Retro Review: Scooby Doo

It isn’t all that much of a breakthrough when a Saturday morning cartoon character jumps to the silver screen these days. When we have the “Flintstones”, “Rocky & Bullwinkle”, and “Josie and the Pussycats”. This time it’s that loveable dog Scooby Doo and his cohorts from the “Mystery Machine”. It seems to have lost its allure. Are we getting overblown with these kinds of films or are the studios just in search of another elusive franchise?

The cartoons of Scooby Doo were simple and followed the most basic of premises. Scooby and his gang would solve mysteries and have the crook unmasked within a half-hour. There was always a scary monster, ghost or alien that would make Scooby and his pal Shaggy scream. It was fun light and hilarious. It was also an incredible success, the character of Scooby Doo was showcased across television screens for over fifteen years and has gone on to be the cornerstone of cartoon re-runs on cable. Scooby recently released a series of “direct-to-video” movies, which have burned off video shelves. It’s almost natural that a Scooby Doo live-action movie would come to a multiplex near you.

In the feature length “live-action” version of the popular cartoon, there are troubles brewing for Scooby and his friends. They have just wrapped up the latest of their mysteries and as usual “surfer-looking” Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.) gets all the attention. This is maddening for the rest of the gang. Velma (Linda Cardellini), the brains of the gang, is frustrated her part in solving the mystery is always dismissed by the media. Daphne (Sarah Michelle Geller), the beauty of the gang, is frustrated that no one thinks she can be anything more than the damsel in distress. Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) and Scooby try to hold the gang together but they fail and “Mystery Inc.” eventually folds.

Five years later, the gang is tricked into coming to a theme park called Spooky Island to solve a mystery. The mystery has to do with why the college students who come to Spooky Island are turning into versions of the “Stepford Children”. Can the gang keep their differences in check long enough to unmask the bad-guy? Will Shaggy and Scooby ever fill their stomachs?

The biggest problem with making this kind of film is that you have to know the cartoons. Obviously the filmmakers didn’t when they made Scooby Doo. They know a little about what works with Shaggy and Scooby but for the most part struggle to find humor. You have to remember is that the characters are simple and two-dimensional. They don’t have problems and concerns like you and me.

What could have helped in making this film is that if the filmmakers had watched the first “direct-to-video” Scooby movie, “Scooby Doo on Zombie Island” which updates the characters and the franchise without damaging what makes them so much fun. This “straight-to-video” movie was imaginative and inviting. It brought forth why we love Scooby Doo and the gang so much. It understood the characters.

Other than a misunderstanding of cartoon characters, the film has a plot or “mystery” that is confusing and complicated. Why do we need such a giant and detailed mystery when the cartoons were simple and fun?

My third problem was how the film did Scooby himself. I liked that in the movie version of “Rocky & Bullwinkle” that the characters were looked like themselves. Why didn’t they do that with Scooby? If you are going with a CGI dog then why not complete the transition with the actual character. He does grow on you as the movie progresses but it still really bugged me.

I am sure children will enjoy the flashy texture and antics of Scooby and Shaggy but I have to say that adults will be bored to tears.

The best part of the film by far is Matthew Lillard who encompasses the character of Shaggy to a tee. I don’t know how he interacted with the CGI dog so well but it was amazing. Lillard is the saving grace of this movie.

I also liked Cardellini as Velma because she makes Velma memorable which is a departure from the cartoon. I liked her performance, voice and she out acts Geller and Prize in every scene.

Both Geller and Prinze are very forgettable in their performances and it made me very disappointed since they are supposed to be the stars of this vehicle. They basically stand around and whine in every scene.

Will cartoon movies ever make a successful transition? Probably not as long as Hollywood continues to give cartoon characters doses of reality in the scripts. Other than “George of the Jungle”, “Casper” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” there hasn’t been a success. But keep trying.

Scooby Doo” (2002) — 2 of 5
Scooby Doo on Zombie Island” (1998) — 3.5 of 5
“So Says the Soothsayer.”

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