Sarah Michelle Gellar played Buffy Summers for seven seasons before ever stepping into the high-heeled go-go boots of Daphne Blake. In that time, she had established herself as the Slayer, a “strong female protagonist” who balanced monster-slaying and high school drama in a role that subverted the traditional trope of the damsel in distress. So when the time came to cast a live-action Danger-Prone Daphne in the 2002 Scooby-Doo movie, Sarah Michelle Gellar seemed like the perfect choice to continue subverting the outdated model and change the meaning of the role entirely. Except that wasn’t the point. Sarah Michelle Gellar’s casting wasn’t a subversion at all. The truth is, Daphne Blake has always been more like Buffy Summers than you think.
Throughout Scooby-Doo’s history, Daphne held qualities that made her stand out from the rest of the gang. She was obviously the most feminine, with her purple dress, well maintained hair, and high heels worn even while mountain climbing on several occasions. She was intentionally sexual, wearing two-piece bathing suits when Velma (and sometimes even Shaggy!) was wearing frumpy one-piece numbers. She held none of the qualifiers that Velma had to keep her out of the “traditional” female role. She wasn’t “not like other girls” or “one of the guys”. She was a woman and proud of it. So on the surface, she had the potential to fall right into the perfectly-made slot of damsel. Only one thing stopped her: branding.
Because who’s scared? Not Daphne. The role of coward already belongs, by design, to Shaggy and Scooby, the unlikely heroes of the series who define themselves not only by what they eat but by an innate fear of anything that moves. This quality wouldn’t stand out if everybody was a quivering wreck, and so the essential quality of “fearful” was never given the opportunity to fully develop in either of the female characters. And Daphne was captured or lost. A lot. Situations which often put her face-to-face with the monster Shaggy and Scooby were running from. This meant that in order to ensure our leads maintain the niche, Daphne has always had to stand her ground, occasionally even charging headfirst into danger. While Velma was given qualifiers that deemed her “smarter” than the fear “other girls” might experience, Daphne had no reason not to be scared other than her own innate courage. While it might have been an unintended side-effect of the male character’s identities, Daphne became one of the first women in horror to both maintain her femininity and not be scared.
And that’s not even getting into the weird connection with vampires. Every vampire story Scooby-Doo has constructed has, in some way, been Daphne-centric. In the episode Vampire Bats and Fraidy Cats, Daphne awakens to see Gramps the Vamp standing over her bed. In I Left My Neck in San Francisco, Daphne is actually suspected of being The Lady Vampire of Alcatraz by Shaggy and Scooby. Legend of the Vampire, Music of the Vampire, The Vampire Strikes Back, and The Secret Serum all incorporate Daphne heavily into the plot in some way.
Much of this has to do with Daphne’s feminine role, of course, putting her into the shoes of Lucy and Mina from Dracula as the virgin object of obsession. But what starts as a Gothic homage eventually establishes character. Far from a helpless victim in these situations, Daphne is actively involved in how each vampire is unmasked. And if these were real vampires? You get the feeling she’d be staking them herself. Especially if they dared to mess with her hair. The association between vampires and Daphne has always been there.
Enter Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Don’t tell me Scooby-Doo wasn’t an influence here. They’re literally called the Scoobies. While some might look to Cordelia for the Daphne analogue in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because there is certainly some Daphne in there, that sweeps under the rug that Scooby-Doo was hardly the only influence on the series. Cordelia was the Cheryl Blossom to Buffy’s Veronica/Betty combo. Opposites in as much as they were each different sides of the same coin. You’ll get enough articles today on Buffy’s character and I don’t want to repeat them, but the essential qualities of Buffy are the same as Daphne. She’s feminine. She’s fearless. She kicks vampire butt.
So look ahead to the live action Scooby-Doo movie. This is a film that cast its leads so well that Matthew Lillard has been the official voice of animated Shaggy since Casey Kasem’s retirement in 2010. Released in 2002, Scooby-Doo both pays homage and deconstructs Scooby-Doo, Where Are You in a way which is occasionally confusing. I mean, this film came after nearly a decade without a new series. Warner Brothers had no idea what this franchise was supposed to be. Was casting Sarah Michelle Gellar a stunt? Absolutely. But it doesn’t matter. Those essential qualities were there.
Creating a fully fleshed out version of Daphne, a crucial component to creating a live action film, meant putting together the pieces of who Daphne was and giving those essential traits proper character motivation. And this is the part that Sarah Michelle Gellar gets. Gellar plays Daphne in the exact same tones as Buffy and pulls the connective threads together flawlessly. By 2002, Daphne had already been played by multiple actresses including Indira Stefanianna Christopherson, Heather North, Mary Kay Bergman, and Grey DeLisle. An ever-expanding cavalcade of badass women continually giving Daphne a voice that didn’t waver in the face of monsters and persevered through obstacles with hard-headed determination. Yet Daphne also isn’t hardened by it, but expresses true joy and excitement at her world. This is a woman who’s used to dealing with monsters on a weekly basis and surviving. It wasn’t a departure to cast Sarah Michelle Gellar. It was a perfect fit.
The live-action movie changed the Scooby-Doo universe in subtle ways, but stayed true to the canon in terms of character. Daphne Blake does everything the rest of the Scooby gang did, backwards and in heels. If push came to shove, I think she’d fill the boots of the Slayer just fine. That’s a Scooby Do to me.