Bravery, Hunger, and Monstrous Food
by Michael Palumbo
Despite its humorous portrayals of gluttony and nods to drug use, Scooby-Doo ( 2002) artfully ties the desire for and consumption of food to bravery in the face of real and perceived danger. The titular dog, Scooby-Doo (voiced by Neil Fanning), and his owner-and-best-friend, Shaggy (Matthew Lillard), are notorious for their monstrous appetites. Although frequently courageous in their culinary tastes, the duo is chronically cowardly in their roles as detectives. Faced with solving the mystery of disappearing guests on Spooky Island, a monster-themed tropical amusement park, Scooby and Shaggy respond to danger, whether real or imagined, only when prompted with a food reward, their ultimate motivator. Scooby-Doo uses these two characters and their monstrous stomachs to explore the conflation of fear and appetite, the very idea of “monstrosity,” and the motivating potential of food and substance.
Two years after the tumultuous break-up of their gang, Mystery Inc., Shaggy and Scooby live a seemingly idyllic life in the back of their van. The noticeable mise-en-scène of smoke wafting from the van and Shaggy’s exclamation of the word “toasted,” initially leads one to believe that the two are smoking marijuana inside. Cooking on a portable grill and biting into a chocolate-covered eggplant burger with hotsauce, Shaggy jumps at a knocking on the van door, exclaiming to Scooby: “Like, it’s probably just someone looking for us to solve some terrifying mystery.” Their sense of the word “terrifying” is unique: their appetites show no fear, yet, as seen in the prologue, their personalities are consistently cowardly, even in the face of superficial danger. The two are happy to eat monstrosities, but reluctant to confront monsters.
Following their reluctant reunion on Spooky Island, Mystery Inc.begins their investigation of the disappearing park patrons at an abandoned castle-themed rollercoaster ride. As expected, Shaggy and Scooby are reluctant to enter, but gladly team up to investigate the ride with Scooby-Snacks, the duo’s favorite dog treat, as an enticement. Cautiously looking through the castle’s various rooms, Shaggy and Scooby come upon an oasis in the spooky desert: a medievalesque feast laid out before them. As they are about to dig in, the feast comes to life, and Shaggy and Scooby are pinned to the wall by animatronic sausages. The two are accustomed to figuratively monstrous food, but for the first time they are coming face-to-face with food that is literally monstrous. Rather than running or cowering in fear, as they would with a typical “monster,” the two resort to instinct and chew themselves through the chains of the plastic sausage links to freedom.
Shaggy and Scooby have an appetite for the figuratively monstrous. However, the conflation of fear and hunger in the animatronic sausage scene poses a unique conundrum for the duo, as the sausages have a bipartite nature consisting of their greatest love (food) and their worst nightmare (monsters). In the uniqueness of the situation, Shaggy and Scooby conflate bravery with hunger to overcome the truly monstrous food they find themselves shackled with. The duo may not be traditionally brave, but their monstrous appetite for monstrous food ultimately saves them from certain doom.