Scooby Doo, Self-Acceptance, and the Treatment of Daphne Blake – By Larissa Whitaker.
A warning: If you listened to the James Gunn Love Bomb Spectacular podcast episode and you’re here for more, please buckle up. I’m about to walk back some of my praise for James Gunn. I’m sorry. Also, spoilers ahead for the early 2000s live-action Scooby Doo films.
After watching the 2002 live-action film, Scooby Doo, I literally had to take a shower to wash off the bad vibes.
Admittedly, I avoided rewatching this movie prior to our James Gunn podcast discussion. The purple monsters gave me nightmares when I was a kid, and I didn’t want to reopen that possibility in adulthood. But, Daphne’s story called to me, and I returned to her. What I found, and how it reframed my view of her character in Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, was…disappointing.
That said, I’m not a fan of hate-for-hate’s-sake criticism. Noticing flaws to notice flaws is not interesting to me. So, before we board the hate train, let’s explore: what works within Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed and why do I, Larissa Whitaker, care?
Well, I’ve always cared. I’ve loved Scooby Doo (the character and the franchise) for as long as I can remember. I don’t know when, how, or why the fascination began, but there has always been something unforgettably endearing about this group of meddling kids and their dog.
After watching the live-action Scooby films, I remember feeling a special kinship between myself and Daphne Blake. In contrast to the photo above, I was quite the traditionally feminine little girl. Until I started elementary school, I preferred to always wear dresses. I was well-aware that I was a girl and I, being a child, readily accepted what other people said that should look like.
I admired Daphne. She seemed like she was empowered to be a “girly girl” and kind of a badass. She liked makeup and she could stand up for herself. She seemed like she was part of the gang, just as much as the rest of Mystery Inc. But, was she?
Investigating Mystery Inc.
Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed is a story about self-acceptance. At the same time, it honors the mythology and history of Scooby Doo, bringing back villains from the late 1960s Scooby Doo, Where Are You! cartoon with a creative flair.
I love this movie. And, I don’t think that’s just nostalgia talking. Scooby Doo 2 is fun. There’s a freedom I receive in the story and the way it’s told. I’m reminded of a pivotal line from Velma, addressing Scooby and Shaggy, “You guys are so free. You’re never afraid to be who you really are.”
I’d argue that Scooby Doo 2, as a whole, is never really afraid to be what it is. It is consistently playful, exuberant, and (mostly) sincere. The theme of self-acceptance is also (mostly) consistent. Almost every member of the Mystery Inc. gang is given the opportunity to deepen their relationships with themselves through their connections with others:
Velma has a love-interest in this movie. His name is Patrick, he’s the curator of the Coolsonian Criminology Museum, and he’s a suspect.
When Velma is confronted by an opportunity to connect with Patrick, she panics and sneaks into the gang’s science lab. Daphne follows her. Shuffling around on their hands and knees, the two meet to face each other. Daphne invites Velma to face her greatest fear, “intimacy with another person.”
But, Velma doesn’t feel worthy. Not as she is. She doesn’t think she’s hot enough to be with someone like Patrick, and Daphne responds by saying, “Everybody has flaws, Velma. The object of a healthy relationship is to never let the other person know they’re there.”
Oof. There’s a lot to unpack there; we’ll come back later. For now, let’s just acknowledge: this is not good advice.
That said, Velma listens to Daphne. In the next scene, Velma emerges from the top of a staircase sporting a skin-tight, bright orange jumpsuit. Her iconic glasses and sweater are gone. Wearing high heels, she struggles to make her way down the steps toward Patrick. The whole time Velma is in this outfit, she looks uncomfortable.
After a quick drive, Velma’s time with Patrick is cut short. The movie goes on. In the end, after the bad guy has been unmasked, Velma and Patrick talk.
Velma says, “Listen, Patrick. I’m not glamorous or mysterious. But one thing that’s true is…that I like you. Very much. And I would like to go out with you again. But this time, I will go as myself.”
Patrick replies, “Yeah, I’d like that, more than anything.”
Velma is rewarded for being true to herself. She is not asked to change herself to receive love; instead, she is invited to love herself a little more.
It’s a sweet story.
Fred’s connection to this whole self-acceptance theme is a little bit looser. But, it’s still there! From the start of Scooby Doo 2, Fred is trying to appear a certain way for reporters and viewers at home. Every time he aims to convey strength and assuredness to the public, it backfires.
Toward the end of the film, Fred fights the Black Knight Ghost (fun fact: they joust to Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive”), while Daphne fights the 10,000 Volt Ghost. Fred and Daphne each take a hit and they are launched into the sky. They land near one another and share a tender conversation.
Fred confesses, “I’m afraid. What a wimp, huh?”
Daphne responds, “That doesn’t make you a wimp. Makes you human.”
Beyond this conversation, Fred doesn’t really get to explore his vulnerability. Still, the conversation happens. Fred is invited to be as he is, and Daphne encourages him to accept and share his vulnerability.
Norville “Shaggy” Rogers & Scoobert “Scooby” Doo
Shaggy and Scooby are the central characters of Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. The movie begins with them screwing up big-time. Afterwards, Scooby and Shaggy overhear the rest of the gang blaming themselves for allowing the screw-up to happen. Fred says, “we all know how Scooby and Shaggy can be.”
Hearing this, Scooby and Shaggy feel ashamed. They decide they must prove they belong in the gang by acting like “real detectives.”
Shaggy and Scooby stand to take an oath together. Shaggy leads, saying: “Repeat after me. From this day forward, we will no longer be our goofy selves. We will be awesome detectives. And we will act more like Fred and Velma and Daphne. We will be terrific and fantastic and spectacular and cease to be loser-iffic, lame-tastic, and suck-tacular.”
Antics ensue. After a series of blunders and successes, we reach a moment where Daphne, Fred, and Velma must rely on Scooby and Shaggy. Daphne and Fred are already separated from the gang, fighting off monsters. Velma is with Scooby and Shaggy. Before she leaves to fight another monster, Velma tries to pass the MacGuffin to Scooby and Shaggy. But, they are reluctant to take it.
“We’re screw-ups,” Scooby says.
Shaggy explains, “We tried to be heroes like you guys, but we’re not. Okay? We’re just not.”
After a moment, Velma responds. “That’s funny,” she says. “I always wanted to be like you guys. You guys are so free. You’re never afraid to be who you really are. Whether you’re fearful or joyful or hungry. I think you’ve been heroes all along. You just haven’t known it.”
Through Velma’s affirmation, Scooby and Shaggy return to themselves. By accepting themselves as they are, Scooby and Shaggy are able to summon the courage and focus needed to save the day. Explicitly, they are not asked to change. They are whole, just as they are.
Again, it’s a sweet story. Now, this leaves Daphne.
Unlike the rest of Mystery Inc., Daphne is not invited into a journey of self-acceptance. In fact, when Daphne does have a moment of insecurity, the script takes advantage of it and uses it as a joke. Everyone else is treated with sincerity. But, not Daphne.
There’s a moment where Daphne confronts the reporter (i.e., the villain) outside the Coolsonian Criminology Museum. Daphne pushes back on the dishonest stories the reporter has been telling.
The reporter tries to get into Daphne’s head. She says, “What do you do for the gang? Really? Velma’s the smart one. Fred’s the leader. All you are is a pretty little face.”
The next time we see Daphne, she asks Fred if he thinks she’s “just a pretty face.” And, it’s a disappointing moment. Instead of taking Daphne seriously, the script uses her insecurity as an opportunity for giggles.
Fred flounders a response, “No. I mean, yes. I mean, not fat! Definitely not fat. Is this sort of what you’re looking for?”
No, Fred. It isn’t.
We’re asked to see Daphne’s insecurity (as a woman whose talents are reduced to her physical features or, frankly, dismissed altogether) through Fred’s lens (as a man who isn’t sure how to respond to this question). Daphne is not allowed to own her story.
I’d like to point out: Daphne actually cracks the case sooner than any other member of the gang. During her conversation with the reporter, Daphne notices “you sound like […] the evil masked guy.” But, nobody (including Daphne) listens to Daphne. She is so consistently dismissed by the people around her, villains or Mystery Inc. members themselves, that she distrusts herself.
Sadly, Daphne doesn’t get to be herself. Not really. She’s allowed a small moment, earlier in the film, where she solves a problem using makeup and asserts “I enjoy being a girl.” But, even as Daphne says, “Let me get to my makeup,” other members of the gang question her.
Velma groans, “Daph, now?”
No one assumes Daphne will be useful, even though Daphne has been going above-and-beyond to help the other members of the gang. So much so, that I originally believed Daphne served as a guide to the other characters on their journeys of self-acceptance. Instead of, y’know, being neglected by the story.
Rewatching the first live-action Scooby Doo film helped me see more clearly. Besides Scooby and Shaggy, everyone is mean in that movie. Just unnecessarily cruel to each other. And, I’d argue, Daphne gets the worst of it (for real. Scrappy Doo pees on her in the first one to “mark his territory”). I’m not going to elaborate further, because it’s just upsetting.
Across both Scooby Doo movies, it doesn’t matter how hard Daphne tries or what she does to prove herself–the people closest to her continue to diminish or dismiss her. Of course, of course she would give Velma the advice to “never let the other person know [that you have flaws].” Daphne spends all her time hiding herself (by diminishing her needs), changing herself (by going through intense self-defense training), or offering herself (by giving advice and reassurance to others), and it still isn’t enough. She is not enough.
In conclusion, the live-action Scooby Doo stories don’t know how to treat Daphne like a person and I feel sad about it. If my wildest dreams come true and they somehow manage to make a Scooby Doo 3 live-action film with the same cast, I hope we get to see Daphne accepted as herself.
Hell, it’s been long enough: I hope we see Daphne celebrated as herself. Let’s see her given the full dignity of humanity–insecurity and imperfection–all of it. And, I hope we see her receive the same compassion she so willingly shares with other members of Mystery Inc.