Director: Raja Gosnell
Cast: Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini, Rowan Atkinson, Isla Fisher, the voice of Scott Innes
MPAA Rating: (for some rude humor, language and some scary action)
Running Time: 1:27
Release Date: 6/14/02
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Review by Mark Dujsik
It’s a sad movie indeed that tries to offer many funny sequences but only delivers one, and when that sequence is an immature farting competition between a man and a dog, that’s when you realize just how unfunny the rest of it actually is. But that’s the situation with Scooby-Doo, a big screen adaptation of the old cult cartoon series. The show has a following but leave me out of it. I’ve seen an episode here and there, enough to get the in-jokes and realize that the movie version only thinks it’s keeping with the spirit of the series. The movie is a tired and inconsistent mix of cartoonish humor, modern sensibilities, and poorly executed action sequences. It’s for the kids, to be sure, but I think they deserve something more than recycled, entirely-for-commercial-purposes entertainment in a poorly wrapped package.
If you haven’t seen the show, you probably have no interest in the movie, and if you’re a fan, you already know the following. A group of social caricatures and friends run around solving mysteries, usually involving fake ghosts and monsters, and call themselves Mystery, Inc. There’s Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.), the preppy, shallow, vain, and therefore most popular member. There’s Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who always manages to be the damsel in distress. There’s Velma (Linda Cadellini), the smart one (she wears glasses). And then there’s Shaggy (Matthew Lillard), the perpetually hungry scaredy-cat, who along with his best friend Scooby-Doo (voice of Scott Innes), a garbling Great Dane, are always looking for food and running away from bad guys. The plot has them breaking up due to irreconcilable differences and meeting two years later at the request of Mondavarious (Rowan Atkinson) the owner of Spooky Island. Apparently college students arrive at the park fun-loving party animals but leave refined, slang-talking bores.
As the plot develops (not in the sense that it gets better, just that it continues), details of some kind of soul-stealing or replacing or switching creatures appear and wreak havoc. Up until this point, I thought Scooby-Doo was the most unconvincing CGI character ever created. I still think he might be but only because he has more screentime than the rest of the special effects. Scooby-Doo follows in the infamous trails of other TV-to-movie adaptations by being a bad movie but then adds the misfortune of being a live-action cartoon. Very rarely does this gimmick work, and when it does, it’s generally because the filmmakers go all out in creating a cartoonish feel. Director Raja Gosnell and screenwriter James Gunn make the error of taking this material too seriously. The Scooby gang exists in their own world, but the outside world, for the most part, seems to accept them and goes along with their ways.
The parts that do work are the ones that tinker with the source. Take, for example, that a poorly house-trained Scrappy-Doo is the reason for the gang’s gradual disbanding. Then there’s the only real clever running gag in the movie, which will fly right over the kids’ heads. There are urban legends and rumors (for a cartoon, no less) about the reason for Shaggy and Scooby’s food cravings, paranoia, and general aimlessness. The script has fun toying with these in scenes like a cloud of smoke in a trailer which is revealed to originate from a grill, Shaggy’s love interest Mary Jane ("That’s my favorite name!"), a man luring Scooby into a dark forest with "a bag of... hamburgers," and one of the poorly-animated creatures blowing green smoke into Shaggy’s face. For all of these gags, though, there are countless jokes that have no point. Explain why we need to waste two minutes as the gang’s souls (or "protoplasm," as the movie calls them) are exchanged time and time again.
Some minor good things: The movie runs just under an hour and a half, which thankfully goes by quickly, its storytelling isn’t incoherent, and if it doesn’t make a lot of money, there won’t be a sequel. This is the kind of script actors run from, and that’s why Hollywood should be glad to have actors like those in the cast of Scooby-Doo, who are willing to take a blow to their credibility just to have a big-name property on their résumé. I hope that Rowan Atkinson earned enough for this to be considered a paycheck performance. Then there’s Matthew Lillard who I learn actually screamed to the point of developing laryngitis to get the voice of Shaggy just right. I wish his voice and career much luck after this.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.