Review: ‘Scooby-Doo! and the Curse of the 13th Ghost’ (Whatever happened to Vincent Van Ghoul?)

Vincent Van Ghoul: “Only you can return the demons to the chest!”
Scooby and Shaggy (together): “W-W-Why US?”
Vincent Van Ghoul: “Because YOU let them out…!”

After botching a case and receiving a stern warning (and threatened jail time) from the local sheriff, Mystery Inc. decides to retire. Selling off artifacts and other case souvenirs, Fred (Frank Welker) is already having withdrawals seeing his beloved Mystery Machine driven off by a new owner. While Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) and Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker) are good with a permanent vacation, Daphne (Grey Griffin) and Velma (Kate Micucci) are just happy they’ve closed all their cases and have no unfinished business… right up until a familiar face appears in a green-glowing crystal ball. Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby admit that they secretly have known ghosts are real since that fateful summer, and Vincent Van Ghoul (Maurice LaMarche) needs the help of the kids to trap Asmodeus (Nolan North), the thirteen and final ghost freed from the Chest of Demons.

While there have been newer Scooby-Doo movies where the ghosts and critters aren’t just crooked land developers and failed amusement park owners, the first time this happened with the gang was a clever little series in 1985 called “The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo.” That series also featured Scrappy-Doo and a pair of bumbling ghostly wannabes named Bogle and Weerd — none of which appear in this revisit — but it does include a grown-up Flim Flam, the formerly pint-sized confidence kid with a heart of gold. Borrowing from the exceptional “ScoobyNatural” episode of the CW television series “Supernatural” (with self-aware guest-star characters trying to protect the teen detectives from the burden of real haunts in their own show), can a three-decade old spin-off be successfully reintegrated into the already questionable continuity of Scooby-Doo lore?

It was no secret that Vincent Van Ghoul was based on the namesake and originally voiced by horror icon Vincent Price, sadly absent from the world since 1993. While better known to animation fans as the smarter half of “Pinky and the Brain,” Maurice LaMarche does a fair job with Price’s cadence and penchant for making all things into ghoulish puns — such as receiving scream-mails on his “Die-Phone.” But the other critical part of “13 Ghosts” was Daphne Blake stepping up from kidnap victim to full-on adventurer, and it’s easy to tell the writers not only have a love of the inspirational series but a possible fascination with this incarnation of Daphne as well. For fans new and old, it’s a fun return to yesteryear by pretending it was only yesterday — although no one has yet to explain how the Scooby gang have had adventures for decades while still inexplicably being underaged.

The story flirts with subverting Fred’s leadership role and yielding it to Daphne, but keep in mind her dad Mr. Blake has always bankrolled Mystery Inc., leaving his trusted daughter to manage the assets; ever seen Fred pick up the check at the Malt Shoppe? Confronting Velma with Vincent’s lore book and the existence of the Chest of Demons has its own thread, finding creative in-story ways for Velma to keep denying the supernatural even while it’s going on all around her; she really has evolved into “The X-Files” Dana Scully in every way that it counts. All the bullet point tropes are here, from flimsy final explanations to a music-accompanied chase scene while bookending the series that was never properly finished. There is an avalanche scene which goes on far too long and a couple of logic leaps, but nothing too out of scope for Mystery Inc.

Nostalgia being what it is, the original thirteen-episode series actually looks… well, pretty bad by today’s standards; the improvements here in quality (and pretty much everything else) is comparing night to day. Side note: the design for Asmodeus is a stark reminder how much Disney’s “Gargoyles” could use some more love… and maybe the live-action version it deserves. Although seemingly a one-off, it’d be fun to revisit this mash-up from time to time, even letting Daphne step up on the international ghost-hunting front with Mr. Van Ghoul bringing new cases to the gang. It’d be weird just going back to danger-prone Daphne and forgetting Shaggy can fly a passenger jet, so fingers-crossed that this isn’t the final time we’ll cross paths with Vincent and Flim Flam. Who knows? One day the kids will even become (gulp!) be legal adults.

Scooby-Doo! and the Curse of the 13th Ghost is not rated but includes thematic content, scary action, and the longest avalanche ever, sports fans.

Three skull recommendation out of four

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