Scooby-Doo! & Batman: The Brave and the Bold review

Zoinks and outrageous, chums!  Batman is back with his hammers of justice, and this time he’s teamed up with those groovy teens of Mystery, Inc. to solve the one unsolved mystery that has haunted the Caped Crusader for years.

After airing its final episode over six years ago, the announcement that The Brave and the Bold would be making a triumphant return was a welcome surprise, and just the same that he would be joining forces with Scooby and the gang.  Fans have longed for some sort of movie or follow-up series since the series proper ended, and our patience has finally paid off.

Honestly, I’m not even going to mince words: this movie is excellent.  The story is involving, the action and humor are both top-notch, and the blending of the two worlds is seamless.

Admittedly, a lot of your appreciation will be rooted in how much you like either (or both) of the title series.  Despite Scooby getting top billing, this is a Brave and the Bold movie through and through, so we effectively have us a Paul Newman/Steve McQueen The Towering Inferno situation.  More to the point, while it is a Batman movie, it’s a movie for a very specific take on Batman.  I, for one, love the two-fisted adventures of this Batman and the celebration of camp and goofiness it brings, but it’s not for everyone.  Point being: if you weren’t a fan of this show to begin with, then this movie won’t make you a convert.

Of course, you should love it because it’s amazing, but different strokes I suppose.

Even if it is a Batman-centric story, Scooby-Doo and the gang are still big players too, so if you’re not a fan of that group this might not win you over.  I haven’t watched many newer Scooby-Doo shows in years, so I’m not sure if the recent crop is the same way, but the script here is just as irreverent toward that property as it is toward the inherent silliness of the DCU.  While being completely respectful toward the show, the movie still pokes a lot of fun at Scooby’s usual tropes and cliches.  It’s all in good fun, of course, and more tongue-in-cheek than the early cartoons, but it still stands to reason that if you’re not a Scooby fan you probably won’t be at movie’s end either.

For the rest of us, though, this movie is an absolute pleasure from beginning to end.  No lie: this might be my favorite Batman movie in years, animated or otherwise.

Simply as a general entertainment, the movie is just loads of fun.  It’s full of energy and genuinely funny jokes, with a pacing that makes its 75 minutes fly by.

We open on the Mystery, Inc. gang as they head to Gotham City to investigate a mystery.  It plays out like a typical Scooby case, with Fred thinking he’s doing more than he actually is, Daphne doing more than the others think she would, Scooby and Shaggy cowering in fear, and Velma doing most of the work.  Even in the beginning the movie pokes fun of the typical Scooby tropes, like having Fred set a trap he’s just so proud of until it completely backfires.

It’s a fun opening scene that helps to establish both sets of characters and how they’ll interact with each other.  Once the gang nab the assailants, they discover…

…Detective Chimp and Martian Manhunter?

Turns out it was all just a test put on by Batman.  Now that they’ve passed, Batman asks that they join a highly-specialized group of detective and crimefighters: the Mystery Analysts of Gotham.  Among their ranks are Batman, naturally, the Question, Detective Chimp, Black Canary, Martian Manhunter, and… Plastic Man, for… some reason.  I mean, it’s been well documented that I love Plastic Man, but it’s strange that he’s part of a detective club instead of Elongated Man, who is actually a detective.  If they wanted to meet their stretchy guy quota then Ralph would have made more sense, but whatever.  Plastic Man.  I’m game.

Once the Mystery teens join the M.A.O.G. (probably could have come up with a snappier acronym), they set out to uncover the identity of the Crimson Cloak, a specter-like apparition that has been haunting various Gotham haun… err, locations.  This mystery has ties with Batman’s lone unsolved case, and naturally the Mystery, Inc. crew take it upon themselves to help Batman find closure.

It’s a straightforward plot to be sure, but it’s all about the joy of seeing these characters onscreen again.  The fact that the story is so basic isn’t a knock against it at all, as the predictability of the proceedings is part of the charm.  You may be able to figure out where the story is going fairly early on, but what the movie really wants to surprise you with is the references to the histories of both Batman and Scooby-Doo.

True to the Brave and the Bold formula, there are tons of cameos and nods to Batman’s world.  The likes of the Riddler, Catwoman, and even Harvey Bullock make appearances, as well as countless other cameos once the group infiltrates Arkham Asylum.  It’s not just an endless parade of characters, though, as the movie has several set-pieces and scenes that subvert your expectations with the material.  Right from the start we’re made aware of this, as the Batman: The Brave and the Bold opening credits have been rearranged in a sort of mash-up with the Scooby-Doo musical theme.

Those geniuses at Dynamic Music Partners took the cool big band theme from the Batman cartoon, mixed in some theremin-esque spooky sounds, and came up with a great new arrangement that is distinctly Batman and Scooby.

Then there are the plays on both series’ styles, like an impossible chase through Arkham Asylum where characters enter and exit doorways in sequences that defy any sort of physics or rational thought.  My favorite scene, though, is where Scooby and Shaggy get caught up in a food fight in Arkham’s cafeteria.  They decide to escape, they’re going to have to eat their way out, and they do so in freeze frame shots that get progressively more ridiculous.  It’s a play on some of the more kinetic fight scenes of The Brave and the Bold, except, you know, with food rather than fists.

The writers have fun with Batman and his compatriots too, of course.  Aquaman, who was the breakout star of the show and the Best Aquaman Ever™, is funny as ever.  His ploy to join the M.A.O.G. still has me laughing, and John DiMaggio just sells the heck out of the role.  There are some great running gags with other characters as well, like the Question asking way too many questions and more than one nod to Martian Manhunter’s cookie addiction.  Granted, they should have been Oreos and not chocolate chip, but whatever.  It’s still funny.

In addition to DiMaggio, the whole vocal cast is remarkably strong.  Diedrich Bader is the perfect Batman for the material, strong and stoic while still exhibiting vulnerability and affection when called for.  The Scooby gang are voiced by the long-running team of Frank Welker as Scooby-Doo and Fred (the latter of whom he has been voicing for almost fifty years), Grey Griffin as Daphne (and Black Canary), Kate Micucci as Velma, and Matthew Lillard as Shaggy.  Say what you will about the live-action Scooby-Doo movies, but Lillard was pitch perfect as Shaggy, so it’s nice to see him continue on with the character after Casey Kasem’s retirement and death.

Other notable performances come from John Michael Higgins, who is perfect as the smarmy, smug Riddler, and Jeffrey Combs as the Question, reprising his role from Justice League Unlimited.  About the only performance that I felt was lacking was Tara Strong’s Harley Quinn.  That may be a controversial statement, as Strong has effectively taken over the role since Arleen Sorkin retired, but her delivery gets more and more shrill each time.  I get that she’s going for differing and varied interpretations, giving a different performance in the direct to video movies, DC Super Hero Girls, and here, but I’m frankly not a fan of her delivery with this Harley.  It’s almost a parody, and given that Harley’s diction is already exaggerated there’s a pretty fine line that has to be tread.  Strong also voices Poison Ivy, though, and that performance is about perfect, so it’s a wash.

Possibly the best thing I can say about the movie is that it carries the spirit of a television show, but doesn’t feel like an overlong or extended episode.  It feels like a movie, just one that happens to be based on two separate TV series.  It’s great Scooby, great Batman, and just a great entertainment in general.

And once again, for those in the back: Plastic Man and Detective Chimp are in it.

Bonus Features: Two bonus Scooby-Doo cartoons.  The episodes in question are “The Dynamic Scooby Doo Affair” and “The Caped Crusader Caper,” which have also been collected as Scooby-Doo Meets Batman, so it’s effectively like getting an additional movie.

Overall: Nothing but delightful from beginning to end.  The animation and voice acting are beyond top-notch, the music is fantastic, and the story, humor, and action all deliver.  It’s good to have The Brave and the Bold Batman back in any iteration, and teaming him up with Scooby-Doo was a surprising but successful pairing.  This is a very focused and particular version of Batman, to be sure, but if you let yourself have fun with it you’ll have a blast.  Here’s to hoping for many more returns.

SCORE: 9/10