Saturday, May 23, 2020


Note: This review contains spoilers for Scooby-Doo.

As we delved into other animated Scooby-Doo movies, we decided to also take a look at the 2002 live-action film, Scooby-Doo. One major aspect of this decision was the knowledge that James Gunn wrote the screenplay years before he got big with Guardians of the Galaxy. I remember the advertising not clicking with me when I was a kid, plus I also wasn’t that into Scooby-Doo at the time, but we decided to take advantage of a free Amazon Prime stream to actually watch it. As it turns out, nine-year-old me was smarter than 27-year-old me.

Mystery Inc. solve the case of the Luna Ghost, but the growing friction between Fred Jones (Freddie Prinze Jr.), Daphne Blake (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Velma Dinkley (Linda Cardellini) cause them all to quit, leaving Shaggy Rogers (Matthew Lillard) and Scooby-Doo (Neil Fanning) alone with the Mystery Machine. Two years later, all five of them are approached to solve a mystery on Spooky Island, owned by Emile Mondavarious (Rowan Atkinson). When they arrive on the island, they slowly learn how to work together again as they try to solve the mystery of why the tourists seem to leave in a brainwashed state.

Mystery Inc. arrive on Spooky Island to solve the mystery;
L-R: Daphne Blake (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Velma Dinkely (Linda Cardellini),
Emile Mondavarious (Rowan Atkinson), Shaggy Rogers (Matthew Lillard),
Fred Jones (Freddie Prinze Jr.), Scooby-Doo (Neil Fanning)

The longer Mystery Inc. were on Spooky Island, the more I realized that this film operates as more of a parody of Scooby-Doo in general. Though it does at least follow the same motions as a Scooby-Doo story, it does so while taking jabs at the series and not a lot of it lands, which, combined with rushed pacing in the third act, bogs down the quality of the writing overall. It doesn’t help that it’s not necessarily original in the first place, since the premise is copied from Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, mainly Mystery Inc. breaking up and getting back together years later, only to investigate a mystery on an island. Even this isn’t executed very well, however, since everyone acts like a jerk to each other in some way, which contrasts with their usual characterization. Towards the end of the movie, for instance, Shaggy seriously contemplates running away with Scooby-Doo and leaving his friends to die at the hands of the brainwashed tourists.

Of course, I also feel the need to address that Scrappy-Doo (Scott Innes) is the villain. I don’t remember seeing that much of A Pup Named Scooby-Doo (via Boomerang reruns), but Scrappy’s personality is noticeably exaggerated here and he’s much harsher towards everyone else, including a desire to kill his uncle Scooby. His reveal as the mastermind is also somewhat telegraphed by his presence in an earlier flashback scene, which at least plants the seed in the viewer’s head. While I’m not one to complain about the idea of Scrappy as a villain, it was a choice that felt forced just so the film could say, “Get it? Scrappy sucks!” The story might’ve been better off if it actually brought back Old Man Smithers from the beginning of the film, as he had sworn revenge on Mystery Inc.

Scrappy-Doo's (Scott Innes) villain role feels more like an excuse
to drill into the audience's head that he sucks.

What really drags the film down, however, is the juvenile approach to the writing. For a PG film, a few of the jokes are oddly sexual, especially the comments Fred makes when his soul accidentally makes its way into Daphne’s body. There was also an unnecessary lengthy scene where the plot stalls so Shaggy and Scooby can engage in a farting contest, though this certainly isn’t the only instance of toilet humor. I can only guess the scene was in there to appeal to the lowest common denominator, but it contributes nothing and could easily have been removed. Fortunately, the humor does occasionally land, like a joke where Shaggy comments about “getting baked”, but it turns out he and Scooby are just cooking food.

Through my research for this review, I learned that, according to James Gunn himself, the film was originally R-rated and they had used CG to remove cleavage. While this revelation does explain the crass humor and juvenile tone, it doesn’t excuse the state of the final product.

Compared to the story, I have more mixed feelings on the visuals. I did like the set designs, since their complexity gave Spooky Island a unique feeling and atmosphere through a consistent art direction, and I especially liked seeing a perfect recreation of the Mystery Machine in live action. Unfortunately, this seems to be where most of the budget went, as I can’t say the same for the CG. Even in comparison to other films that came out that year, like Spider-Man and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the CG is very dodgy and looks more akin to a PS1 game, especially on the creatures that Mystery Inc. encounters. Scooby-Doo is the only passable CG object, as he felt more necessary to render this way and it looks like they actually made an effort to make it look like he’s really there.

The most praiseworthy aspect of the film, however, is the casting. There is a visible effort to cast people who look like the members of Mystery Inc. and it paid off. My favorite of the cast was easily Matthew Lillard, who nails Shaggy so perfectly in voice and mannerisms that it’s no wonder he was later cast as the main voice of the character’s animated counterpart. Rowan Atkinson, however, didn’t have as much screen time compared to everyone else, so his comedic talents feel a little wasted.

Matthew Lillard was the perfect casting choice for Shaggy.

As for the rather beefy soundtrack, it’s okay. The licensed tracks didn’t really stand out, as most of them, while diverse in genre, felt like standard fare for the type of film they were in. The original Scooby-Doo-themed songs, including “Shaggy, Where Are You?”, “Scooby D” and the MxPx cover of “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” were interesting, but didn’t leave a lasting impression after the credits rolled.

On a more minor note, this film also happens to be the last time William Hanna, of Hanna-Barbera, served as an Executive Producer before his death.

While I do generally like the Scooby-Doo franchise, I can’t really recommend this film. Barring the colder characterization of Mystery Inc., the humor is a bit too juvenile for my tastes and it feels just too adult for a PG affair. The only reason I would tell anyone to watch it would be to see the origin of some of the material used in the Ultra Instinct Shaggy meme, but even that’s pretty flimsy. I won’t fault people who genuinely like this movie, as I’m aware nostalgia is a powerful thing, but if you asked me, I’d tell you to just watch Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island instead.

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