51 years after the premiere of the animated series Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! on television, I can absolutely see where the idea of using a reboot of that series to launch a Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe makes business sense. That's three or even four completely distinct generations that have grown up with Scooby-Doo, the one Hanna-Barbera franchise that has remained in production throughout pretty much that entire half-century, which means both that there's plenty of nostalgia to go around, and also enough distinctly different incarnations of the brand that nobody could blanch at tweaking or redesigning this or that part of it. Plus, Hanna-Barbera's cartoons during their heyday in the late 1960s and '70s already constituted a shared universe, so it would really be more like putting a new coat of paint on  the material, rather than transforming it into something unrecognisable and new. I write as someone with absolutely no affection for Scooby-Doo nor any other Hanna-Barbera property (I find the studio's '70s-era animation to be virtually unwatchable), so I say this without any enthusiasm, but yes, the idea of a Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe, once you've heard it, sounds like an absolute no-brainer.

My God, though, it's hard to imagine a more inauspicious and revolting kick-off to a hoped-for movie series than Scoob!, an partial Scooby-Doo origin story that misses the point of Scooby-Doo so badly that even I, with my indifference (bordering on hostility) for Scooby-Doo can't help but be offended on the series' behalf. And frankly, even going that far is more than we need to: the film's screenplay, by a tiny army of writers (seven people are credited, which of course means even more weren't; there's not a single good title in any of their filmographies, and two of them were producers on Norm of the North, so y'know, abandon all hope), is an atrocious slapped-together thing entirely on its own terms. I have long since resigned myself to the foul reality of the present, in which a quick and dirty strategy that screenwriters have adopted to prove that they can jive with the lingo of the hepcat kids of today is to simply replace lines of dialogue with things that they found on Twitter, but Almighty Christ, there are some horrendous jokes in Scoob!, including a directionless "Notorious RBG" joke and a pointless aside about the morality of sharing Netflix passwords. The one that made me recoil, hissing like Max Schreck in Nosferatu, was when one character irritably referred to as another character as somebody's "large adult son", though there's also, I hope, a special place in hell for whichever member of the writer's room first came up with the bit where Wacky Races villain Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs), confounded by Scooby-Doo's (Frank Welker) habit of replacing initial consonants with the letter "R", starts screaming "Dick! Dick!" at the dog for a scene that lasts at least 11 or 12 hours.

Things at least start, if not "promisingly", then at least cozily mediocre. We start ten years ago, cued by Tupac Shakur's 1995 single "California Love" over a helicopter shot across the ocean and up to a crowded beach, and it occurs to me that I have perhaps been generous in calling this part "cozily mediocre" (even by the standards of current children's cinema Scoob! makes some terrible music choices). Anyway, we meet a sad little kid, Shaggy Rogers (presently voiced by Iain Armitage, though Will Forte will take over for the bulk of the movie), who is plagued by reminders that he has no friends; we also meet a talking Great Dane puppy, presently unnamed, stealing food from a boardwalk vendor. They meet up, and with great enthusiasm share a meal together; shortly thereafter, they meet three other, much more put-together kids Shaggy's age, and solve a mystery in an apparently haunted house. Leap forward to the present (following a re-creation of the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! opening credits sequence that is by some margin the most pleasurable thing in the movie), and Shaggy and Scooby are the lovable fuck-ups while Fred (Zak Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried), and Velma (Gina Rodriguez) do the work of keeping their mystery-solving business together.

Soon, this relationship is tested, when the team is given an opportunity to go into business with Simon Cowell (Simon Cowell). This, by the way, is the exact moment where Scoob! shifts from "oh well, it's just kind of bad" to "destroy this fucking abomination with nuclear rain", and it really doesn't ever shift back. First, the whole thing feels like an advertisement for Cowell, and this is the first of many places where the film strikes that exact mood, not so much name-dropping pop culture references as cheerleading for them - many of them rather direct nods to other Warner Bros. brands and properties, which is craven but in a meager, understandable way. But Netflix gets an approving shout-out? In the same summer that HBO Max is set to premiere, no less. It is deeply confusing and fucked up, and it consistently breaks the movie: the realisation that we're watching a corporate product is always stronger than any illusion that we're sinking into a narrative universe.

Plus, the CGI Cowell looks, and this is a technical animation term, like burning ass. This is typical of the film's visuals. I don't hate the film's approach to character design: it's not the best effort to redesign characters originally meant to be seen in extremely flat hand-drawn animation for 3D CGI animation, but it's also not the worst, and the more cartoony a character looks, the better they turn out. Cowell is by far the most hideous cast member, though the normal-looking humans are all pretty unappealing, especially with their eyes, that seem detached from their faces. The animation tends to be pretty squarish and rigid, too, and they end up looking very much like the robotic figures in DreamWorks Animation in the early and mid-2000s, when the industry was still trying to figure humans out.

It's all over the place visually, in fact. The designs are adequate and the animation is pretty bad; the texturing, which makes skin look like rubber and Scooby-Doo himself appear to be covered in wet felt, is abysmal. But the lighting is actually pretty fantastic, with a wide array of moods and environments evoked simply and efficiently through color and brightness. And while the virtual camera is a lot busier than I think it needs to be, it's nice to see a film play around with animated space rather than just stage it like a live-action film. Still, lighting and camera movement aren't things you're supposed to notice, and human movement is, so the raw ugliness of the animation is a bigger problem than the cinematography is a strength. Though given that Warner Animation farmed this out to Reel FX, the company responsible for Free Birds, Rock Dog, and UglyDolls, the fact there are any strengths at all is impressive, I suppose.

And the biggest problem of all, of course, is the very awful script. I sort of stopped talking about it; suffice it to say, Scooby and Shaggy get pissed off and wander away, where they get tangled up in a plot involving several other Hanna-Barbera characters that don't have remotely the name recognition they do, nor even Dick Dastardly. Along the way, they learn the value of friendship. Fred, Daphne, and Velma chase them, and at no point after the prologue are spooky old buildings entered, nor fake ghosts uncovered, though masks are pulled off. But what does happen is that the kids get to learn who Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg, enjoying the chance to ham it up) and Dynomutt (Ken Jeong, infuriatingly bad) are, as a brand deposit for later adventures. Whether any kids would be excited for those adventures, based on what we see here, is hard to say; I would love to have enough faith in humanity to suppose they couldn't possibly, but having faith in any human race that could produce a ghastly, humorless corporate line item like Scoob! is pretty damn hard.