Scooby Doo’s Original Mysteries

Scooby Doo’s Original Mysteries (1969)
Warner Home Video
Extras: Jukebox sampler, Trivia Challenge, Recipes, Music Video

From my earliest memories, I’ve always been a fan of horror films, the supernatural, or anything gross. I have no explanation for this (nor do my parents), but I can’t help but wonder if it has anything to do with "Scooby-Doo." I grew up with "Scooby-Doo" in its various incarnations and I always found myself captivated by the ghosts and monsters that populated the show.
Now, some thirty-one years after its television debut, Warner Home Video and the Cartoon Network have teamed up to bring us "Scooby-Doo’s Original Mysteries" on DVD. This DVD features the first five episodes of "Scooby-Doo Where Are You?", which premiered in 1969, and serves as an excellent primer for the show.

Looking at "Scooby-Doo" today, it’s obvious why the show has been popular for thirty years. The main ingredient is Scooby-Doo himself. The notion of a talking pet is something that we’ve all thought of at some time. The next ingredients are the mysteries and monsters. As much as some people want to deny it, we are all drawn to the unknown and "Scooby-Doo" does a great job of portraying its villains. Sure, the show can be very silly at times, but some of the episodes (especially the one with the green ghosts!) can actually be scary. Despite the fact that we know that it’s going to be a person in a costume instead of a real ghost or monster, there’s always that sense of unease at the outset of each episode. And finally, we have the concept of a group of young people who get to travel around solving mysteries in a carefree way. As children, we think that it would be neat to ride around in a van with our friends, chasing monsters. As adults, we envy the (unrealistic as hell) freedom of these characters, who seemingly don’t have to worry about jobs, money, or relationships. These simple ingredients all add up to explain the universal appeal of "Scooby Doo." (Let me know when I get too philosophical about the talking dog show.)
The DVD of "Scooby-Doo’s Original Mysteries" contains the first five episodes of "Scooby-Doo Where are You?" from the 1969 season. All five episodes are presented in their entirety and they each average about 22 minutes.

The first episode is "What a Night For a Knight" and (according to the DVD box) was the pilot episode for the show. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve probably seen this episode about 50 times and had no idea that it was the first one! The episode opens with Shaggy (voiced by Casey Kasem) and Scooby-Doo discovering an abandoned truck with a black suit of armor sitting at the wheel. After gathering their friends Fred, Daphne, and Velma, the group take the "Black Knight" to the history museum. There, they learn that the armor is cursed and that the "Black Knight" is seeking his revenge. Determined to find out exactly what is going on, the five break into the museum (ah, the moral lesson!) and are subsequently chased by the "Black Knight". After subdueing the knight, we learn that it was all a cover-up for a counterfeit art scam.

Unlike pilots for live-action TV shows, in this episode, we learn nothing about the characters or their histories. We are forced to play catch-up and learn everyone’s distinct personality. Then again, I doubt that there will be anyone watching this DVD who’s never seen "Scooby-Doo" before, but it’s my job to nitpick.

The second episode is entitled "Hassle in the Castle" and represents the nadir of the collection. The group is shipwrecked on a small island and go to a castle for help. There, they are chased by a ghost of the white-sheet variety, until they catch it and expose its identity. That’s it. There’s not a whole lot of story going on in this episode and the ghost isn’t intriguing at all. Talk about a sophomore slump!
With the next episode, "A Clue For Scooby-Doo", we get the best episode of the group. The gang go to Rock Point Beach to have a party. While surfing (!), Scooby is accosted by a glowing ghost in an antique diving suit. The group investigates the mystery by visiting an old hermit and the widow who lives in the spooky lighthouse. They learn that the ghost is Captain Cutler. Cutler’s ship went down after he ran into a yacht from the local marina. Now, he’s seeking his revenge by making yachts disappear. (Wait a minute… rich people sunk his boat and now he’s seeking revenge from beyond the grave… get John Carpenter on the phone!) Donning the diving gear (yes, even Scooby!), the group set out to find the ghost and the missing yachts.

This episode represents everything that made "Scooby-Doo Where Are You?" such a great show. We’ve got a (semi) scary ghost, with an interesting back-story. We’ve got spooky characters (the hermit and the widow) who also serve as good suspects. There are plenty of chases and we see the gang hiding from the ghost. This blend of action and the supernatural is what set "Scooby-Doo" apart from its contemporaries.

The next episode is "Mine Your Own Business", which has the group visiting a Western ghost town. It seems that the ghost of the "Miner 49er" (give me a break) has been haunting the town and scaring off the tourists. Of course, the kids and Scooby have to check it out and try and catch the ghost. Of the five episodes, this one has the most convoluted explanation as to why the ghost is doing what he is doing. Also, the "Miner 49er" isn’t very scary. He looks a lot like Dan Haggerty. Oh wait, maybe that is scary.

The final episode is "Decoy For a Dognapper". If you’re going to watch this DVD, you must watch the episodes in order, so that you can be as shocked as I was by this one. From the outset, it’s obvious that it’s different. For one thing, the animation is much more colorful and more stylized. Not that "Scooby-Doo" is the most realistic show ever, but this episode looks very cartoony. The plot centers around a recent spat of dognappings. Shocked by these events, Scooby insists that the group investigate. The ghost in this episode is thrown in as an afterthought, but we do get to see Scooby have a conversation with some other dogs.

The Warner Home Video DVD of "Scooby-Doo’s Original Mysteries" presents all five episodes in their original full-frame format. The picture is clear, but the digital transfer process reveals all of the flaws in the source material. We see dirt, hairs, and various white specs on the original film. When a character moves across the screen, you can even see the specs change as the cels were changed. I realize that you shouldn’t expect a 30-year old Saturday morning cartoon to be in mint condition, but one can’t help but wonder why the masters weren’t at least cleaned before this transfer was done. The audio mix on the DVD is a <$DD,Dolby Digital> Mono, which may be disappointing to audiophiles, but actually helps to recreate the feeling of watching the show in the 70s.

The DVD has several extra features. There is a music video of the "Scooby-Doo" theme song which is actually from the recent film "Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island." There is a five-question trivia challenge (with some questionable answers). There are four sampler songs from Rhino’s "Snack Tracks" CD. And finally, we have some recipes from "Mystery Inc." for things such as Shaggy’s sandwich and, of course, Scooby Snacks!

The DVD of "Scooby-Doo’s Original Mysteries" is a perfect example of taking the good with the bad. The five episodes on the DVD aren’t the best of the series and the quality of the transfer isn’t top-notch. But, it’s certainly great to have any "Scooby-Doo" episodes on DVD and I can only hope that Warner will follow up this release with more compilations.
And now, one final question. The culprits are always hauled off the jail at the end of "Scooby-Doo". If you are committing no other crimes, is it really illegal to dress up like a ghost and scare people?