I’ve gone on record as enjoying the first WWE/Scooby-Doo collaboration WrestleMania Mystery (the Flintstones collaboration Stone Age SmackDown was even better), but was a little skeptical that a sequel could find much more room to play around with the concept of a Scooby-Doo pro wrestling picture than what’s established in the original. The first film brings the gang to WrestleMania where they meet a bunch of famous “WWE Superstars” at the company’s biggest annual event & help solve the mystery of an improbable specter threatening to ruin the spectacle, in this case a bionic ghost bear (seriously). I expected a sequel would simply repeat the same exact scenario with a fresh batch of pro wrestlers & lazily call it a day, but Curse of the Speed Demon accomplished much more than that on the creative end. Recognizing that its larger-than-life cast of musclebound characters don’t necessarily have to live in a wrestling ring in their animated form, Curse of the Speed Demon picks an entirely new context for them to flex muscles & deliver promos in: off-road monster truck racing. The sequel to WWE’s original Scooby-Doo collaboration plays less like an animated pro wrestling picture & much more like a little kid’s imagination as they smash together Hot Wheels toys in a sandbox.
Instead of attending a second WrestleMania, Scooby & the Mystery Gang find themselves at Muscle Moto X, an impossible Vince McMahon startup that combines monster truck mayhem with dirt track speed racing. (Though, I guess if McMahon were to start a dirt track monster truck racing division of his brand, that name might not be far off, considering the long-gone XFL.) The film gets further & further away from realistic versions of what off-road pro wrestling monster truck races might look like (as unrealistically goofy as that starting point is on its own), eventually just says “Fuck it.” and indulges in some Mario Kart-type cartoon race tracks you’d find doodled in an eight year old’s dream journal. Much like the ghost bear of the last Scooby-Doo/WWE picture the proceedings here are mucked up by an otherworldly threat, in this case a literal speed demon known as Inferno, which may or may not be someone involved with the company trying to sabotage the success of Muscle Moto X. Although the wrestlers are not in their usual squared circle habitat, they’re more than willing to bodyslam & tussle with Inferno on the dirt track until the demon’s true identity can be revealed. WWE personas mix with Scooby-Doo’s harmless, trademarked stoner humor and, viola!, you have an enjoyably campy kids’ picture that captures the spirit of pro wrestling without all that pesky pro wrestling getting in the way.
Of course, as a pro wrestling fan, a lot of the fun of indulging in disposable trash like this is in seeing beloved WWE performers doing their thing in animated form. For the most part, the contributions are enjoyable, if not predictable here. Michael Cole & Seamus do their usual thing: inanely providing play-by-play & interspersing action with unprompted shouts of “Fella!” respectively. Paige bounces some of her mall goth sarcasm off the similarly difficult to read Lana & Rusev, which is an interesting dynamic that would likely never occur in a wrestling storyline. In-the-ring high-fliers Kofi Kingston & Los Matadores defy gravity in some really goofy cartoon logic. Vince, HHH, and Stephanie McMahon present a human face for the company & A-Lister The Miz constantly points to the absurdity of the whole ordeal in lines like “Another monster attack? Really?” & “Strangely enough, I’ve been mauled by a monster on a midnight jog before,” referring to events of the first film. It’s the more over the top characters who really steal the show, though. The Undertaker is especially game, gravely reading lines like “Rust in Peace” [to his deeply mourned, irrevocably smashed vehicle] or gleefully driving a souped-up, sandwich-shaped food truck & saving the day with a sausage link lasso. It actually makes sense that Taker would be in the center of this film’s story, given that the auto-performer Grave Digger is pretty much the monster truck version of the wrestler & I suspect that exact dynamic is what the film was initially built around. Taker fills the role well, bouncing off the Mystery Gang’s comedic sensibilities (with the voice of Velma now filled by half of Garfunkel & Oates, Kate Micucci, and Shaggy being the eternally imprisoned in the role Matthew Lilard), but he’s not the most interesting player in the game. That would be the Rhodes family.
I think there’s great camp value potential in WWE’s collaborations with the Hanna-Barbera brand that’s not quite fully realized yet at this third-film-in juncture. Curse of the Speed Demon finds a lot of goofy room to play with its basic “super stars & super cars” concept, like in the Michael Cole-shouted line, “Only The Undertaker could fly a sandwich out of the jaws of oblivion!” However, I think they could push the cartoon absurdity even further, as evidenced by the way the film uses the Rhodes brothers Goldust & Stardust. Because the temporal demands of production necessitate that these collaborations will be behind on current WWE storylines, Curse of the Speed Demon brings Goldust & Stardust back to the delightful heights of their absurd, magical “Cosmic Key” era of promos, which I believe was back in the late summer of 2014. Including other now-outdated storylines like The Authority (or, for that matter, the now departed from the company/galaxy Stardust and, even more sadly, the departed from this mortal coil Dusty Rhodes) is a little awkward, but the magic of The Cosmic Key silliness suggests an even more out-there kind of goofery the company could reach for, with all of the characters’ magic dust &strange hissing. At the end of my review for the first Scooby-Doo/WWE film I suggested that I’d like to see a Stardust Meets the Jetsons picture (something that’s pretty damn unlikely now). I want something like Huckleberry Hound in a New Day unicorn & rainbows cartoon. I want to see the concept pushed to the point where Hanna-Barbera characters meet WWE performers in their own strange worlds nestled in their gimmicks instead of their profession.
Curse of the Speed Demon starts to hint at that go-for-broke cartoon logic potential by giving Goldust & Stardust so much strange screen time (along with their now deceased father, which was about as sincerely touching of an inclusion as you could expect from a Scooby-Doo pro wrestling feature) & by removing the action from the wrestling ring in favor of an outlandish monster truck racing setting. I say push it even further. Much like the works of Mario Bava & Dario Argento (who I’ll admit I’m only referencing for the absurdity of it), the mysteries at the heart of Scooby-Doo are not nearly as important as the style in which they’re told, which is typically a campy take on old-fashioned haunted house horrors. There’s a lot of room for playing within that dynamic while sticking to kayfabe in the in-the-ring gimmicks of folks like Stardust or the Undertaker or The New Day or, hell, even the Wyatt Family (who I loathe to watch due to their monotonous promos, but could totally work in a haunted house cartoon). Curse of the Speed Demon finds the right tone of the cartoon-wrestling hybrid I’m describing in certain moments (The Miz putting the speed demon Inferno in a figure four leg lock or the Undertaker tombstoning him come to mind, as does the film’s basic premise, which feels like something I might’ve come up with while riding my WWF Big Wheels as a kid). It just needs a little more of a push into that detached-from-reality direction for this cartoon WWE Universe to really stand out as a memorable campy delight. As for now, they’re doing some surprisingly amusing work & I’m sure a lot of the wrestling-obsessed kids out there are eating it up, which is good enough to keep my attention for now.