Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Director: Cecilia Aranovich Hamilton
Writer: Tim Sheridan
Producer: Jennifer Coyle, Amy McKenna
Stars: Frank Welker, Grey Griffin, Matthew Lillard, Kate Micucci, Noshir Dalal, David Herman, Maurice LaMarche, Nolan North
Vincent Van Ghoul summons the Scooby gang back to the Himalayas to capture the final demon that eluded them years ago.
“The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo” was a preferred Saturday morning selection for me when it debuted in 1985. For one thing, it costarred film legend Vincent Price as mystic adventurer Vincent Van Ghoul. For another, it featured “real” ghosts, not grifters disguised in rubber masks, as Scooby and company traveled the world recapturing 13 baddies inside the fabled Chest of Demons.
It wasn’t all sunshine and Skittles as Scooby-Doo series go. Viewers also had to put up with Scrappy-Doo, dimwit ghost duo Weerd and Bogel, and Flim Flam, the slickster sidekick producers of the period invariably shoved into all of their programs under the mistaken pretense that kids needed a character to relate to.
Quickly turning into a ghost itself, “The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo” became the shortest incarnation of the venerable franchise with just 13 episodes. I grew up as an anal-retentive math nerd back then. I wouldn’t say the lack of closure bugged me as much as “ALF’s” cliffhanger series finale did five years later. But I was fully aware of the fact that the show ended without Scooby’s side squad recovering all 13 demons.
Hanna-Barbera and Warner Bros. Animation remembered too. We all would have gotten along fine had this dangling thread never been tied. Yet it’s a noble nod from producers who said, “how about we do something specifically for our 1980s audience” and finally followed up 34 years later with the animated feature “Scooby-Doo and the Curse of the 13th Ghost.”
Outside of peripheral awareness of pop culture references in “Mystery Incorporated,” and the existence of crossovers with properties like “Supernatural,” I haven’t paid close attention to Scooby-Doo’s universe since childhood. I’m sure there are plenty of adult fans who have, so I’m mentioning this to calibrate my personal starting point going into the movie.
“Scooby-Doo and the Curse of the 13th Ghost” opens on a sequence where Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and Scooby chase a man through a mall only to find out he isn’t involved in a fake haunting. (He’s just a farmer afraid of teenagers.) For once in their amateur investigator careers, the meddling kids shockingly finger the wrong suspect.
The script humorously employs a “this is what would happen in such circumstances” reality check for the Scooby gang. The sheriff gives them a legality lecture about being criminally negligent minors, casually points out that leash laws apply to their dog, and threatens everyone with possible prison time if they ever screw up like that again. This sensibility of self-awareness works well to modernize the film’s feel while injecting terrifically tongue-in-cheek jabs. Good thing the guy whose face they tried to pull off decided not to press charges.
Taking the sheriff’s suggestion to heart, the gang hosts a garage sale to get out of the mystery racket by getting rid of their gear. That’s when Vincent Van Ghoul serendipitously appears inside an old crystal ball to tell the teens he needs help trapping the 13th spirit inside the Chest of Demons.
Fred and Velma, who weren’t part of that particular TV series, naturally have no idea who Vincent is or what he is raving about. In fact, they’re surprised Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby never mentioned Vincent, Flim Flam, or the 13 demons before. I’m surprised too, but it makes for more meta jokes that wink at the viewer while providing a chuckle.
As part of another contemporizing update, Daphne returns to the forefront as team leader while Fred pays for the sins of being a bossy brain for so many years. At a 21st-century time when equality issues are a top social topic, it’s amusing to see Fred demoted to having to haggle with Scoob and Shag over Scooby Snack bribes, unable to operate a stick shift, and otherwise being a doof.
It’s not all comic relief though. Fred gets a semi-inspirational side story about overcoming his aimlessness and feelings of inadequacy to find out how he best fits in to help his friends. For a family friendly film, some pretty progressive themes subtly shine through in commendable fashion.
After encountering a ghost car, rendezvousing with Vincent at the Van Ghoul family castle, and coming face to face with the demon Asmodeus for the first time, Scooby and crew head to the Himalayas to recover the infamous chest before Asmodeus gets to it first. Once in Asia, everyone unexpectedly runs into an oddly familiar face, reunites with Flim Flam, and digs deeper into a mystery involving several secrets from Vincent Van Ghoul’s past.
Thick slices of filler occupy plenty of the movie’s 80-minute pie. Perhaps it’s appropriate since they weren’t around for the first team-up with Vincent, but you could entirely excise Fred and Velma, who are off on their own much of the time, and not have their absence affect the plot. We also don’t need two separate scenes of the other four friends fleeing from an avalanche, yet we have to bear them both anyway. I don’t know how much time they spend traipsing through Van Ghoul’s castle before finally finding Vincent either, but that’s more disposable material whose omission could easily cut down “Scooby-Doo and the Curse of the 13th Ghost” to under an hour.
I hate calling her out, but Kate Micucci does not do it for me as Velma. She’s been performing the character since 2015, so maybe I’m merely not used to hearing her version of the voice. But my mind’s ears of what Velma “should” sound like ring an alarm bell every time she speaks. Micucci might grow on me. In the meantime, I miss Mindy Cohn in the role.
At the other end of the cast list, Maurice LaMarche speeds away as the standout star of the show. LaMarche’s Vincent Price imitation is drop dead astounding in accuracy, inflection, and timbre. Producers should put more projects with Vincent in the pipeline just to take advantage of his talent. My own parody impression has always been based on the ‘Vincent Price’s Egg Magic’ bit from The Simpsons’ Super Bowl episode. (“My grandson Joooo-dee!”) From now on I’ll practice by mimicking LaMarche.
I took a look at some of the negative reactions posted online from disappointed fans of “The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo” series. While I disagree that their criticisms earn the movie a thumbs down, they’re not wrong. “Scooby-Doo and the Curse of the 13th Ghost” doesn’t truly provide the resolution it promises, for reasons that appear related to returning the franchise to its non-supernatural roots. The final revelation feels a bit like a bait and switch, though it’s not enough of a “drink your Ovaltine” letdown to outweigh everything else worth enjoying.
Partnered with several interesting Easter eggs, the nostalgia factor adds a certain amount of fun for “old school” fans like myself, including a chef’s kiss cheap dig at Scrappy. Outside of that though, “The Curse of the 13th Ghost” is an admittedly average Scooby-Doo adventure. Vincent’s plentiful puns inspire smiles. Lamer gags hobble horribly. All in all, the movie mostly lines up with what I’d expect from a DTV Scooby flick. It’s not the epic conclusion we expected, arguably deserved, for “The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo” saga. But it’s a fine enough follow-up for a quick hit of cartoon charm.
Review Score: 65