Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television, and games.
Another Mystery on Our Hands...
In 2002, Warner Bros. released their live-action Scooby-Doo movie in theaters. Although panned by critics and audiences for having numerous changes from a darker, adult parody to a "family-friendly" flick, the movie was still a box-office success. It was no surprise that director Raja Gosnell, writer James Gunn, and the main cast would come back for an encore. The marketing started to show a lot of promise with villains from the classic series appearing. It's almost as if Warner Bros. is giving audiences and fans exactly what they hoped for. Did it prevail? Yes...and no at the same time.
When a masked villain brings the past monsters to life, Scooby-Doo (voiced by Neil Fanning) and the gang must solve the case before it's too late.
New Mystery; Same Flaws
Despite this being a sequel, it is very positive to note that no mention of the Spooky Island incident is ever addressed. This is a sign that this movie is self-contained, just like almost every Scooby-Doo movie of its time. The huge difference and highlight in the movie is the number of references and homages to the original series, Scooby-Doo, Where are You? It may sound confusing at first since this is a different incarnation rather than a continuation. Then again, it is a safe assumption that the references are part of the satirical tone of what the first movie was aiming for. Even the idea about making their past villains become alive sounds thrilling since the gang had basically faced people in monster costumes.
For the mystery itself, it is an assortment where the gang investigates locations of their past suspects while the rest of the story becomes predictable.
With James Gunn writing the screenplay again, the movie’s tone is more comedic with legit laughs. It mostly relies on scenes involving Shaggy and Scooby, which remain true to the franchise’s roots, along with performances from Seth Green and the legendary Peter Boyle. Then again, most of the material is still low-brow humor that may make kids laugh but others would be rolling their eyes at. Thankfully, the adult jokes have also been downplayed and are not as awkward as last time. The most “memorable“ scene is where Shaggy and Scooby drink different potions with unpredictable results. Again, better comedy but not enough.
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Resembles the Old Versions
In the visual department, the movie presents more eye-candy, most notably in the costumes and sets. The setting takes place in the city of Coolsville, which is a reference to the city from A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. At first glance, Coolsville is your stereotypical city but it does have some key locations to explore. After riding in a limo-style Mystery Machine, we take a tour to the Coolsville Criminology Museum full of statues and costumes of past villains on display. Even the Mystery Inc. headquarters is not bad. It has high-tech appliances and rooms that benefit each member of the team. They even used to have a treehouse when they solved mysteries in their younger years. Old Man Wickle's mansion is a spooky house full of trapdoors for any trespassers or visitors that set afoot. If you are an ex-criminal, then drink and dance at the Faux Ghost nightclub. The mines are a dark and secret facility where all the monsters have been created and most of the action scenes take effect. In fact, the action scenes are also impressive like Fred challenging the Black Knight and 10,000 Volt Ghost in a joust-like match and Scooby fighting off the monsters and saving the gang during the climax.
Speaking of the monsters, for those who are familiar with any of the old shows, you may notice that the past monsters' designs have given a highly detailed and menacing update, mixing with costumes, make-up and/or CGI. For example, the Miner 49er went from a creepy moaning man to an ill-tempered prospector full of dangerous weapons. With that said, Scooby retains his uncanny design and there are moments where they attempt to animate him more cartoony than a realistic-looking dog. There was even a brief 2D-animated cameo from the Tasmanian Devil. Some of the CGI, like the Tar Monster, have also aged as well. Again, these aforementioned effects are not terrible, just don't hold up by today's standards. The rest of the production values are nicely done overall.
Strong Characters and Funny Performances
The Mystery Gang is back with good news and bad news. The good news is that they are no longer spiteful as before. The bad news is...there are just...there...with a couple of exceptions. Starting with the main duo, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo are once again the comedic yet cowardly best friends. They both go through an arc where they try to act more serious in solving the case after unintentionally causing trouble. Velma is still the brains of the gang, but also has a story trying to confess her feelings to the museum curator. Even the scenes where Daphne dolled Velma up don't contribute much to the main story. Both of these arcs are the "be yourself" stories where they are easily predictable, but not frustrating or annoying though. As for Fred and Daphne, there's nothing much to say. Okay, it's best to start with Fred first. He went from a self-indulgent leader to a less so self-indulgent leader, which is at least an improvement to his character. Yet, he is now the bland leader of the group. Daphne is still the fashionista and still has some athleticism, but nothing else.
For the side characters or "suspects," we have the shrewd news reporter Heather Jasper Howe, the geeky museum curator Patrick Wisely, and ex-convict Jeremiah Wickles. Without spoiling, these characters all share a role of playing up the suspense of the mystery. Patrick is the most tolerable for being Velma's love interest and Wickles is the most interesting character since he was originally the Ghost of the Black Knight, another reference to the very first episode of the original Scooby-Doo show.
Then, we have the monster characters, which are the subject matter of the sequel. They are costumes that scientifically became alive by the evil masked figure. Not only that, some of them have their own personalities. We start with the evil masked figure known as...the evil masked figure. Outside his cool-looking design, he is your basic cartoony villain, which kind of fits the comedic tone. Time for the monster roster: The Black Knight, The Pterodactyl Ghost, 10,000 Volt Ghost, Miner 49er, Captain Cutler's Ghost, Tar Monster, The Skeleton Men, The Zombie, and The Cotton Candy Glob. Out of all of the monsters, the most recurring ones are The Black Knight, Pterodactyl Ghost and the Skeleton Men. The Black Ghost acts more like a cocky warrior with a flying sword, the Pterodactyl Ghost is the aerial deliverer and the Skeleton Men are the goofy, comic reliefs for little kids to laugh at. The rest of the monsters are portrayed as minions whether individually or together and a couple of them would get swiped quickly, especially the Cotton Candy Glob.
Since the sequel is aiming for a more comedic tone, the performances are better but not to a higher extent. Matthew Lillard once again nails his performance as Shaggy very well and proudly carries the character’s legacy almost a decade later. The other main actors are the same as well, with Freddie Prinze Jr. showing he has marginally improved. Comedians Seth Green and the legendary Peter Boyle also gave some serviceable performances with a couple of chuckles thrown in. They even brought some voice actors that emphasize comedy. As one-dimensional as the evil masked figure is, Scott McNeil did, at least, deliver an entertaining over-the-top performance to channel that "Saturday morning cartoon" energy. The late anime voice actor Bob Papenbrook also did a menacing yet humorous role as The Black Knight with hit-and-miss one-liners. Dee Bradley Baker provided some of the monster vocals since he is well-known for a variety of voices. You will get some yuks out of this cast and leave out with a favorite. The characters are better yet wishing there was more to them.
A Nostalgic Success
Overall, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed is a mild improvement and arguably the "best" of the live-action Scooby-Doo series. Yes, the movie still has juvenile humor, unsurprisingly character side-plots and standard characters. However, the movie did show effort with a spell-binding mystery, winks to the source material, valid laughs, and nice visuals. When thinking about which movie to watch, the sequel is easily the best choice since it is a standalone story and understands the source material a bit more. Highly recommended for die-hard Scooby-Doo fans and families as a decent watch or rental. Sadly, despite being an improvement, it did not do financially well and plans for a third film were cancelled. In fact, James Gunn himself was actually going to be the director that time. How interesting that would've been. After all, everyone did move on after this. Even James Gunn proved to the world that he is a talented filmmaker in making people engaged and laughing at the same time. Scooby may be absent on the big screen for a while, but this movie came out and we could all agree: they tried.