When Hollywood first began raiding every has-been boomer TV show and limited animation cartoon for their summer movies, it crossed my mind that Scooby-Doo might be worth motion-picture treatment. The basic concepts still appeal to kids, and might interest the adults who watched the old show and the teens for whom it has long held a certain campy charm. I even had a premise for the script.
Whether my twist on "Scooby" would have made a good movie is as a point both moot and highly debatable. I can only say without in any way bragging that I could have produced a better script than the industry creatives behind this bloated 2002 monstrosity.
When they first announced the Scooby movie, some overpaid Warner Brothers exec said that it would be about what Scooby-Doo always has been, "you know, saving the world." Sorry, buddy. Scooby-Doo has never been about saving the world. Scooby and the gang play a smaller field; they bumble their way to solving minor mysteries in obscure backwaters. The original show crosses tales of teen friendship with The Hound of the Baskervilles and horribly simplifies the elements of both. Notching these elements up a level would have made a passable cinematic 'Doo.
This sloppily, choppily-edited product only rarely produces a smile and never amounts to an actual film. The writers seem both overly familiar with the source material and utterly clueless as to why it might appeal to an audience.
The plot is easy enough. The Scooby gang go their separate ways, but then meet again to solve a mystery at a theme amusement park. Warner cast Rowan Atkinson as the owner, cleary because of name recognition; he doesn't really do anything funny, or much of anything at all in this film.
What passes for humour in this movie (when it isn't gas) are inside references that would be meaningless to someone who hasn't watched the old cartoon. The opening sequence (possibly the best bit, which is not really the way to make a movie) depends almost entirely upon our familiarity with past Scoobies. The mystery's solution, meanwhile, rests on the show's history, rather than internal clues. Given that the studio clearly expected a lot of very young children would watch this thing, that approach makes no sense. In-jokes are fine, but why not fold them into a film that might be passably entertaining for people who've never watched the original Scooby-doo?
At the very least, why not make a film that's passably entertaining for somebody?
The movie tries to include messages about friendship and teamwork by having the gang split up and then come back together, but for such a plot to really work we need to have some vague sense, even a cartoony sense, of who these people are and why we should pretend to care for them. The Baskerville riff-- that things do go bump in the night, but they can be confronted and unmasked-- doesn't play any better here. The Halloween trappings have been overblown, and while there are a couple of gross moments, there is nothing to evoke even child-appropriate fear. And, since the supernatural monsters actually exist, that aspect of the original show (one of the few children's franchises, talking dog notwithstanding, to present a pro-skeptic message) isn't present at all.
The primary actors seldom rise above living cartoon characters. Linda Caredellini has her moments as Velma; Matthew Lillard does a great job of imitating Casey Kasem's Shaggy. The less said about Prinze and Gellar here, the better. He gives new meaning to the adjective, "wooden," and she's given nothing to do but show off her physical accouterments. There's no depth, not even cartoony depth. And the secondary characters lack any characteristics whatsoever. Scooby and various monsters, meanwhile, appear courtesy of CGI, but aren't any more believable than they were in the old Hanna-Barbara cartoon. If you're going to bring animation to life, the idea should be to add a little something. The recent Scooby direct-to-video cartoons, and the Mystery Inc. "crossover" ep of Johnny Bravo do a better job of upgrading and gently mocking the original characters.
In the end, the gang made it to the screen only to shill pop soundtracks and Scooby swag. The overblown settings and the monsters' particular Achilles' heel, meanwhile, were blatantly created for a videogame.
Despite poor reviews, the film made enough money to warrant a sequel; the second film seems to have assured that no more live-action Scooby films will appear anytime soon.
Even a Saturday morning cartoon, a flat, cheesy cartoon made by people who would never have believed it would be remembered thirty-three years later, deserves better than this.
Director: Raja Gosnell
Writers: William Hanna, Joseph Barbera (characters)
Craig Titley, James Gunn (story)
Freddie Prinze Jr....Fred Jones
Sarah Michelle Gellar...Daphne Blake
Matthew Lillard...Norville "Shaggy" Rogers
Linda Cardellini...Velma Dinkley
Rowan Atkinson...Emile Mondavarious
Isla Fisher...Mary Jane
A Bunch of Pixels...Scooby-doo
I originally wrote a variation of this review for Bad Movie Night, back in 2002.