Saturday, May 2, 2020

Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost

Note: The following review contains spoilers for Scooby-Doo and The Witch's Ghost.

Following the success of Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island in 1998, which reinvigorated the Scooby-Doo brand, a follow-up film was released the following year, Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost, beginning the trend of annual DTV Scooby-Doo films of varying quality. I will admit I wasn’t too aware of this movie when it first came out, however, I decided I had to see it since it seemed to form a set as one of the first four DTV movies based on Scooby-Doo. After finally getting to see it, I found it to be a worthy successor to Zombie Island, though it overall falls just short of the preceding movie’s quality.

While wrapping up a caper at a museum, the Mystery Gang run into Ben Ravencroft (Tim Curry), a horror author whom Velma (B.J. Ward) happens to be a huge fan of. Fascinated by the gang’s own escapades, Ravencroft invites them to his hometown of Oakhaven in Massachusetts, where he normally goes to “recharge” once a year. Upon their arrival, Oakhaven has become a popular attraction due to a recreation of a village based on the stories of Sarah Ravencroft, Ben’s ancestor who was tried as a witch. Ben insists that Sarah was innocent and has been seeking a book that would prove her innocence, however the ghost of Sarah Ravencroft has also been reported to have been seen since the recreated town was first constructed.

The story retains the same tone as Zombie Island, featuring a generally darker atmosphere with some comedic elements. Though the movie features some supernatural elements, what’s interesting is the implementation of these elements, as the general structure leads you to believe the movie ends on a typical Scooby-Doo Hoax only for an actual, real ghost to appear in the third act. Ben Ravencroft (seemingly an analog for Stephen King) is also a well-written character, helped by the performance of Tim Curry, telling a believable story on how Sarah Ravencroft is innocent only for him to show his true colors once he finally gets the book he was after, which is actually a spellbook that Sarah was trapped in, which he plans to use to exercise his blood status as a warlock. That said, this revelation does seem to come a little out of nowhere, even if it does make sense in hindsight, mainly because his explanation involves him having apparently been playing 4D Chess with the Mystery Gang in order to get them to Oakhaven just to help him find the book. As for the more humorous elements of the movie, many of these moments involve Shaggy (Scott Innes) and Scooby (Scott Innes), with one particularly funny moment seeing them break a hospitable restaurateur as they end up consuming everything in the kitchen.

Rather notably, Witch’s Ghost marks the franchise debut of the Hex Girls, a rock band of eco goths comprised of Thorn (Jenifer Hale), Dusk (Jane Wiedlin) and Luna (Kimberly Brooks). The three of them collectively are rather interesting characters, and the music they perform during the movie is actually good, though Thorn being 1/16th Wiccan plays a more important role in the story than is initially let on. (I have been made aware the depiction of Wicca in the movie is not entirely accurate, however, I am nowhere near educated enough in the subject to say exactly how much.) The way these characters were executed evidently made them popular among fans, allowing them to appear in future Scooby-Doo ventures such as Mystery Incorporated, which happens to be a series I particularly liked.

The Hex Girls are a highlight of the movie due to how interesting their characters are.
From left: Dusk (Jane Wiedlin), Thorn (Jennifer Hale), Luna (Kimberly Brooks)

As with Zombie Island, Witch’s Ghost is animated by Japanese studio Mook Animation. Much like its predecessor, this allows for phenomenal animation that would otherwise not be possible on a TV budget, with much more fluid movement while still retaining the Scooby-Doo art style. The color palette and nighttime setting throughout most of the movie help give the movie more of an atmosphere without becoming too dark, though this all comes together the best in the third act when the ghost of Sarah Ravencroft is made real. The summoning of the ghost and the Hex Girls’ musical numbers in particular feature some great camera work, the former of which also adds to Ben Ravencroft’s true sinister nature.

Much of the voice cast of the Mystery Gang returns from Zombie Island, however, this movie notably marks the debut of Scott Innes as a recurring voice of Shaggy in several Scooby-Doo projects, in addition to voicing Scooby. Shaggy’s previous voice actor, Billy West, needed time to commit more to the animated series Futurama at the time. Having heard Innes’ take on Shaggy before in Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase, I found his performance to be familiar to me, though I thought he did a good job for his first time in the role. Tim Curry is an inspired choice for Ben Ravencroft, being able to play a villain who can effectively hide his true nature for the majority of his screentime. Similarly, Tress MacNeille, perhaps best known for her many roles on The Simpsons hits it out of the park as Sarah Ravencroft, helping to portray the character as more of a legitimate threat to the Mystery Gang.

The opening sequence of the movie features a cover of “Scooby-Doo Where Are You?” by Billy Ray Cyrus, which was actually pretty good. Aside from that, songs played during the movie are usually performed by the Hex Girls, and (as stated previously) they are actually quite good and memorable. The two songs the Hex Girls are shown to actually play during the movie, “Hex Girl” and “Earth, Wind, Fire and Air”, are particular standouts in this regard, though there’s more during the credits and on the soundtrack CD/cassette.

Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost is a great Scooby-Doo movie, even a good movie in its own right, though it’s not quite as good as Zombie Island. The animation, music and voice talent are all spectacular, however, its plot doesn’t flow as well as it could have when it gets to the third act. Despite this, it overall holds up pretty well and is an easy recommendation for Scooby-Doo fans and animation fans in general.

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