This third volume, like the first disc in the series, contains only four 23-minute episodes. In this case, it’s 9 through 12. Since I’ve already talked about what’s cool about the show in general in that link, here, I’ll just focus on these particular episodes.
“Battle of the Humungonauts” opens with one of the dynamite musical numbers that pops up every so often, as the singer at the Tiki Tub (Fran Southworth) gets attacked by a green gorilla-like monster while performing “The Words Get Stuck in My Throat”. (That song, written by H.B. Barnum and produced by Joey Levine, who was behind “Yummy Yummy Yummy” and just about all the other great 60s bubblegum songs, is from The War of the Gargantuas, a 1968 Japanese import film with similar creatures.)
Meanwhile, Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) and Velma (Mindy Cohn) are kissing when they’re interrupted by a incredibly jealous Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker). “Stop it, Shaggy. I’m not stupid. Are you cheating on me?” says Scooby. (Yes, the dog is talking like he’s in a soap opera.) Then Velma gets upset when Shaggy, trying to reassure his pet-who-thinks-he’s-a-best-friend, says that they’re equally important to him. The unbalanced dynamics continue through the episode, until Fred suggests they adopt the name “Mystery Incorporated” formally. Unfortunately, that idea comes with matching uniforms, which everyone finds ridiculous.
This episode has the kind of snarky humor that I find most interesting about the show, as when Mr. E (Lewis Black) takes over the kids’ radio in the van to give them some help. When asked if they want a hint, Shaggy responds, “Can’t you just give us the answer instead? It would be a lot easier that way.” Yep, that’s a normal response — too bad Mr. E wants to have fun with them instead.
In “Howl of the Fright Hound”, Velma continues to pressure Shaggy to choose between her and Scooby. At the same time, nerdy Jason Wyatt (Daryl Sabara — but the character is named after the show’s associate producer) creates a robot to impress her, since she’s a girl who’s talked to him. When a monster dog terrorizes Crystal Cove, Scooby is blamed, and the dog is committed to the Animal Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Another inhabitant is the parrot Professor Pericles, the pet of the original Mystery Incorporated. And you haven’t seen a crazy parrot until you’ve seen one kept in a bell jar and wearing a straightjacket.
This episode reminded me that, for all I enjoy the humor and knowing references to other entertainment (as when the parrot’s “cage” resembles the Cerebro set from the X-Men movies, or the climactic battle has echoes of both Aliens and Terminator 2), it’s also legitimately exciting, as the monsters can be quite scary and the staging suspenseful. This is definitely a cartoon to watch with attention, since great care is obviously taken in creating it.
“The Secret Serum” features a vampire disrupting Daphne’s mom’s charity auction, but the focus is really on how the gang has split into boys vs. girls. I was reminded of the quality of voice talent this show gets for guest stars, as Beverly D’Angelo was Daphne’s mother’s friend.
H.P Hatecraft and Harlan Ellison in "The Shrieking Madness"
Speaking of which, “The Shrieking Madness” guest-stars Harlan Ellison (voicing himself in exaggerated fashion) in an episode about a Cthulu-like monster terrorizing a nearby college. H.P. Hatecraft (Jeffrey Combs, who starred in Re-Animator, not recommended for the same audience) writes novels about “dark creatures of other dimensions”, and his biggest fan is Howard E. Robertson (Crispin Freeman). I imagine Ed loved this episode! It’s a weird mix, putting classic horror into a kids’ cartoon, but it works surprisingly well.
One benefit to watching on disc instead of on Cartoon Network is the chance to actually read the credits, where we were impressed to learn that the theme song was by Matthew Sweet.
I’m unclear on what DVD release we should expect next, since there’s only one more episode in what Cartoon Network termed Season One. (Elsewhere, season one was considered to be 26 episodes long.) While I had fun watching this short set of shows, I’m hoping they start releasing longer season sets with some extras. There’s a need and a market for these shorter, cheaper, bare-bones discs, but I’m part of an audience that wants something different. (The studio provided a review copy.)