are nowhere to be found in the actual cartoon (only Big Bad Voodoo Daddy offer a musical number). I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that they reran Matthew Sweet’s music video from the Saturday Morning Cartoons’ Greatest Hits TV special, where he covered the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You theme song. It was probably just a time-filler.
But oh man, Saturday Morning Cartoons Greatest Hits. That’s another of those ’90s Cartoon Network specials that seems to be lost forever in its entirety (I’ve only been able to find the music video segments separated from the interstitials starring Drew Barrymore).
To comment on one last thing, the Scooby cast is made up of that in-between era, shortly after the late ’90s revival but before they’d settled on the regulars. BJ Ward plays Velma for one of the last times before Natalie from Facts of Life takes over, so this Velma is more frumpy than snarky. Grey Delisle is pretty new at her Daphne role, having just inherited the part from the late Mary Kay Bergman, so she sounds uncomfortable; like she’s trying to copy Bergman rather than make the part her own. Frank Welker reprises Fred (and Jabberjaw) because he will never stop playing Fred. Even after Welker dies, he will claw his way back from the grave to continue playing Fred.
That leaves Scott Innes as Scooby and Shaggy. He was never a good fit, more so for the latter than the former. His Scooby was okay, but Welker has since taken over the role. Innes’ Shaggy, though. Man. You see, at the time, Casey Kasem was in a dispute with Time Warner over whether Shaggy should be a vegetarian or not (seriously) and so he wouldn’t return for the part. Billy West was called in to substitute for Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, but left the part after that one-off performance. Scott Innes then took over until Kasem returned in 2002. Innes’ Shaggy is an impression of Billy West’s impression of Casey Kasem. It’s like a telephone game of Shaggy voices; it just sounds really bad. I’d gotten so used to Matthew Lillard’s Shaggy these past few years that I’d forgotten how awkward the character sounded during the late 90s/early 00s.
Anyhow, Night of the Living Doo is another relic of that era where Time Warner didn’t know what to heck to do with all its obsolete Hanna-Barbera IPs and so they just tried ANYTHING. It’s an especially weird gem, considering how so shortly after it was broadcast, Scooby-Doo began its resurgence as a popular children’s franchise, inciting Time Warner to discontinue any attempts at rebranding it for grown-ups. I’ve read that the live-action movie was originally written as a crude adult comedy and then hastily reworked into a children’s flick due to the sudden shift in target demographic, but I’ve nothing to corroborate that.
I wonder if there’s anything else from that Millennium era of Hanna-Barbera adult rebranding I might have forgotten? More importantly, I wonder if I can find all the segments from The Scooby-Doo Project?
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