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Rhinelander hodag gets 'Scooby-Doo' treatment

“Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated” © Hanna-Barbera Productions, Inc. “Scooby-Doo”

and all related characters and elements are trademarks of and © Hanna-Barbera.

Northwoods legend featured in cartoon series set to air next month

Thanks to its Wisconsin origins and its taste for dog, the Rhinelander hodag recently received one of the more high-profile honors a mythical beast can achieve.

It made a menacing, show-business debut as the monster terrorizing Scooby-Doo and those meddling kids in an episode of the latest incarnation of the long-running cartoon franchise.

The episode, part of season two of the series "Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated," is set to air on Cartoon Network next month in the United States. It did, however, air in Great Britain in early June, and word about the episode has gradually spread, mostly by way of Facebook.

Lara Reed, executive director of the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, posted the news on the chamber's Facebook page about a week and a half ago. Reed said she first heard about the Scooby-Doo hodag from city council alderman and local businessman Mark Pelletier.

Pelletier said he found out about the Scooby hodag looking at the Facebook page of Kathleen Kelly, wife of fellow council member Tom Kelly.

And it was the Kellys' daughter, Kara, a Florida resident, who made the post to her mother's Facebook page with a link to a low-quality YouTube clip of the Scooby-Doo episode.

The trail ends there.

"I'm not sure where she got it from," Kathleen Kelly said. "It is cute."

Said Pelletier, "I think it's hilarious. I've always been a Scooby-Doo fan. I think a lot of people don't realize it's out there.

"Once I saw it, I thought I better spread the word."

Reed acknowledged the hodag cartoon is "pretty cool."

"It's a little bit of free P.R.," she said. "When people hear about the hodag, they might look it up and end up learning about Rhinelander."

According to the producers of "Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated," the Rhinelander hodag almost missed out on a chance for international fame. Mitch Watson, of Warner Bros. Animation, said that this season, he and fellow producer, Tony Cervone, wanted to do stories about folkloric monsters.

Cervone is originally from Chicago and had heard of the hodag, so the two did a little research on its backstory. But they also were looking at the skunk ape, a creature said to inhabit the southern states, primarily Florida.

"We almost went with the skunk ape," Watson said. "But then we found out that the hodag loves to eat dogs - mostly white bulldog, although in ours he is more than willing to eat Scooby."

Combine that with the fact that the producers were looking at a storyline revolving around an ancient wheel of cheese hiding a clue to a larger mystery the gang was trying to solve, and the hodag turned out to be the ideal monster candidate.

"Because of these two things - a monster threat to Scooby, and a connection between the hodag and Wisconsin cheese - that is what made us decide to build a story around the hodag," Watson said. "Tony designed the monster based on the actual hodag from pictures we found online.

"We thought the hodag was a really fun monster and not that well known yet outside of its natural habitat, so we wanted to show the world just what kind of monsters exist in the land of cheese."

And so, more than 100 years after Gene Shepard "discovered" the hodag, the legend continues, this time in the form of a 40-year-old cartoon series.

After learning about the episode, Reed said she wondered whether copyright issues might arise. She discussed the episode with the chamber's lawyer, Keith Kost.

"We have the chamber logo copyrighted," Reed said. "This is similar, but you can't exactly copyright the idea of the hodag.

"I don't know what we even could do if we thought they were infringing on copyright issues. It's not a big issue for us. I think it's something we can capitalize on. Everybody knows Scooby-Doo."

Reed will be sending a letter to Warner Bros. Animation asking that they consider adding a tagline to the end of "Hodag of Horror" encouraging people to visit Rhinelander and see the real thing.

"It doesn't hurt to try," Reed said. "I think it's really interesting. I think it's just something fun and something we could probably use to our advantage. Some free P.R. is always a great thing."

Kyle Rogers may be reached at kyle@rivernewsonline.com.


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