My relationship with the horror genre can be described more or less with a single word — nonexistent. As in, I’ve basically never watched a horror movie, and I plan to keep it that way. So, when I want to be frightened, I turn to kids’ horror. The genre, although relatively small, still has some standouts — “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Coraline,” “Monster House” and, of course, the entire “Scooby Doo” franchise. Since it is based on iteration upon iteration of the same five characters, many versions are forgotten. I fear that’s the case with my favorite version of the Mystery Gang, one that dares to break with precedent more than any other, “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.”
The 56-episode series takes place in Crystal Cove, a tourist-y, seaside town known as “The Most Hauntedest Place on Earth.” The town chooses to capitalize on its extensive history of fake, paranormal happenings — with Velma’s mother operating the town’s spooky museum, a showcase of past Scooby-Doo monsters such as Scrappy Doo and the Creeper. Besides the Mystery Gang, the town is also inhabited by Sheriff Bronson — who often arrests the kids for trespassing on private property — the kids’ parents, various recurring characters and a high school and college.
“Mystery Incorporated” is a relatively recent venture, having released its last episode in 2013. Its animation style reflects that recency, with heavier use of shading and 3D animation. The characters’ designs are also more angular and stylized.The characters also receive a metaphorical facelift. While the members of the Mystery Gang are usually written as one-note characters, punctuated only by the occasional “Zoinks,” “Jinkies,” or “Creepers,” the extended nature of this series forces the writers to build more character development. Fred is forced to face how he has ignored Daphne’s feelings for him in the past, while Daphne struggles to live up to her parents’ expectations. Velma, on the other hand, confronts the limitations of her skepticism, and Shaggy’s slacking-off finally catches up to him.
Crystal Cove’s continuity — its existence outside of one-off mysteries — causes the gang to investigate the fact that monsters are a unique recurrence within their small town. This also ties into the show’s most noticeable departure from previous iterations — its use of overarching plot in addition to a monster of the week. As our central characters unmask a weekly villain, they also begin to unravel larger mysteries behind Crystal Cove. Were there other mystery solvers before them? Why are there always monsters in their town? What are all these lockets they keep finding? Who is the mysterious Mr. E — the puns in this show aren’t exactly subtle — who keeps sending them clues?
This mystery causes the show to have a decidedly darker tone than your typical Scooby-Doo flick. As the gang encounters the Mystery Inc. that came before them, they are faced with the possibility that they may not be friends in their adult lives. Fred and Daphne question whether their love — yes, they are fully a couple — will last unlike their counterparts’ in the Mystery Inc. before them. The character Professor Pericles especially — an evil, German parrot — brings the show’s nature as a kid’s show into question. At one point, he goes so far as to kill one of Velma’s best friends…with a gun. It’s a strikingly real-world portrayal of murder unseen in previous Scooby Doo iterations. In fact, death at all is usually irrelevant in Scooby Doo, with characters always closely escaping.
Perhaps the darkest part of the whole show, one that is only revealed in its final arc, is the existence of an actual monster. The overarching plot of the show revolves around different people attempting to put together the “Planispheric Disc.” This device, we later learn, is important because it can used to free Nibiru — an interdimensional, evil entity who has come to take over Crystal Cove and the world. Although this may seem like typical monster flick fare, this monster is especially haunting because the villains of “Mystery Incorporated” do not typically operate on an apocalyptic scale. For an elementary school-er, which I was when I first watched the show, this is the type of monster that invokes a sinister, existential dread.
In the end, “Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated” ends up being an exploration of curiosity as a whole. The more mature undertones of this series manage to tease out this theme to its full potential, while still using characters and scenarios that we have all come to know and love. So, for anyone looking for a not-so-scary but still exciting watch this Halloween, look no further! Tune in to “Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated” on Netflix or another streaming platform near you.