Unpacking Scooby-Doo’s enduring appeal
Scooby-Doo has been around for over 50 years, yet it’s just as popular today as it was in the 60s.
The more you think about it, the more outstanding this achievement is. The only American cartoons that are this old and still popular are legends like Mickey Mouse and Looney Tunes. But Scooby-Doo was one of many Hanna-Barbera cartoons of its era, yet its stood the test of time far better than its contemporaries. What is it about Scooby-Doo that gives it cross-generational appeal? Is its success just a fluke of marketing?
Truthfully speaking, when you dive deep into what Scooby-Doo is, it’s easy to see how these mystery solving teens and their great dane are still icons today. Here are the reasons why.
It’s a massive genre mash up.
If nothing else, the concept behind Scooby-Doo is genius.
Like most cartoons, Scooby-Doo is a humorous cartoon aimed primarily at children and teenagers. But these typical trappings are wrapped around mystery plot lines, which gives the show a vaguely darker yet more campy tone than other cartoons. And on top of that, Scooby-Doo plays with monsters and tropes from classic movies like Frankenstein and The Mummy that attract horror fans as well.
Put succinctly, Scooby-Doo has something for fans of comedy, mystery, drama, and horror. In other words, basically anyone can find something to like in Scooby-Doo.
Some incarnations of the show have toned down these elements to appeal more to kids. But vast appeal is definitely true of the show’s older iterations and the acclaimed Mystery Incorporated series. In fact, the show bounces between the monsters being real and being normal guys in costumes, which means different audiences will like specific Scooby-Doo incarnations more than others. Either way, the camp is so universally loved that it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t know the classic “if it wasn’t for you meddling kids!” tagline.
The premise is timeless.
It’s not just the genre mixing that’s smart. If you compare Scooby-Doo, Where Are You to other Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the time period, it’s shocking how different it is.
Take The Flintstones and The Jetsons, two Hanna-Barbera properties that come closest to Scooby-Doo‘s renown. Both these shoes were popular because they were spins on their era’s sitcom formula. What if the typical middle-class family existed in the past? What if they existed in the future? They were fun ideas because they were familiar concepts made fantastic via hilarious depictions of a “modern-day” past and an otherworldly future.
But nowadays, the middle class family structure isn’t as common today as it was in the 60s. For starters, times are tougher economically, and 20 percent more women are in the workforce now compared to the 1960s. By the same token, the family sit-coms that inspired these shows aren’t as ubiquitous today. Modern audiences aren’t guaranteed to get the novelty of these shoes the way they did in the past, which is why The Flintstones is arguably best known by kids today as children’s vitamins characters.
Compare this to Scooby-Doo, a show about a ragtag group of teenagers hanging out and solving mysteries with their pet dog. Teenagers of any generation know what it’s like to hang out with a bunch of misfits and poke their noses into business that they normally shouldn’t. Conversely, Scooby’s antics help engage young audiences, as he’s the one consistent element of outright fantasy across all iterations of the show. And as the show eventually became known for its outlandish cameo appearances, even adults will get a chuckle out of seeing the likes of KISS or John Cena with the gang.
It’s a winning formula that’s as fun today as it was 50 years ago. Even if we’ve changed the celebrity appearances from The Harlem Globetrotters to Ricky Gervais.
The characters were ahead of their time.
Speaking of forward-thinking ideas, the cast of Scooby-Doo has aged ridiculously well. Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy are all teenage archetypes to an extent. But the characteristics that define them aren’t pop culture stereotypes of the 60s; they’re based around traits that resonate with teens of any generation.
Take Velma, arguably the most popular character of the Scooby-Doo cast. She’s the now-typical portrayal of a nerd girl, but she’s not demeaned for her intelligence. On the contrary, she’s sassy, snarky, and isn’t afraid to take charge when she wants to follow a lead. She’s not perfect either, emphasized by the old running gags where she’d lose her glasses. Still, Velma is so fun to watch because many teenagers are a lot like her. And instead of being portrayed as a weirdo for her eccentricities, she’s treated as an essential part of the team.
The same principles apply to the rest of the characters. Fred can be a meathead at times, but he’s still a confident and reliable leader. Daphne is the token pretty girl, but she avoids being completely generic with a unique sense of fashion and strong character growth across the Scooby-Doo franchise. And Shaggy, when he’s not the destroyer of worlds, is a lazy coward redeemed by his adorable friendship with his dog. All of these characters are great individually, but more importantly, none of them exist to be the butt of jokes. It’s a cast anyone could look at and see a bit of themselves in.
It’s a pioneer of pop culture.
For all these reasons, Scooby-Doo has remained relevant through five decades of pop culture. But the truth is, Scooby-Doo hasn’t just survived pop culture. It has defined it.
The characters and jokes in Scooby-Doo are so iconic that they’ve been referenced or riffed on more times than we can count. From outlandish chase scenes to well known tropes named after the series, it’s absurd to consider just how much Scooby-Doo permeates media today. Even people who have never seen Scooby-Doo can understand these jokes and references! And again, this is all talking about a Hannah-Barbera cartoon about mystery solving teens, not a genre-creating breakthrough like Superman or Batman.
Even if Scooby-Doo has had ups and downs, it’s amazing that the show can be iterated on so many times without changing its core formula and still feel fresh today. But that’s just a testament to how successfully it has defined pop culture since its inception. For all of these reasons, it’s no wonder that Scooby-Doo still commands massive popularity today. We can’t say for sure if it’ll still be fondly remembered in another 50 years, but we have a feeling it might be – and it’s all because of those meddling kids.