Covered in this installment:
- Scooby-Doo! in Arabian Nights
“When you’re younger, you don’t care about a lot of things, but then there’s that certain age you reach, and it’s like ‘Wow, maybe I am gonna be stupid for the rest of my life.’”-Fatlip, What’s Up Fatlip? (the documentary short, not the song)
That quote always gets me. The documentary it’s from is–despite being directed by Spike Jonze–nothing special. But that line, coming as it does from a rapper who released two beloved albums with The Pharcyde before leaving the group and disappearing for ten years, is profound. At that moment in his life, Fatlip was finishing a solo album while a few of his former bandmates continued releasing records together, trading on a name Fatlip had helped create.
I am a big believer in the retreat. It is okay to fail. I have licked my wounds well past the point they had healed. But sometimes defeat comes after you had been working toward a victory that honestly seemed close. Sometimes you assume things are going to get better and then they kind of go to shit and I don’t know, maybe I’ll stay at square one and maybe assumptions will stay assumptions. Maybe I am gonna be stupid for the rest of my life.
That’s where I was after graduating college in Washington, D.C. and returning home to California. Many people go through this. It’s almost a given— the post-college malaise novel is a giant cliché, a hundred movies have ripped off The Graduate, etc. Mine wasn’t any worse than anybody else’s, and I wouldn’t consider it to be in my Bottom 5 Lows (a list which will be mostly populated with movies where Scooby-Doo meets WWE wrestlers by this time next year). But the malaise was there, and eight months after graduation I moved Scooby-Doo! In Arabian Nights to the top of my Netflix queue.
My account history shows I returned the DVD on 1/21/13. I was 23, living with my parents, interning at a branding firm, beaten down by a job search I had expected to be at least a little more fruitful than it had turned out to be, living on the other side of the country from my girlfriend, working on my recently-diagnosed OCD, taking medication for depression after spending years telling my psychologist I didn’t want a referral to a psychiatrist because movies and TV had told me Prozac wasn’t real happiness. I felt stupid. I put things I vaguely remembered from childhood on my to-watch list.
Scooby-Doo! In Arabian Nights premiered on TBS in 1994, but we didn’t have cable when I was five, so I caught it later in the year, on network TV, and I was so excited that we taped it. The movie uses Scooby and Shaggy in a framing story based on One Thousand and One Nights. The two fly to the Arabian Peninsula to work as taste testers for a prince. They eat their food and then, wouldn’t you believe it, eat everybody else’s food, too. They’re sentenced to death, Shaggy dresses as a woman from the prince’s harem, the prince wants desperately to marry Shaggy and Shaggy decides the only way to escape is to tell the prince stories until he falls asleep.
It turns out it only takes Shaggy two stories to put his would-be husband to sleep, and those retellings, which the movie tells us are supposed to be boring enough to lull a horny royal to dreamland, make up the bulk of the film. In the first, a gender-swapped Aladdin wins a prince’s heart with the help of Yogi and Boo-Boo, now genies. In the second, Magilla Gorilla plays Sinbad, voyaging the seven seas, annoying a pirate who just wants gold.
The Magilla story has a detour where ape and pirate follow the promise of treasure to what we soon realize to be an amusement park’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” knockoff. This is the part of the VHS I watched repeatedly, until one of my parents accidentally taped over it. I can’t tell you why, but I loved fake theme park rides. I loved the end of the Tiny Toons movie where we get to see a bunch of fake rides in Wackyland. I loved the segment of Super Mario RPG where you rode a barrel down a river while a bunch of characters messed with each other in the background. I watched friends lay tracks in Rollercoaster Tycoon (boring) and then let the computer simulate a first-person run-through of the new ride (transcendental). Part of this was, undoubtedly, because time in Disneyland was precious, so I had to get some kind of fix between visits to a real theme park. I also enjoyed live-action Rube Goldberg machines (see: Goonies and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure) and episodes of cartoons where everybody raced in cars that looked like the drivers’ faces.
Like the real “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the joke version in Scooby-Doo! in Arabian Nights is a water ride with a couple flume drops, followed by winding paths through mountains of gold and pirate scenes. When Magilla’s pirate friend tries to remove his feet and arms from the moving vehicle and steal the treasure, he’s badly beaten by animatronic sharks and an octopus. The gold is real, we can infer, but the theme park owners expect you to take it so they also built WestWorld-like A.I. to protect it.
This sequence, which I fast-forwarded to and then rewound for again and again, is less than five minutes long. Like Home Alone, I was only interested in a small stretch of the movie, but that stretch in Home Alone is twenty minutes of traps and slapstick. This was five minutes in a fake amusement park. Rewatching the movie in 2013, I was amazed this scene had temporally expanded in my memory the way old elementary schools and parks had physically expanded. I laughed out loud when it ended; that this colossal highlight was actually shorter than most commercial breaks was bizarre enough to make the whole movie. I probably laughed harder at 23 than I had at 5.
The DVD has a respectable average rating of 3.4 stars on Netflix, and that’s based on the input of an impressive 57,601 people. The number is impressive, the reviewers aren’t. Most of the reviews are more negative, with parents complaining there wasn’t enough Scooby-Doo. They rented a movie for their kids with Scooby in the title but he’s only in a framing device that itself mostly stars Shaggy. There’s one review I like, though:
Our experiences will connect in different ways. You and I will meet at many points, and our lives will overlap in embarrassing ways that make us feel okay and at 23 I will sit next to a man wearing Google Glass on the train back from the city, and I will be returning from a failed attempt to turn an internship I’m busting my ass at into a full-time job and I will think about how ridiculous the guy next to me looks while simultaneously being beyond envious he has a job that allows him to look that ridiculous, and I will get home and in a moment/year of defeat I will watch Scooby-Doo! in Arabian Nights and feel good for five minutes. Nostalgia can be bad. It can be a trench we run backward to after running forward seems too intimidating. But nostalgia will give me five minutes of fake amusement park rides and the memory of how that felt to a five-year-old kid. I defend it. It is good. And that is where I meet the 23-year-old who worked on a Hanna-Barbera movie that a bunch of people hated because of marketing. He’s begging you to just give it a shot. He worked hard and is proud of work he knows nobody else holds in any regard.
So this animator gave me five minutes of a movie I loved as a kid and then revisited twenty years later (and then again another five years after that). I’ll take those five minutes. Sometimes I need those five minutes.
Author: Alex Rudolph
Alex is from the Bay Area and has lived in Philadelphia for three years, though he is trying to find a way to transport into the Squand commercial that always played early in the morning on Nickelodeon (with a summer place in the Crossfire ad). If you want to talk about Dan Clowes comics and Merzbow, he will sit here and talk about Dan Clowes comics and Merzbow all dang day. He is also the founder of the popular websites AV Club, The New York Times, Harpo Productions and Bitcoin. Follow him on Instagram.