Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
May 14, 2020

A fully CGI-animated entry in the enduring and endearing Scooby-Doo franchise, SCOOB! launches with an origin story of the first meeting between iconic buddies Shaggy and Scooby and their subsequent friendship with Fred, Daphne, and Velma, then follows the gang into young adulthood on one of their biggest adventures ever: when the villainous Dick Dastardly concocts a scheme that involves kidnapping Scooby, the rest of Mystery Inc. must team up with Dynomutt, Dee Dee Skyes, and the current Blue Falcon to rescue their canine companion and save the world.

SCOOB! features the voice talents of the legendary Frank Welker as the film's eponymous star; Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried, Gina Rodriguez, and Will Forte as Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy; Pierce Gagnon, Mckenna Grace, Ariana Greenblatt, and Iain Armitage as the kid versions of the group; Jason Isaacs as mustachioed antagonist Dick Dastardly; Tracy Morgan as Captain Caveman; and Mark Wahlberg, Ken Jeong, and Kiersey Clemons as Falcon Force team members Blue Falcon, Dynomutt, and Dee Dee Skyes. The film is helmed by Tony Cervone, a veteran of animation whose credits include numerous Scooby-Doo projects, including the excellent 52-episode series Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.

In this exclusive interview, director Tony Cervone talks about adapting Scooby and the gang for 3D animation, assembling a roster of classic Hanna-Barbera characters to complement the Mystery Inc. crew, and paying homage to the many talents who have contributed to the franchise since its inception over 50 years ago. He also considers ideas for future possibilities in this cinematic universe, and shares a positive take on SCOOB!'s shift from a standard theatrical release to an unconventional debut directly to homes as a response to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

SCOOB! is available on premium VOD and digital, including Google Play, Amazon, and YouTube. When I first saw the SCOOB! character designs months ago, I immediately thought, "That is exactly how I would expect to see the gang in a CGI movie." How did you approach the groundwork and challenge of adapting them from 2D to 3D?

TONY: [laughs] It took years to get there, to be honest. In some ways, I feel like the way the characters look in 3D in the movie seems kind of obvious, like, "Oh yeah, that seems like what I would expect them to do." But it took a long time to get there, and we did a lot of experimenting. We built many Scooby-Doos before we settled on this Scooby-Doo. We tried a lot of things. And those were all really good experiments, because we learned a lot along the way. And I think that at the end of the day, what really got us back...Well, when [executive producer] Chris Columbus came onboard, he helped out a lot with that, but what he really did is he listened to us. Because we said, "We're just kind of listening to the characters--what are the characters telling us?" And Scooby and Shaggy really just wanted to be Scooby and Shaggy, you know? We spent a lot of time thinking about, "Should we create one overall look that can fill this whole universe?" Like, how are we going to create one look that accommodates Fred Jones and Dick Dastardly? They're so radically different. And we just did it the Hanna-Barbera way, and the Hanna-Barbera way mixed stuff up all the time. I knew Iwao Takamoto, and I knew a lot of the Hanna-Barbera people, and in a way, I was just kind of listening to them in my head, and they were all like, "Play to the characters' strengths, listen to the characters." And I think that's kind of what led us, and where we eventually wound up.

How did you narrow down the list of Hanna-Barbera characters that would join Scooby and his friends on this adventure?

We had more characters in the movie for a long time. In the credits at the end of the movie, there's an expanded Falcon Force. Those were characters in Falcon Force for a while--like, we had Jabberjaw and Grape Ape and Atom Ant in the movie. We had a lot more, and they were kind of pulling our attention away from Scooby and Shaggy. And Scooby and Shaggy were paying the price for that [in] a 90-minute movie. So it was a long period of attrition where it was like, "Okay, Atom Ant, you're on the bench." And then we'd get a little further, "Jabberjaw, you're on the bench. Grape Ape..." But they're there, they're all waiting in the wings. And if we ever move forward and do something else, these are all characters we could call back onto the team.

My biggest dose of nostalgia was your recreation of the opening title sequence from Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! to bridge the origin story of the gang with their present day selves. How did all of that come together?

It happened super late in the game. We had many "growing up montages," and then finally it was just like, "Why are we ignoring the most fun one? This is the right moment to do it, why are we not doing it?" And then it was like, "How are we going to build a bunch of extra characters that only exist for one shot? There's a whole bunch of sets that never appear again." And then everyone, all of us, as a whole team, went, "We want to do it, we're going to make it happen. We're going to just buckle [down]. And the way we're going to do it is we're just going to recreate exactly what was there." So all of those shots are shot-for-shot what was in the original title, either season one or season two, with the exception of Fred on the beach with the Mystery Machine, which we felt helped set up Fred's love of the Mystery Machine a little bit stronger for people who might not necessarily [know]...We borrowed one shot from season two of the opening rather than season one, because there was a scene where Shaggy wound up in a bathtub with a shower running on him, and we're like, "We're running out of time and we don't know how to make a wet Shaggy, so go for season two!" And at the last second, we got Best Coast to do the theme song--they're a local LA band. Music supervisor Gabe Hilfer and I were talking, and we called them, and within three days they had done the song, amazingly fast and energetic. And I think that's one of the reasons that sequence is so cool.

It's probably fair to say that of the core group, Fred has gone through the most changes in terms of appearance, what Zac Efron did with the voice, and his personality, which seems reminiscent of the 2002 live-action version. What made those changes right for this movie, even when you already had Frank Welker (who has voiced the character since 1969) in the studio, able to deliver classic Freddy?

Sure, and we love classic Freddy! I mean, I love all the classics--we'll call it the "Scooby Prime Universe" cast. But we knew we were going to create a different universe, and the differences were important to the story. Lookwise, Fred...You know, there's some costume changes, but color-wise, it's all the same. Facially, Fred is pretty close to the original model shoot, it's just that in the original models, there are very few lines there, so there's a lot of interpretation to go from 2D to 3D with Fred's face. You could line it up and go, "Oh yeah, look at that, that's perfect." But then the minute it's 3D with light hitting it, you're going to have to make something up. And then his hairstyle's a little bit different. I think personality...I don't know, I've always loved Fred, and I think in all the work I've done with Scooby and Shaggy, I do kind of push and pull the characters a little bit. Fred was really different in Mystery Incorporated--but Fred was really important to Mystery Incorporated! [laughs] And this Fred, in some ways, harkens back to the original Fred for me, where he is like a boy scout--he really is there to save his friends, he's kind of the de facto leader, he really cares about his friends, and he's really earnest, to the point where he's kind of oblivious, you know? And that's why I think Zac did a great job with him. Zac has such a warm, authentic, believable quality to his voice that retains charm even if he's being completely clueless. [laughs] So I was like, "This is really fun." Zac Efron is really good at that, he's very convincing, and very warm and very authentic. I like this Fred. He is a different Fred.

We spoke with Mckenna Grace earlier this year, and she was so visibly excited about being a part of both SCOOB! and Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and so knowledgeable, that she almost seemed like a fan from a previous generation...

Yeah. All of them...That kid cast is amazingly talented and amazingly smart. And I don't mean [just] "as kid actors"--they're some of the best actors I've ever met, and they're some of the most intelligent people I've ever met. Their insight to these characters and this stuff will blow you away. [laughs] But anyway, I didn't mean to interrupt you. But Mckenna, absolutely, I agree a million percent.

Oh, that's exactly what I was getting to: did you find that even your young cast members had a certain connection to Scooby, just as much as older fans?

Oh yes, especially Mckenna and Ariana, our Velma. They were so into it, and so smart and so good. I really like that we get to show the origin and show the meeting of the gang and their first mystery. But there's so much more there, if you want to go, "What could you do next?" [laughs] Those kids are so talented, and that stuff was so much fun. And one of the reasons it was fun is how good they are. I mean, Iain Armitage, who plays Shaggy...He's amazing. They're all really shockingly great.

You could totally do a Pup Named Scooby-Doo prequel movie with them, for sure.

We all love A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. You know, we had a sequence board that breaks down the movie, and it kind of lives on the wall for years. But all of that sequence was called "A Pup Named Scooby-Doo" forever. We love that show.

We all know that Hanna-Barbera had a lot of mystery-solving teen gangs with their talking animal/caveman/dune buggy back in the day. What do you think made the Scooby gang distinguish themselves from other early teams and endure with fans of all ages to this day?

I think we all have ideas, but it's not like a [guaranteed] formula. Because just like you said, that formula's been applied again and again and again, and never hit that high again. There's a reason there beyond that, and I'm not sure exactly what it is, because you can't really replicate it, you know? The best you could do is tap into it. But for me, I think that Scooby and Shaggy's friendship--that they're funny, but also that they really love each other--is really important. The friendship among the gang. The characters being archetypes in a sense--we call them the heart, the brain, and the muscle with Daphne, Velma, and Fred. That works over and over and over again. Those archetypes apply to every generation. And also I think there's something fun about monsters and mysteries, and I think there's something fun about meddling kids who look at the world and go, "Where are the adults and the police?" And that's something we did again and again in Mystery Incorporated, where the adult world is like, "Hey, don't go in there, that lighthouse is haunted!" And they're like, "It's what? It's not haunted!" They're meddling kids, they're going into places they shouldn't. They're smarter than everyone, and they're right every time. When you're a kid, who doesn't want to watch a kid be smarter than an adult and right? So I think that's a big part of it, too.

Of the many Easter eggs scattered throughout the film, are there some that you're particularly proud of, that you would like fans to look for?

My favorite Easter eggs are there pretty obviously, but they're all about the people who are behind the show more than [characters]. We actually have two separate Squiddly Diddly Easter eggs in the movie, so I love all that stuff, and I love the Hex Girls poster in the arcade. But I also like Takamoto Bowl being named after Iwao Takamoto, the designer of the entire universe, [and] Messick Mountain being named after Don Messick. One of the streets is called North Avenue for Heather North, the original voice of Daphne. That cop is named Officer Jaffe, who's named after the original voice of Velma. The first coffee shop they go to is the R&S Coffee Shop, and that's Ruby and Spears. On Venice Beach, there's signs [for] free pickle spears. And there's one there that I really like: in that shot where we kind of reveal the Mystery Machine, we're on a stoplight and we come down, and that street is named Carlton Way, which is named for Carlton Clay, who was both Hanna and Barbera's assistant--worked with both of them, and was very close with both of them. We come down off that sign, behind the Mystery Machine is Hanna's Barber Shop, because Mr. Hanna was in a barbershop quartet, and Barbera's Pizza. So there's a lot of Easter eggs that are there just for the employees of Hanna-Barbera, and I really love that stuff.

We've talked about characters and ideas that could be used for a prequel or sequel to SCOOB!--should we expect to see more films set in this universe?

If this stuff is popular, sure, why not? That was the point of it, you know? And it was fun! I think this is a fun universe, and we've created it, and now I want people to go in there into that sandbox and play. Like, let's see more of this Captain Caveman and more of this Dastardly and Muttley--now that it's out there, what could we do with it?

I would love to revisit this world again. Here's hoping we can speak to you in person one day soon about the next film! Until then, stay safe and stay healthy...

Yeah, you too! I mean, this is craziness, but in this time, I really do think that there is something good about this movie being released the way it is, for fans and for families. And that's really what this is for. It's a 90-minute break from all the crisis and worry and uncertainty that's looming over our heads. If this could be a little break of sunshine and fun talking dogs, that's all I can ask for--you know, I hope it does some good.

That's a fantastic way to look at it. Thanks for your time today, Tony!

Thank you, thank you! Take care!

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