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Matthew Lillard’s Recasting in the ‘Scooby-Doo’ Reboot is a National Tragedy

It's not only unfair and crazy. It's also indicative what's happening to narrative art in the 21st century.

Last week news of a new Scooby Doo animated reboot to be co-directed by Dax Shepard with a voice cast that so far includes Tracy Morgan as Captain Caveman, Gina Rodriguez as Velma, voiceover king Frank Welker as Scooby Doo and Will Forte as Shaggy surprised the internet. That includes me. Because I’m deeply interested in Scooby-Doo and actually write about it a good amount. But, the news surprised someone with an even bigger investment in the world of Scooby Doo as well: Matthew Lillard, who according to a quick trip to IMDB has portrayed the role of “Shaggy Rogers” in live-action, arcade game, Lego, puppet, video game, TV show, movie, parody, official and seemingly every other form this side of snuff film and XXX parody in over forty projects.

If Shaggy Rogers was doing something between 2000 to last week chances are good Lillard, was doing the voice work for Scooby’s partner in crime-fighting and binge-eating or, if the projects in question are the James Gunn-written movies, playing the character in live action. 

We live in a world where iconic characters are rebooted and re-cast and re-imagined on a seemingly annual basis. But if you play a character more than three dozen times, the way Lillard has Shaggy over a period of almost two decades, you can be forgiven for feeling a sense of ownership over a role even if nobody owns Shaggy, man. The essence of Shaggy is that he’s free, beholden only to his crippling addiction to Scooby snacks. Also, according to an inexplicably popular recent series of memes, a figure of dark, almost infinite power.

So I can understand why a clearly wounded Lillard took to social media to express his sadness at discovering he was being replaced in the highest-profile Scooby-Doo project since 2004’s Scooby Doo: Monsters Unleashed by Will Forte, tweeting, “Well this sucks.  What a crappy way to find out…. thanks Hollywood.  You never (sic) sense to amaze me.”

Lillard himself inherited the role from Casey Kasem, who helped transform Shaggy into a shittily animated, poorly written, lazily conceived (he’s basically Maynard G. Krebs as a hippie) pop culture icon for the ages. But that can’t make finding out you’re losing such a cushy gig via the press any easier.

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This is not the first time Lillard has taken to Twitter to express his complicated, bruised feelings about being excluded from something he’s synonymous with. When the people behind the 1998 cult coming of age comedy SLC Punk made the bewildering decision to make a sequel decades later without Lillard he took to Twitter to announce, “FOR THE RECORD.   SLC PUNK 2 and I are not a thing.  I have nothing to do with the indiegogo raise.  I’m not against it.  I’m not involved.”

It’s enough to give a dude a complex, particularly since Lillard starred with Shepard in 2004’s Without a Paddle. The little loved bro buddy comedy spawned a direct-to-video sequel. Guess who’s not in that bad boy? That’s right, Lillard. Or any of the other original stars either. Granted, I doubt Lillard wanted to reprise his role in 2009’s Without a Paddle: Nature’s Calling. You capture that kind of magic in a bottle, you don’t want to tempt your luck with a second go-round.

Besides, it’s not as if the upcoming Scooby Doo movie started entirely from scratch. Lillard’s longtime collaborator Frank Welker will be reprising his role as Scooby-Doo. Scooby and Shaggy are pop culture’s biggest BFFs. It appears the relationship between Lillard and Welker is a little frostier if Welker didn’t alert Lillard to the high-profile re-casting either.

Anyone who knows what it’s like to have to compile the physical detritus of their work life in a sad little box and then trudge home after getting fired knows what Lillard is feeling now. It doesn’t really matter that Lillard is, relatively speaking, a rich and famous actor. He did a good, solid, workmanlike job as Shaggy for a very long time only to unceremoniously get the boot for the biggest Scooby project in decades, by a former costar no less.

I’m not sure how much power a co-director has over casting decisions, but the Without a Paddle bro code dictates that Shepard should have at least given Lillard a head’s up. Man, all those fifteenth-anniversary screenings with the entire cast and crew of Without a Paddle this August are going to be tense.

It could be worse. In Dustin Diamond’s astonishingly terrible tell-all memoir Behind the Bell, he writes with trademark bitterness of being fucked over for the role of Shaggy in the live-action Scooby-Doo movie, despite being, in Diamond’s delusional, fact-challenged account, Kasem’s personal choice for the role and mastering the voice and walk. That was pathetic. Wanting a role does not entitle you to it.

Lillard has a much different, much stronger case and is a much more sympathetic figure than Diamond. Then again, so is Squeaky Fromme. So while I’m sure that Forte will do a fine job in the upcoming movie (he is MacGruber after all) I hope Lillard gets to keep playing Shaggy in the direct-to-video movies and games and whatnot going forward. He’s earned the gig, longterm. Lillard and Shaggy go together like Shaggy and Scooby.

Maybe there’s room for more than one Shaggy in this kooky pop culture world of ours. With Captain Caveman and Dirk Dastardly figuring prominently in the upcoming Scooby movie it’s clear Warner Brothers wants to make the most out of Hanna-Barbera’s stable of beloved, shitty pop icons. Why not spin off the Mystery Gang’s most powerful figure into his own multi-verse: the Shaggy-Verse? The Shaggy-Verse is big enough for Lillard AND Forte AND Kasem’s ghost AND Shaggy 2 Dope of Insane Clown Posse and Shaggy of “It Wasn’t Me” fame as well.

Because there’s a little bit of Shaggy in all of us and a whole lot of Shaggy in Lillard specifically, and that whole lot of Shaggy has got to be hurting something awful. I think we can all feel his pain.