‘The Scooby-Doo Project’ Is Still the Gang’s Strangest Adventure

March 29th, 2024 | By Garrett Brown

The Scooby Doo Project

In 1999, Cartoon Network aired the television special The Scooby-Doo Project as a part of their Scooby-Doo Halloween marathon. An animated/live-action parody of the found footage horror film The Blair Witch Project, the special follows the iconic Mystery Inc. – Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and their talking dog Scooby-Doo – as they document their latest mystery hunting a monster in the woods. Nearly 25 years after its initial release, The Scooby-Doo Project remains one the best and strangest adventures of Scooby-Doo and the teenagers of Mystery Incorporated.

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When the characters of the Hanna-Barbera animated series Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! premiered in 1969, I doubt that creators Joe Ruby and Ken Spears had any idea of the cultural longevity their creation would retain. For the past 55 years, generations of fans have followed the Scooby-Doo gang as they travel around the country to solve mysteries. Through a perfect blend of comedy and cartoon suspense, the franchise lovingly engages with all aspects of the horror genre. Although the franchise reinvents itself every couple of years, much of the iconography remains the same, from the clothes to the catchphrases to the individual quirks of each character. These consistent traits often lend themself to loving parody, sometimes by the creators of Scooby-Doo projects themselves.

The Scooby-Doo franchise has always riffed on horror tropes. The stories and vibes of the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! are in debt to the Universal horror films of the 1930s as well as B-movie creature features that were staples of drive-ins and late-night television. While it feels so strange in retrospect that Cartoon Network would allow the creative team behind The Scooby-Doo Project to create an incredibly faithful parody of a bleak horror film like The Blair Witch Project, they threaded the needle elegantly. The Scooby-Doo Project is a parody that both respects and lampoons its source material, exercising an appropriate amount of meta-humor without sacrificing the core elements of the iconic characters.

Part of the reason The Scooby-Doo Project holds up 25 years after its release is that while the animation is on a budget – you can see character movements reused throughout the special – the special is largely live-action with a shaky handheld camera. The only fully animated characters are Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, Scooby, and the monster, and even then, the animation is used sparingly. Characters turn so their profile is away from the lens or often deliver lines off-camera. The shaky, hand-held aspect also makes the animation feel dynamic, making sure that the audience does not fixate on the animation versus live action. 

The Scooby-Doo Project largely follows the plot points of The Blair Witch Project to a tee. As Fred (Frank Welker), Daphne (Mary Kay Bergman), Shaggy, and Scooby-Doo (both Scott Innes) prepare to investigate a monster in the haunted woods nearby, Velma (B. J. Ward) announces her decision to document the adventure with a handheld digital camera. After interviewing locals about the rumors of a haunting, they leave the Mystery Machine parked on the side of the road and hike into the woods to set up camp. 

Then the special presents the Scooby-Doo version of iconic Blair Witch moments. A stacked pile of rocks that appears overnight turns out to be a pile of Scooby Snacks. Velma loses the map, but instead of learning that someone threw it away, Shaggy reveals he was so hungry that he ate it with Tabasco sauce. The gang hears the sound of monsters outside the tent, only to realize it’s Scrappy-Doo, Scooby-Doo’s annoying nephew – and they still run away because, even then, everyone knew Scrappy-Doo was terrible.

The special also makes sure to include classic hallmarks of the Scooby-Doo franchise. Near the end, the gang enters an abandoned house, turning on a radio and accidentally triggering a Scooby-Doo Doors foot chase with the monster. After the chase, a scared Shaggy is found hiding in the basement corner facing the wall – à la Mike in The Blair Witch Project – but the gang manages to capture the monster, unmasking a random live-action man who clarifies that he had nothing to do with haunting the gang in the woods. He was just in his house, scaring visitors because it was Halloween. The special ends as the gang realizes there is another (real) monster outside the house, and the camera falters, ending the recording. An extended cut reveals that search parties later found the camera and the Mystery Machine but never found traces of the gang.

In 1999, it was a lot easier for certain kinds of media to fall through the cracks and be forgotten. In the era before YouTube and modern social media, The Scooby-Doo Project always had the potential to fall into obscurity. I first learned about the special several years ago via a post on Tumblr, where someone uploaded the image of Shaggy standing in the basement corner. Scooby-Doo has been parodied, referenced, and reimagined in so many authorized and unauthorized ways that I can believe that someone bored with Photoshop has put Shaggy and Scooby in every horror franchise possible. The Scooby-Doo Project never became “lost media” but without reruns and highly publicized re-releases, the Halloween special became a curio, something buried in the mind of the viewers who had seen it as children.

Watching The Scooby-Doo Project now, the comedic tone of the special is boosted by both the cultural footprint and the cultural backlash to The Blair Witch Project. Many parodies of The Blair Witch Project feel like they want to disengage with the source material, almost as if their creators are trying to disregard the original as a marketing stunt gone right. The Scooby-Doo Project recognizes the terror of the original and filters it through Scooby-Doo for an all-ages audience.

At the time, The Scooby-Doo Project was well-reviewed and even won an Annie Award for Outstanding Animated Special Project in 2000. In 2022, Cartoon Network uploaded an abridged version of the special to their official YouTube channel, but you can also find unofficial uploads of the complete extended version with relative ease. Even if you are not a huge Scooby-Doo fan, I highly recommend giving The Scooby-Doo Project a watch. The writing is exquisite, the voice actors are giving top-notch performances, and the animation/live-action is inventive and compelling – especially considering the time and budget constraints.

Garrett Brown

Garrett Brown (They/Them) is a writer and artist currently living in Portland, Oregon. They graduated from Pacific University in 2017 with a B.A. in Anthropology. Their hobbies include reading, film, and making friends with every animal they can find.

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