The movie version of "Scooby-Doo" has been hanging like a threat over the happy childhood memories of my funky '70s TV-watching habits.
Like so much other pop-culture--"Star Wars," "Josie and the Pussycats," "Rocky & Bullwinkle"--would the cool crime solvers with the groovy van be ruined when Hollywood revisited them? Would a look inside the Mystery Machine reveal nothing but an ugly conversion van?
I'm afraid so. As reformulated by the aggressively mediocre director Raja Gosnell and screenwriter James Gunn, this "Scooby-Doo" is entertainment more disposable than Hanna-Barbera's half-hour cartoons ever were. Gosnell exposed his witless comedy before in "Big Momma's House" and "Home Alone 3"--admittedly, big moneymakers--and here he drains all the potential out of the Scooby premise to carve out this hollow kids' movie.
The script from Gunn (tellingly, author of the book "All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned From the Toxic Avenger") reunites the disbanded members of Mystery Inc. on Spooky Island, a spring break resort-theme park. Gunn seems to have sketched out the characters in big letters on small Post-it notes: Fred=vain. Velma=smart. Scooby=nice.
Good casting represents the only creativity in any of these TV-to-movie projects. But landing, say, John Goodman to play Fred Flintstone guarantees nothing. Likewise, Sarah Michelle Gellar, who walks the line between parody and drama so well in the TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," is underused as Daphne, who's trying to overcome her history of helplessness.
It's a tribute of some kind to Matthew Lillard (of "Scream" and "SLC Punk") that we don't want to slap him after 90 minutes of that Casey Kasem Shaggy voice, which he duplicated with aplomb. He's as loose-limbed and gawky as any cartoon, and is the only actor who effectively interacts with the computer-animated dog.
As for Scooby, the effects team was smart to keep him moving at nearly all times, so that his flatness is only momentarily distracting. This is not the wow-look-at-those-dinosaurs! level of special effects, but it's satisfactory. What's most disappointing is that creating a CGI Great Dane seems to be the primary motivation behind reviving "Scooby-Doo" at all.
Of course, there are also the toys to peddle. And the just-released DVDs of the original show. Maybe T-shirts and lunch boxes too. Rather than characters, the movie "Scooby-Doo" gives us Halloween costumes. Rather than story, it gives us chase sequences stapled end to end. Rather than humor, it gives us a two-minute belch-and-flatulence competition between Shaggy and Scooby. We should expect more from movies that we show children.
Intentional or not, the original "Scooby-Doo" infused some grown-up (or at least late adolescent) subtext into its Saturday morning cartoons. Really, what were those kids doing driving around in that van? Why did Shaggy have the munchies all the time? And Velma ... just a tomboy? Removed in time and spirit from the 1970s, this movie not only ignores those subtexts, it actively suppresses them.
And not to get too academic-sounding, but there was also an ethos to "Scooby-Doo," wherein the youth were protecting the world--one old mill or abandoned mine at a time--from greedy old men who would profit from exploiting that land. Sure, it was a silly cartoon, but it was a silly cartoon with a point of view.
Rip the scary mask off this scheme, and the greedy characters exposed are the ones who ruined "Scooby-Doo."
MPAA rating: PG, for some rude humor, language and some scary action. Times guidelines: Too scary for kids under 6 or 7. Victims possessed by monsters; bad guy steals souls.
Freddie Prinze Jr....Fred
Sarah Michelle Gellar...Daphne
Isla Fisher...Mary Jane
Warner Bros. Pictures. Produced by Mosaic Media Group. Director Raja Gosnell. Producers Charles Roven and Richard Suckle. Screenplay James Gunn. Story Craig Titley and James Gunn. Based on characters created by Hanna-Barbera Productions. Executive producers Robert Engelman, Andrew Mason, Kelley Smith-Wait, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. Director of photography David Eggby. Production designer Bill Boes. Editor Kent Beyda. Music by David Newman. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
In general release.