Review by KC Carlson
When the first Scooby-Doo series debuted on Saturday morning in 1969, I completely missed it. It was shown opposite the Banana Splits — who I was obsessed with (still am) — and so I never really caught the Scooby-Doo bug at all as a kid. Except for the occasional New Scooby-Doo Movie where I had to catch a specific guest star. Even as a kid, I realized that this was a strange show, as each week the Scooby Gang would team up with a guest star — occasionally one that sorta made sense, like Batman and Robin or even the Addams Family, but more frequently, some odd celebrity guest like Sonny and Cher, or Jerry Reed, or Davy Jones — so that appealed to me just because it was strange. But generally, I completely missed out on the big kid-culture phenomenon that was Scooby-Doo, and I have since been frequently mocked and beaten about the head about it. (Hi, Tammy!)
So it wasn’t until many, many years later, as a bored adult with too many cable channels to choose from, that I first watched an episode of Scooby-Doo on (probably) Boomerang. I came in half-way, so at first I thought I was watching an episode of the New Scooby-Doo Movie that I had never seen, because Vincent Price was in it. (Except everybody was calling him Vincent Van Ghoul for some reason.) Fred and Velma weren’t in it at all, Daphne didn’t look like herself, and there was some annoying little kid named Flim Flam who was trying to be even more obnoxious than Scrappy Doo, who was also in the cast. (Even without watching the shows, I had picked up on what Scrappy Doo was all about, probably from all the negative vibes his creation forced into the zeitgeist.) Eventually, I realized I wasn’t watching the original Scooby-Doo, but something called The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo. And it was just bizarre enough that I was hooked. I tried to catch as many episodes as I could. Which was not many — Boomerang yanked the show shortly after I started watching it.
The Show’s Unceremonious History
Later on, I discovered that there weren’t that many episodes anyway. Just 13 — one for each ghost, I guess. (As it turns out, that’s not true either. There were only 11 — or were there 12?) I also discovered why I had never heard of the show. After debuting on Saturday, September 7, 1985, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo ran exactly 14 weeks before it was unceremoniously dumped from the network lineup, replaced by reruns of Laff-A-Lympics. Thus, the show got exactly one airing per episode (except for one, unless it was pre-empted for a week), before it faded into TV limbo, until it was resurrected by Cartoon Network/Boomerang many years later.
Frankly. that wasn’t too surprising. 13 Ghosts was the seventh different version of the show — and almost its last. After it was canceled, there were no new Scooby-Doo shows until 1988’s kid-ified A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. Though dominating Saturday morning television since its debut — not only with its own shows but endless copies of the format (many produced by HB itself) — by the early 1980s, ABC began threatening the series with cancellation. Thus, the many makeovers to rework the formula.
Scooby-Doo With a Difference
As makeovers go, it wasn’t a bad one. First off, 13 Ghosts was the first Scooby-Doo show to offer up real ghosts, goblins, and monsters — not just losers in rubber masks and terrible costumes. Daphne herself was actually, briefly, turned into a werewolf in the first episode. But since this was Scooby-Doo, the ghoulies were mostly played for laughs, especially Bogel and Weerd, the two incompetently evil ghosts who were members of the regular cast (and were comically voiced by Howard Morris and Arte Johnson). However, this really skewed the balance of the regular cast members, as everybody except Daphne and Vincent Van Ghoul were either there to be funny (Scooby, Shaggy, the ghosts) or obnoxious (Flim Flam and Scrappy). Within a few episodes, both Van Ghoul and Daphne were going for the yukks as well.
That’s the main reason this show doesn’t seem to be be held in high regard by serious Scooby fans. It was kinda out-of-control wacky. Despite its fairly serious premise — Shaggy and Scooby are tricked by Bogel and Weerd into opening the Chest of Demons, releasing 13 terrifying ghosts upon the world, so Van Ghoul demands that the idiots get them all back (i.e. clean up their mess) — most episodes eventually devolved into silly song and dance numbers (complete with the cast in tuxes) when the requisite chase sequences became tedious. Very few mysteries are actually solved — nor even presented. And you probably won’t be surprised to discover that many of the 13 ghosts aren’t really that scary either.
Those of you who watch these old shows to scan the credits won’t be the least bit surprised about all the wacky. The show’s Story Editor and Associate Producer Tom Ruegger was using this early project to try out ideas which would blossom into full-bloom insanity on his future (and much acclaimed) shows Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, and Freakazoid, among others. Ruegger also produced the only other Scooby-Doo series I enjoyed, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, where the all-out weirdness of the kid versions of the regular cast (especially Velma) absolutely floored me. (Told you I wasn’t your typical Scooby-Doo fan.)
General Observations and High Points
Ghost Logic: Bogel and Weerd can’t open the Chest of Demons themselves — because they’re ghosts — but their intangibleness doesn’t preclude them from turning doorknobs, using power tools, or dragging airplanes into hidden temples.
Shaggy’s a pilot?!? Obviously not a good one if he was aiming at Hawaii and crashes in Tibet!
Cartoon fashion: Shaggy sports a red shirt rather than his typical green one. Like all Star Trek fans, I thought for sure he was going to be killed on an Away Mission at some point in the series. Also, Daphne changes outfits frequently throughout the series (although most of them are purple) — a highly unusual occurrence for cartoons, which like to recycle as much animation as possible.
The Scoobies use a magic crystal ball to contact Van Ghoul in the early episodes. When it’s not working, they see an image of an “Out To Lunch” sign hanging on a doorknob. By the third episode, Van Ghoul is shown muttering that he’s sorry that he ever got involved at all. In later episodes, Van Ghoul largely gets sucked into the crazy, rather than sitting at home watching, occasionally arriving on a flying carpet.
During one singalong — for Row, Row, Row Your Boat — helpful song lyrics pop up on the screen. Except they’re in Scoobyeese (“Rife is rut a dream”), and not really that helpful.
There are some great “inside jokes” in the series. One episode is interrupted by an animation censor (Miss Cutitout), who says the show must be changed because “fire is dangerous”. Another features a parody of MGM’s roaring Leo the Lion — except it’s Scooby-Doo, surrounded by a shield that says “Limitus Animatus” and introduces “A Ranna Rarrera Extravaganza.”
About halfway through the series, Scooby has a nervous breakdown from dealing with all the real ghosts, so the gang takes him on a cruise. Guess what’s on the boat?
One episode features witches (the Brewski Sisters) who are based on the Three Stooges; another has the characters sucked into the Sunday funnies; and in another, the other other characters hold tryouts for “ghost-chasing dogs” when Scooby goes missing. Plus, we get a look at Dooville, Scooby’s hometown, where everybody looks and talks like him. AHHHHHH!!!
The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo on DVD (from Warner Home Video) offers up all thirteen episodes on two discs, in decent quality. (I’m guessing not remastered.) There’s not much in the way of Bonus Features (just an episode from the Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue series and a couple of trailers), but I will be checking out the new Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated Cartoon Network show, which is previewed here. The redesigned characters are really appealing, there appears to be some hints of romance among the characters, and Lewis Black is voicing a new character — the mysterious Mr. E. Plus, we get to see the character’s parents! (Is this the first time for this?) It’s set to debut on CN on July 12. I just put it on the TiVo!
And I Would Have Gotten Away With It…
If you’re a big fan of classic Scooby-Doo (with the original Mystery Incorporated gang solving actual mysteries and crimes), The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo is probably NOT for you, unless you’re into screaming “They ruined it! They ruined it!” and running off into the night. For those of you who love the quirk (like I loves the quirk), you should step right up and check this out. Although with the caveat that’s it’s formative, experimental, and doesn’t-always-hit-the-bullseye kinda quirk. Plus, the qualitity of the animation isn’t always up to the quality of the jokes.
Plus, it’s got Vincent Freakin’ Price parodying himself in a cartoon starring a Great Dane! What more do you want?!? (The studio provided a review copy.) Here’s a sample clip that shows more: