Despite the longevity of Scooby and the gang, they had less than two seasons of decent episodes. This was during the shows initial run in 1969-71, when the official title of the series was Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? The characters then took a short breather, followed by years and years of horrifying and oft inexplicable tinkering. The first example of this occurred in 1972, when the program morphed into a series of hour-long movies featuring celebrity guest stars. And what a weird collection of celebrities they were. There were dead celebrities (Laurel & Hardy), fictional celebrities (The Addams Family, Batman & Robin) and more or less need-the-gig celebrities (Don Knotts, Don Adams, Jonathon Winters, Jerry Reed [!], etc.)
This disc, however, returns us to the characters glory days (such as they were). It spotlights the very first five episodes of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? I was a little bemused by this, wondering if they intended to release more volumes of a show that is, after all, a tad repetitive. Velma, for instance, manages to loose her glasses twice in just these five episodes. Scooby also has comical run-ins with smaller animals in every outing. Still, children have an infinite patience for re-watching stuff, so maybe further volumes will be forthcoming.
The main disadvantage of going with the first episodes is that most of these dont have particularly memorable menaces. One reason the first run of Scooby-Doo was so cool was that it actually managed to be fairly spooky at times. Here, though, the selection of fiends and phantoms is on the lame side. We have a purportedly haunted suit of armor, your standard amorphous sheet-type ghost, a bearded miner (!) and a guy in an American Indian tribal mask. Only the third episode, featuring a ghost in a phosphorescent period diving suit, really hits the atmospheric mark.
Also evident are some early episode growing pains. Although the shows were seldom really mysteries, per se, they at least tended to provide more than one possible suspect to keep the kids guessing. However, the first episode provides only one character other than the gang themselves. Which tends to somewhat diminish our surprise when hes unmasked. Moreover, its only in the last of the five that we get the traditional you meddling kids speech.
As most of us know, the worst was yet to come. Scooby was eventually beset by legions of obnoxious relatives. Scooby-Dum and Scrappy-Doo were merely the most famous of these miscreants. More obscure kin included Whoopsy-Doo and Skippy-Doo, amongst many, many others. Nor was that all. There was Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-lympics. And The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo. The latter dropped the gang entirely except for Shaggy, as he and Scoob attempted to catch thirteen real escaped ghosts. The show featured, sadly, the vocal talents of a very much slumming Vincent Price. Even worse was the addition of an annoyingly spunky kid, basically a human version of Scrappy-Doo. Then there was the inevitable and excruciating A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. (Hanna-Barbara had a seeming fixation on chronicling the adventures of their characters as children.) The horror continued on and on.
Considering how cheap, even primitive, the animation was on these episodes, they are surprisingly well served by being on DVD. The picture is sharp and the colors quite splashy. Profiting most, perhaps, are the often gothic backgrounds. Much of the cartoons spookiness derives from their desolate, fogbound settings, which are nicely highlighted here. Meanwhile, the sound quality is more than adequate to catch the assorted "Jinkies" and "Zoinks."
There are a number of uninspired extras here. These mostly consist of little clips of music and whatnot, none of which are especially edifying. The only interesting extras are a set of recipes, including, finally, the top-secret recipe for the Scooby Snack. (Mmmm, coconut )
Grosser, meanwhile, is the all-too-accurate recipe for one of Shaggys trademark sandwiches. The listed ingredients include lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, peanut butter, chocolate bars, Mayonnaise, ketchup, chocolate sauce and hot sauce, piled on a large loaf of Italian or French bread. Thankfully, children are instructed to seek parental guidance before attempting to construct such a culinary debacle.
Ken Begg, 4/9/2001