Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television, and games.
Remember when I said, "What's your favorite Scooby-Doo movie?" Usually, people would easily point to either the television or direct-to-video films. But there are some people who would say the live-action theatrical films.
Whenever that is addressed, most would just either ignore them or find them as guilty pleasures for various reasons. Generally speaking, they fall under the "bad live-action films based on cartoons" category alongside other movies like Inspector Gadget or Dudley-Do Right.
For Scooby-Doo, it was a different story from what it was supposed to be. The project's treatment was first developed in 1994. While reruns of the original series gained popularity and new digital technology was introduced to Warner Bros., the project was officially green-lighted in 2000. Originally, the movie was supposed to have a darker tone while poking fun of the original series. This idea was inspired by The Brady Bunch Movie. In addition, Velma and Daphne were supposed to have a "kissing" scene together and Shaggy acted more as a stoner. Jinkies!
However, the movie was later edited and toned down to be more family-friendly while some adult jokes from the original cut remained intact. Okay, so what were the results?
Scooby-Doo (voiced by Neil Fanning) and the Mystery Gang must reunite to solve a supernatural haunting case at an amusement park.
The first act of the movie does give us a promising start where we get into familiar territory and even ridicule some of the characters and tropes that the series was famous for (i.e. a celebrity cameo and Daphne tired of being a damsel-in-distress).
Even the gang breaking up for the first time and reuniting later was not that bad an idea, either. However, once the gang steps foot into Spooky Island, that's where the horror starts to become unmasked...and not in a good way.
First off, the concept of the Mystery Gang solving a real supernatural case alone is nothing new. It started with the first four direct-to-video animated films. The difference between these films is the execution.
While the direct-to-video movies both maintain the charm of the original and dark nature, this movie feels confusing where either some characters would act out of character, or the real supernatural event acts more like a joke than serious. In its defense, the concept and history of Spooky Island had the right components (i.e. creatures that steal human souls, or sunlight being their weakness) to fit the dark tone that the movie was aiming for. Then again, without spoilers, once we figure out the real cause of this disaster, it feels out of place and questionable.
After the movie's tone was "fixed," the comedy still didn't help. Outside a couple of legit laughs, half of the comedy is your lazy and generic low-brow humor that is common in these family movies, primarily from Shaggy and Scooby-Doo. True, they are the comedic duo of the franchise, but the material they are given is too low, even by Scooby-Doo standards.
The other half is the untouched adult humor from the original cut. When really thinking about it, it is executed worse than the low-brow humor with an extra level of either awkward or downright uncomfortable. These jokes are the type of jokes that you will make you feel unclean and take a bath afterward while thinking "This is a family movie?!" Even Velma in one scene sums up how unusual it is. Yes, the low-brow humor is bad but AT LEAST it was passable, including one "inventive" scene where Scooby and Shaggy challenge themselves.
To address the original cut for a moment, if the changes weren't made, this movie could've been ahead of its time and would've been unique among other bad cartoon-based movies. Sure, it's not the cartoon we remembered, but it's different. Then again, it was released around the same era as other movie parodies (ironically horror-themed). So...its loss. To pour salt on an open wound, it was also written by James Gunn. Personally, he is not to blame, since he has improved over time.
The visuals in the movie are a mixed bag with some effort thrown into the sets. If there are some pleasing visuals, it's definitely the amusement park/resort Spooky Island. Being filmed in Queensland, Australia, the filmmakers converted the Warner Bros. Movie World theme park into a mysterious yet entertaining location. You'll have fun meeting and greeting wild, ghoulish creatures and get to embark on some thrilling rides. After a long day, you'll learn about the island's history with some elaborate staging and special effects. You get to either have a drink at Dead Mike's or win a shrunken-head doll from a skill crane machine. The Spooky Island Castle ride has gothic architecture with rooms that would either amuse or kill you. The more you embark on this island, the more you'll be intrigued.
With computer animation and effects becoming trendy around that time, it would be challenging for the artistry to bring Scooby-Doo himself into live-action. Instead of getting a real Great Dane, Scooby is fully computer-generated with a realistic approach. Out of sheer honesty, he looks okay in stills. As ambitious as his design was, it soon becomes uncanny when set in motion every time he speaks or makes facial expressions. It's not the worst design; the effects did not age well. One thing is for certain: once the direct-to-video live-action prequels were made, Scooby looked better with a more appealing and cartoonish look.
The same issue goes to the supernatural demons. Again, their designs are not bad. They have this threatening look to convey the real supernatural event. It's just that they all have the same copy-and-paste-look with no distinguishable features. Some of the effects, like the souls, are okay, but not enough.
If one is excited to see these beloved characters on the big screen, then think again.
Starting with the Mystery Gang, it is difficult to pick since their personalities would alternate from either "likeable," "cynical," or somewhere in-between throughout. Outside the low-brow humor, Scooby and Shaggy are the most tolerable for remaining true to the franchise as the cowardly yet loyal best friends of the gang. Velma Dinkley is the brainy yet sarcastic member of the group who sometimes acts doubtful about real ghosts and feels underappreciated at times.
Daphne Blake is the fashionista and most developed character of the movie. After tired of being "danger-prone" or as a "damsel," she became more alethic and wants to make herself more worthy. Sure, she acts over-determined when trying to solve the mystery herself and would bicker with Fred or Velma on occasion, but her loyalty and the fight scene between her and Zarkos make up for it.
But then, we have the leader Fred Jones. He is the character with the most changes for the wrong reason. While he still sets traps like in the cartoon, he acts more self-indulgent where he cares about attention and "good-looking" more than the others, which would constantly get them into trouble. Velma and Daphne do have the right to be upset to begin with. Intentional or not, Fred is the least likable character in this incarnation.
For the new characters, we have Spooky Island's eccentric owner Emile Mondavarious, Shaggy's love interest Mary Jane, park employee N'Goo Tuana, masked wrestler Zarkos, hobo Voodoo Maestro, and a random yet hilarious cameo by Sugar Ray. Most of the characters listed are placed under the "suspect" category with Mary Jane being a sole exception. True, the idea of Shaggy having a love interest has been done before, previously being Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf. She is typically the nice girl who shares Shaggy's interests, except being allergic to dogs. Not to mention, her name being Shaggy's "favorite." For those confused by that statement, let's just say it connects to the original cut.
To be sentimentally fair, as bad as the writing is, some of the actors did a decent job. To pick the weakest out of the way, Freddie Prinze Jr. acts and sounds disinterested on certain live deliveries. Again, personally not to blame, being Sarah Michelle Gellar's husband and such, he needed better direction. Speaking of Gellar, she gives charm to her adventurous and action side, thanks to her experience in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Linda Cardellini's role as Velma is alright; she fairly plays the character with nothing much else to say. The best and highlighted actor is Matthew Lillard as Shaggy. Right from the beginning to the end, his mannerisms and voice definitely capture the spirit of the character. Historically speaking, he would later become the new official voice of Shaggy after Casey Kasem's retirement. Australian stuntman Neil Fanning is so-so as Scooby-Doo, making his dialogue to sound "rog-like as rossible." On an interesting note, Tim Curry was originally cast as Emile but got replaced with Rowan Atkinson after discovering a certain character that he hates. Imagine how entertaining this movie would've been if Curry hammed up his role.
Out of all the Scooby-Doo movies out there, this is one of the most difficult projects to sit through. What was originally intended as a darker, adult parody, should've stayed a darker, adult parody. Overall, Scooby-Doo is a frail first impression of bringing the franchise into live-action. It had the right tools with a hopeful and ironical concept, adequate cast and performances, and well-constructed imagery. But, with studio interference making it more "family-friendly," the final product turns out to be an incoherent, spiteful, and wasted product of the franchise.
It is very hard to recommend this movie. For hardcore Scooby-Doo fans and families that are curious, it is a cautious rental. There will be some legit enjoyable moments, yet not enough to consider it "good."
For everyone else, it is an absolute skip and I highly recommend watching the first direct-to-video movies instead, including the 2004 sequel. Yes, I said that...and you'll see why next time.
Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on October 31, 2020:
Seldom do any TV shows make a successful transition to the big screen, especially The Flintstones and The Simpsons. I really liked the South Park movie, but the TV fans didn't flock to the movies with them. As for Scooby-Doo, I didn't care for this movie myself. It sounds like the series found its niche in the direct-to-video market - and I'm glad, since I remember enjoying the original series.