Saturday, September 22, 2018

Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island

If you’ve been alive for the last 20 or so years, you’re no doubt familiar with Scooby-Doo, one of Hanna-Barbera’s most successful franchises, in some form or another. Since the original 1969 cartoon, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, the iconic group of meddling teenagers and their Great Dane spawned numerous spin-offs and TV movies into the present day, although production of Scooby-Doo material had stagnated over time, with the various series and specials relegated to re-runs. However, the 1998 home video release of Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island proved popular enough that it more or less revived the franchise, which lead to the production of further spin-offs and yearly direct-to-video features, with no signs of stopping anytime soon. We’ve decided to take a look at Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island in honor of its 20th anniversary to see how well it holds up today.

After solving cases for years, the Mystery, Inc. gang grow bored of mystery-solving and go their separate ways. Daphne (Mary Kay Bergman) and Fred (Frank Welker) have started a successful TV series, Velma (B.J. Ward) becomes the owner of a bookstore and Shaggy (Billy West) and Scooby-Doo (Scott Innes) are fired from an airport security job after consuming food designated as contraband. After Daphne expresses a desire to see everyone again, Fred gathers everyone together on her birthday to go on a roadtrip while filming her newest show, which involves finding locations that are actually haunted. Their search leads them to a remote home in New Orleans on Moonscar Island. While the gang is initially skeptical about how haunted the island is, they gradually discover that this time, the monsters are real.

(L-R): Fred (Frank Welker), Velma (B.J. Ward),
Shaggy (Billy West), Scooby-Doo (Scott Innes) and
Daphne (Mary Kay Bergman) reunite to film Daphne's new show.

Compared with most other versions of Scooby-Doo, Zombie Island has a more realistic atmosphere and more mature storytelling. The film explores what happens to Mystery, Inc. after they become adults and it’s interesting to see their lives with varying degrees of success before they regroup to relive their glory days. As part of this more mature direction, the story features actual deaths and the gang encounter real monsters, mainly the titular zombies. There is also more of an effort to give the characters depth, including a hint of romantic interest between Fred and Daphne that gets explored to some degree during the plot. This interpretation of the Scooby-Doo mythos is one of the more intriguing ones because the audience gets to see the gang reacting to a fairly rare situation and the story manages to successfully take the source material more seriously. There’s also a little humor to balance out the horror, mostly through subtle jokes about the franchise, such as a visual gag where Shaggy opens a suitcase to reveal multiple sets of his classic wardrobe.

While the story is able to stand the test of time, there are minor faults. For one, the character Snakebite Scruggs (Mark Hamill) doesn’t serve much of a purpose outside of saving Shaggy from a group of alligators and expressing bitterness towards the presence of “tourists” on his fishing grounds. Additionally, since Zombie Island came out in 1998, the setting features outdated technology, mainly a non-digital video camera, that would feel out of place in any other time period.

What helps the movie hold up today is the still-impressive traditional animation. The animation of Zombie Island is more fluid and detailed than most other Scooby-Doo productions before and since and features a darker color palette that fits in well with the atmosphere. Naturally being direct-to-video means that this movie would have a higher budget than a standard TV series, but even then, it seems to top many of the other direct-to-video Scooby-Doo films of recent years.

The detail helps the animation hold up today.

Zombie Island also stands out with its choice of music. Where previous versions of Scooby-Doo used pop music, this movie goes for a harder alternative sound with original tracks “The Ghost is Here” and “It’s Terror Time Again” performed by Skycycle, along with a cover of “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” by Third Eye Blind. The original tracks add to the mood of the scenes they’re used in and are also memorable tracks in their own right, especially “It’s Terror Time Again.” The voice acting is also done well, as even though not all of the original voice actors returned for this project, the featured line-up captures the feeling of their respective characters.

On the subject of the voice acting, Zombie Island holds the honor of having the first permanent recast of the voice actors used within the franchise. Following the death of Don Messick, to whom Zombie Island is dedicated, Scott Innes became the voice of Scooby-Doo; Casey Kasem declined to reprise his role as Shaggy unless the character would be depicted as a vegetarian, so Shaggy is instead voiced by Billy West in a one-off role; Mary Kay Bergman replaced Heather North in the role of Daphne and B.J. Ward replaced Nicole Jaffe as Velma. In contrast, Frank Welker was the only original cast member to return and still continues to voice Fred.

I can’t really end this without addressing an interesting bit of trivia regarding the origins of Zombie Island. The reason the plot unfolds the way it does is that apparently, the script borrows elements from an unfinished episode of SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron called “The Curse of Kataluna”, also written by Glenn Leopold, who wrote Zombie Island.

Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is easily one of the better examples of the Scooby-Doo franchise. The darker and more realistic atmosphere, consistent tone, incredible voice acting and mature writing all help this movie stand the test of time. While I would recommend this movie to anyone even remotely familiar with Scooby-Doo, as it’s still perfectly enjoyable for adults, I would advise parents to keep in mind that the subject matter could be genuinely frightening for small children.

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