Scooby-Doo and the Curse of the 13th Ghost

Scooby-Doo is a bit like the Lupin series in that canon is pretty much whatever you make of it in any given moment. Do the writers and animators want to reference one of the old school Where Are You? monsters? They’ll do just that. Old stuff gets referenced by new stuff in off-hand ways, suggesting that there’s a history without actually creating a logical, linear, objective canon. It’s a bit like the way super hero comics are written, with history only mattering to the point that the current creative team cares. It all exists, just not at the same time and not with the same level of importance. The best way to enjoy it is to care enough that when something gets mentioned, you can say “Hey, I kinda remember that!” but not care enough that when such moments conveniently leave out other crucial detains from that given episode or season, you don’t get all mad and claim your childhood is ruined.

So it’s pretty interesting to see an out and out sequel to a Scooby-Doo series that was made over 30 years ago and have it play by these very same loose rules that make direct sequels unnecessary.

The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, the series to which this movie is a sequel, was a pretty neat iteration of the formula. Scooby and Shaggy get tricked into opening up a chest that contains 13 evil ghosts, and Vincent Van Ghoul, a straight-up wizard type dude pattered after and voiced by Vincent Price, coerces them into tracking down these ghosts and returning them to the chest. It’s a crazy Pandora’s Box meets some sort of Pokemon gotta catch them all scenario. Fred and Velma aren’t around, but Daphne’s there and becomes something of a leader and voice of reason. They also have Scrappy tagging along. Yeah, he can be annoying at times in just how diametrically opposed he is to the slacker/stoner vibe of his uncle, but the irrational hatred peeps have for him is only rivaled by the even more inane and insane hatred Star Wars have for Ewoks. Then there’s new kid Flim Flam, a literal snake oil salesman type who grated on my nerves more than Scrappy ever did. I like the idea of Flim Flam, but he’s also some sort of proto-Bart Simpson, too cool for school type who was a pair of sunglasses tipped down enough to see his eyes away from being the smuggest, most annoying “cool” character in animation history. Peeps like to reference that Poochie episode from The Simpsons, but that parody was very much grounded in reality, and Flim Flam was a part of that bloodline.

So yeah, Flim Flam aside, it was a pretty cool show. They were up against real monsters and ghosts. Each one had a cool horror theme to them. There were a couple of bungling comedy relief ghosts who helped out the monster of the week. It was a fun formula that was perfectly tailored for the 13 episode runs these sorts of shows got in a given season. One ghost per episode.

The catch is that they didn’t catch a ghost in the first episode, so by the time all 13 episodes were completed and a second season didn’t manifest, there was still one ghost out there being a jerk to peeps or whatever. The franchise’s attitude towards canon being what it is, that lingering plot hole was more of a curiosity to be referenced in later series like Mystery Incorporated rather than some massive, dangling inconsistency. It got hand waved away just like everything else that wasn’t convenient for the next run of episodes.

I haven’t seen every Scooby-Doo movie made since they started the almost yearld direct-to-DVD deal back in the 90s, but I’m pretty sure Curse of the 13 Ghost is the first of these movies to be a direct continuation of something that came before, rather than just riffing and playing with prior history.

It does a pretty neat job of straddling the line between traditional sequel and the looser “anything goes” attitude you usually see in the series. After screwing up a caper where they chased down the wrong perpetrator– the proverbial Old Man in a Mask ends up being an actual Old Man who’s innocent and afraid of teenagers– the gang’s forced to retire from mystery solving by the local police. They’re told that if they get involved in another mystery, they’ll go from meddling kids to being “criminally negligent,” since they’re fast approaching being legally adults. They end up having a garage sale where they sell off a bunch of the artifacts they gathered during prior adventures, resulting in a scene that looks like if the Bat Cave tossed everything on Bruce Wayne’s front yard and gave everything a price tag.

This leads Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby “rediscovering” the crystal ball they used to contact Van Ghoul, which just so happens to be “ringing,” as Van Ghoul is in need of their help again. Turns out that the three of them had a little side gig going during their previous summer break. Fred and Velma were off at summer camps, and that left Daphne and the lovable slackers to team up with Van Ghoul and basically play out the events of the original 13 Ghosts series. It explains away why Fred and Velma weren’t around, although it doesn’t explain how Shaggy knew how to fly or why they were with Scrappy on a trip to Hawaii that accidentally ends up in the Himalayas. We get some rationale for when that particular series takes place, but the particulars get hand waved away as part of the movie’s reoccurring gag where Fred discovers that Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby are far more competent than he ever imagined.

And that’s probably the coolest thing about this movie: it plays around with the long established dynamics between these characters. When Fred is around, he’s always poised as the de facto leader of the group. He’s the man with the plan, even in Mystery Incorporated where his goofiness gets ramped up quite a bit. He’s not the smartest or most charming member of the group, but he’s always deciding how to split up, driving the Mystery Machine, and generally being the guy on the front line. Curse of the 13th Ghost doesn’t just toy around with Daphne taking the lead, as she did in the original 13 Ghosts series, it outright makes the claim that Daphne’s always been the leader, and Fred is more of a cheerleader for the group.

Fred gets repositioned not as the guy who takes charge in each situation, but as the guy who keeps the group together. He’s still capable of figuring out situations, but he’s more the sort who reminds everyone else of what they’re good at. He reassures Velma that her conclusions are usually right. He affirms for Daphne that she can see the bigger picture of situations better than he can. He admits that when he went to camp during that summer where 13 Ghosts too place, he wasn’t at Trap Camp like he mentions in Mystery Incorporated. He was at Cheerleading Camp.

It’s an interesting role change that takes into account not just 13 Ghosts’ take on Daphne (and Fred’s absence), but also the general trend in their characters since the live action movies staring Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Because of Gellar’s role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, they decided to add in the martial elements of that character into Daphne’s character, and that’s remained in some form or another since then, but this is the first time (to my knowledge) that one of the Scooby-Doo entries outright shows that her character is now more suited for the role of “point man” than Fred, and it does it not by diminishing Fred’s character, but by redefining his role into something equally important.

It also pretty damn funny to watch him as his world view literally crumbles and reforms over the course of the movie. He’s growing and he’s the butt of an amusing ongoing gag. That’s some real character development there.

The actual plot is pretty standard Scooby fare. They hunt down the 13th ghost. It ties into Van Ghoul’s past. Masks are removed. Ghost may or may not be real. Flim Flam gets to be mildly interesting, and the explanation for why he appears to be the same age as the rest of the Gang is another amusing hand wave (“I was due for a growth spurt!”). You get chases, gags, and everything else you expect. It might not be the prettiest animated movie– there aren’t any real impressive animation moments or anything– but it gets the job done. The way things wrap up might not be entirely satisfying if you have any lingering affection for the 13 Ghosts series, but it makes as much sense as anything else in a Scooby-Doo cartoon.

It isn’t the “conclusion” someone like me might hope for, but it’s interesting in its own ways.

Also: Daphne’s purple leather jacket is awesome. She needs to ditch that go-go dress and go with the jacket look.

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