Tony Cervone‘s excessively silly Scoob! misunderstands one crucial thing about modern moviemaking: “new” doesn’t mean shit. And sadly, this ill-fated effort reinforces that. It’s the franchise “upgrade” nobody wanted, a strange attempt made even more perplexing by its need to impress and invent. It doesn’t do much that the franchise hasn’t, in some way, done before but that’s not the argument here. The film can go wherever it would like as long as it does it well.

Part origin story, part mystery, part superhero flick, Cervone’s genre-mashing adventure hits the rewind button. Within minutes, we’re treated to Scooby and Shaggy’s first meeting, the formation of Mystery, Inc., and an out-of-left-field business meeting with Simon Cowell. Amazingly, it gets weirder from there.

As flawed as it is, Scoob! is a well-intentioned and enthusiastic take on a beloved property. But as the gang’s first case so boldly reflects, the film views spooky theatrics as something it must outgrow rather than something it could honor. It’s a misguided attempt to raise the stakes and push franchise boundaries in a way that’s worth buying into. But in its effort to reboot, it bastardizes Scooby-Doo in such a forced way that many viewers, even new ones, will likely be put off by its unrelenting strangeness. The only other Scooby entry that even scratches this level of bizarre is 2001’s Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase. Predictably, that film also suffered greatly from similar things.

As hopelessly unfunny as it is desperate to please, Scoob! attempts something that only Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island has pulled off: making actual threats actually feel threatening. But the property has never needed authentic risks. If we’re talking its long-running series from the late ’60s/early ’70s, there was something compelling about its perceived danger and how heavily it played into the appeal of old-school Scooby. As the episode count increased and the franchise gained a fan base, viewers would rightly assume that the “ghosts” were only as terrifying as the grudges they held. Often posing as petty poltergeists, these vengeful puppeteers would usually feud with people unconnected to Mystery, Inc. But because the characters’ antics carried the entertainment value, illusions of paranormal grandeur played second banana to how the gang solved mysteries.

Image Credit: Warner Bros. Animation

A franchise so strongly associated with retro culture doesn’t at all benefit from flashy visuals, high-tech gadgetry, and a powerful need to do something dramatically different. Not to knock “different,” but not every property needs a makeover to feel fresh. That’s why, try as it might, Scoob! isn’t as newcomer-friendly as it wants to be. Even generations indifferent toward (and often unaware of) Scooby nostalgia would benefit from developing an appreciation for the originals. Scoob! represents those generations, missing its mark and failing to connect with fans and casuals on a meaningful level.

To its credit, Scoob! does manage to incorporate other Hanna-Barbera characters into its plot seamlessly and without fanfare. Dick Dastardly—of Wacky Races fame, for those needing context—is the big bad, and he actually carries narrative weight. Dastardly and Muttley form the film’s best dynamic, which plays into the overarching theme of friendship pervading the story. That, at least, brings some consistency to this wildly uneven reboot. Despite their sincerity, the Scooby/Shaggy scenes rarely land. I don’t have to explain why the absence of chemistry between the two becomes exceedingly problematic.

The film has a big heart and an even bigger problem conveying its emotion effectively. Honoring the essence of a pre-existing property will nearly always yield more fun, more potential, and more room for growth. But, as modern Hollywood dictates, superheroes, super-tech, and supervillains are culturally “in,” even as proper storytelling and memorable characters are unintentionally shown the door.

VERDICT: Scoob! fails not because it treads on new ground but because it does so without finding a balance between pleasing old fans and earning new ones. It’s a confusing experience that never quite finds itself. One that leaves us the second the credits roll.