Before you can say “Jinkies!” the opening scene of HBO Max’s animated comedy “Velma” makes it abundantly clear that we’re no longer playing by the old “Scooby-Doo” rules.
Naked teen girls tussling in a gym shower is a good indicator. So is the brainless corpse falling out of a locker, the top of her head sliding to the floor with an unsettling “schluck” sound.
The new cartoon, starring Mindy Kaling, is the latest attempt to reboot Velma Dinkley and the rest of Mystery Inc., that gang of meddling kids and their scaredy dog famous for revealing criminals in fog-filled conditions since the late 1960s. For generations of children, they’ve been a Saturday morning staple, but this “Velma” is a decidedly different (and adult) take.
That is why it is so exciting.
“Velma” gives its iconic cast a multicultural makeover and a backstory set in high school. Kaling’s title character (who also serves as an executive producer) is now a chatty South Asian nerd figuring out her sexuality who experiences horrifying hallucinations when attempting to solve mysteries – such as what happened to her missing mother – but remains on the case when hot classmates start dying.
Daphne (Constance Wu) is her former best friend, a popular Asian girl with two cop moms and a complicated relationship with Velma (and vice versa). Norville (Sam Richardson), formerly known as Shaggy in previous series and films, is a Black band geek and Velma’s devoted sidekick. And Fred (Glenn Howerton) is still an ascot-wearing white guy, but he’s also a spoiled narcissist with a lot of issues.
Hardcore fans may be saying “ruh roh” to all of this. However, in addition to all of the current pop-culture references, from “Riverdale” to El Chapo, “Velma” pays homage to old-school gags, puts a “Scooby” spin on slasher elements and teen-movie tropes, and is extremely self-aware of the franchise. (Don’t worry, Norville still enjoys snacks.)
“Velma,” like HBO Max’s similarly mature-themed “Harley Quinn,” takes everything in a much more adult-oriented direction, such as a running joke about Fred’s manhood’s diminutive size.
Given the current state of cartoon nostalgia, it makes sense. While reboots, sequels, and prequels are all the rage in all-ages movies, popular children’s TV animation such as “Bluey” and “Paw Patrol” lean more toward original fare.
None of the youth-oriented “Scooby” projects, such as the 2020 film “Scoob!” and last year’s “Trick or Treat Scooby-Doo!” that first portrayed Velma as queer, have made a significant cultural impact. “Velma,” on the other hand, wisely chooses to follow in the footsteps of Disney+’s “Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers” and Netflix’s recent “Masters of the Universe” reimagining with an adults-first approach.
The older generation grew up with Scooby and his pals, aka the people who can watch “Velma” without getting in trouble with their parents. The Harlem Globetrotters, Sandy Duncan, Cass Elliot, Don Knotts, and Batman and Robin were among the famous guests who appeared on the show in the 1970s. Shaggy and Scooby became stoner icons outside of the Mystery Machine over the years, and classic versions of the characters appeared from time to time, including on an episode of “Supernatural.”
So what if the kids aren’t completely sold on a dog and his pals solving crimes in a cool van and exposing grumpy old men as shameful jerks? With a “zoinks” here and a “jeepers” there, “Velma” keeps an eye out for the adults while creating something new and, yes, groovy out of the familiar. It also serves as a model for repurposing other ageing properties to appeal to everyone from Generation X to Millennials. (I’m looking at you, “GI Joe,” “Snorks,” and “Jem.”)
Because what they’ve baked into these Scooby Snacks must be shared.