The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo is a legitimately bad cartoon, but it’s also close to Halloween, has Vincent Price and is currently being offered on Amazon Prime. As the gatekeeper for my family’s evening entertainment, I figured we could do a lot worse. A few minutes into the first episode, I became unsure. One of the first questions my fellow viewers asked was what happened to Velma and Fred, who were MIA. The fact that Shaggy, Daphne, Scooby and (gulp) Scrappy were piloting a jet over the Himalayas didn’t seem to phase them. The logic of a cartoon universe is elastic, but the absence of half of Mystery Incorporated was an immediate red flag.

Preferring not to tarnish the legacy of Hanna-Barbera, I shrugged and instead of observing that this was probably an issue of cost, merely suggested that they might show up later or that this series took place either before or after they all had met. Not having seen A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, this seemed to placate their uneasiness, and we settled in for the rest of the episode, which was the equivalent of a narrative spaghetti test: a lot of things were thrown at the wall to see what might stick.

The diminished gang is lured to a haunted castle by ghosts voiced by Arte Johnson and Howard Morris, most notable for his portrayal of Ernest T. Bass on The Andy Griffith Show. Precious minutes of the episode are given over to letting the duo vamp on some recycled routines before they trick Shaggy and Scooby into opening a chest containing the titular thirteen ghosts. Unfortunately, anyone who releases the spirits is now responsible for tracking and recapturing them. The premise, though it goes against the tenets of the Scooby universe, is not inherently bad. After years of solving crimes perpetrated by people in fright suits, transitioning the gang into hunting actual ghosts could be a natural progression.

The introduction of Flim-Flam, a Tibetan child criminal, is more of a reach. The presence of a kid as a point of view character, particularly in a cartoon aimed at younger children, seems like an idea that would originate from executives chasing the Diff’rent Strokes and Webster dragon that drove a lot of Eighties entertainment. And there is something particularly telling about the impulse to cram in a totally new character on top of an existing one that was expressly created for the same purpose. The existence of Flim-Flam in a cartoon with Scrappy is equivalent to Cousin Oliver having a Cousin Oliver. Even more maddening is the fact that Flim-Flam, like the castle ghosts, has the mien of a vaudeville comedian, because, again, there’s nothing kids wanted more with their breakfast cereal than the comedy stylings of early television. This is another hallmark of the decade: kids will watch anything.

And anything in this case includes the slumming Vincent Price, cashing a paycheck for playing a poorly rendered version of himself. The character is both a master of the dark arts and an associate of Flim-Flam, making a living fleecing the countless rubes who find their way into a Himalayan town that looks like Gatlinburg and is populated with white people who turn into werewolves. There is a lot of content in that sentence but consider that all of this also happens in this space of the pilot episode of a Saturday morning cartoon. And this omits the parody of Julio Iglesias’s “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” and how tenuously any of this hooey is connected to the main story.

To be absolutely fair, ramming the heroic call to adventure in between cereal ads is a tall order. It’s also not fair to expect a late vintage episode of Scooby-Doo to be any good at all. The first series was plot driven, its mysteries nodded to logic and most of the time had at least two suspects. This is the purest form of Scooby and the gang. Then it becomes death by a thousand cuts- musical breaks, guest star shots by Don Knotts, and, eventually, the rest of the Doo family, including the much maligned Scrappy. The franchise spent a lot of years in the wilderness before earning back a lot of good will with the Mystery Incorporated series. And of all the cut down, cheaply animated takes, 13 Ghosts is most often cited as the nadir.

There is therefore no good reason, even with my deep and abiding love of Vincent Price, to watch The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo. Even so, I will be happily watching all thirteen episodes of the series before it leaves Amazon Prime on Halloween. And that’s because, though we sometimes forget, cartoons are for kids, and I live with two of them. The younger one in particular is crazy for anything Scooby-Doo and is just beginning to wrap his head around the ghosts and goblins aspect of Halloween. I was ready to call a mulligan and start another cartoon but was outvoted by my companions. I watched in disbelief as both of them ate up every terrible gag and giggled with utter delight at the “scary” aspects of the episode. When it was mercifully over, they asked when we could watch another one. Incredulous, I asked them what was good about it. The youngest one looked at me like I was from Mars. He observed that we just watched a show with ghosts, werewolves, and Scooby and Shaggy, and that it was totally awesome. And in the spooky season, who doesn’t want a few awesome scares?

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