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Scooby-Doo and Mystery Inc. are upgrading their sleuthing capers and unmasking of tricksters to save the world in the animated feature Scoob! Currently available on VOD, the film finds the lovable Great Dane and his ghost-hunting pals attempting to squash a plot to bring about a "dog-pocalypse." However, there's more at stake than foiling the bad guy. There's Scooby's destiny, his friendship with Shaggy, and, yes, a potential Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe.
Scoob! screenwriter Matt Lieberman knows about big stakes. In the past few years, he's penned the Netflix-backed, Kurt Russell-starring hit The Christmas Chronicles, its upcoming sequel, the recent animated take on The Addams Family, and the highly anticipated Ryan Reynolds vehicle Free Guy, which stars Reynolds as an NPC-gone-rogue in a video game.
Then there's Scoob!, which puts Scooby and the gang in an updated world with equally updated characters.
SYFY WIRE spoke with Lieberman about Scoob!'s genesis, updating the franchise, Hanna-Barbera's other properties, and adding more heart than ever before to the classic cartoon.
In what ways did penning the recent animated Addams Family movie help you land Scoob!? How did it come together?
Actually, not at all. I pitched this movie to Warner Bros. almost seven years to the day. Addams Family didn't come until two or three years after that. This probably actually helped me get Addams Family, rather than the other way around.
Viewers love Scooby-Doo and the gang. What is your relationship to these characters and the franchise?
I grew up with Scooby-Doo. It's a 50-year-old brand. It was a big part of my childhood. I have specific memories of my mother telling me to shut off the TV, that it was going to ruin my brain. I don't know which seasons specifically, but a couple are definitely in my DNA. When it came back onto my plate, I think I had a nice distance from it to be able to put a unique take on it.
After two live-action films, why do you believe animation was the right medium to relaunch Scooby-Doo?
I'm a fan of the live-action movies. I think a big part of their success, at least at the time, was the stunt casting of it all.
I do think animation allowed us to do things on a bigger scale than could be done before. After being able to see the characters in live-action, it was nice to get back to what the property is... the DNA of the brand.
There's been plenty of incarnations of Scooby over the years. What kind of story did you want to tell?
I wanted to tell a story about Scooby that featured him as the protagonist. That's how I locked into it. That's how I built the idea.
Even though Scooby is obviously essential to Scooby-Doo — and his relationship with Shaggy has been at [the] forefront of lots of seasons and shows and episodes and movies — [the franchise] really hasn't been about him. That was very important to me. And giving him a big enough arc emotionally, with as many stakes as I could.
Then, also, when this came across my desk, there was this notion of, "If there was a way to incorporate other Hanna-Barbera characters, that would be great." That was all the criteria given. Given that I love all those other shows, there was an organic way those other shows and characters fit together. That was exciting for me, too.
There are some familiar Hanna-Barbera faces in here. How did you cherry-pick which ones would be weaved into the movie?
The original idea for Scoob!, which actually stood for "Special Covert Organization of Otherworldly Beasts," was when they get taken by Blue Falcon. There was also Grape Ape and Atom Ant and Jabberjaw. Captain Caveman was part of the team, but they ended up putting him in a different scene.
Scooby-Doo had this otherworldly quality that he didn't even know about. All those characters... there's definitely a similar nature to all those shows. They were all shows with otherworldly characters being paired with teenagers. They all did kind of fit together naturally, and it was fun to put them together. For many years, we tried to keep them all in the movie. To have them, and honor the Scooby Gang, was too much. Things had to be stripped away, even though there are little Easter eggs and maybe a little wink toward the end of the movie for the characters left out.
How special was it getting to fill in the blanks regarding Scooby and Shaggy's first meeting, as well as the gang's formation?
The Scooby/Shaggy-meeting-as-kids scene was not in the original script, but once we found it, we knew we had locked into something important and special, and something that had not been seen before. It was definitely cool to think about how these kids got together. It changed over drafts. There's almost an entire movie in just the group getting together.
There isn't a fake ghoul or ghost driving this mystery. In what ways was it challenging to modernize and update their adventure?
That was another big reason for making this. Obviously, we want to honor the tropes and pulling off the mask. My instinct is always to look at "What is the hook of the movie?" For me, to have the most scared dog, Scooby, having to face off against the scariest creature is exciting to me and worthy of a movie. You don't want to undercut those stakes.
I'm excited the adventure they are on is real. But we do honor taking off the mask. And, "those meddling kids" is in there, too.
How surprised will audiences be with the amount of heart in this narrative? That's a bit unexpected for a Scooby-Doo vehicle.
I hope they are pleasantly surprised. Whatever movie I work on, I always ask, "Why do I care?" People obviously care about these characters. But, to keep going back to a movie, you really have to care about them emotionally. That was the most important part of making this movie, from beginning to end... honoring the emotional journeys of Scooby and Shaggy and bringing that to the other characters, too.
Even Dick Dastardly's motivations aren't so dastardly. They are grounded in emotion.
When I originally pitched this movie, I brought in a board. It had a picture of Scooby and Shaggy, a picture of Dastardly and Muttley, and a picture of Dynomutt and Blue Falcon. Here are three different people and their dogs, three totally different types of characters and dynamics, and how do those all inform each other?
That's been at the forefront of all the drafts. I think the director, Tony Cervone, made a really great choice for Muttley as Dastardly's reason for doing what he does.
There's still plenty of mystery material to mine in the Scooby Universe. How interested are you in telling more stories?
I love these characters. We've only touched the tip of the iceberg with what we can do with them. There are other characters that haven't even come into it yet. It's something, at least with me, that's only been in the super-early stages of talking.
Next on your plate is The Christmas Chronicles 2. How did you build on the mythology of the first one?
That is in the can. The movie looks great and we're all excited about it. We wanted to make a sequel worthy of the first one. There's so much in the first one that we didn't even get to. It was almost an embarrassment of riches of where to go from here.
But it's a bigger movie, on a bigger scale. We delve deeper into the world of Santa Claus and those characters.
Your other huge project in the pipeline is the Ryan Reynolds film, Free Guy. Where did that idea stem from?
I'm so excited about Free Guy. It was a spec script I wrote. The origin of it was me playing a lot of video games like Grand Theft Auto and feeling bad for the people you beat up in those games. Also, the wish-fulfillment of power-ups and having this city where these marginalized things are going on. And being a fan of Truman Show kind of movies.
I'm a high-concept writer, I'd say. I've seen an early cut of the film and I can't tell you how excited I am for it. Ryan Reynolds and Shawn Levy took it to this other level. It really works.