directed by Raja Gosnell
(Warner Bros., 2002)

When a popular cartoon is remade as a movie, film-makers can strive to create a truly three-dimensional reinterpretation of the source material for an entirely new experience. In the case of Scooby-Doo, however, director Raja Gosnell made a cartoon with real people.

Mystery Inc. is made flesh through the efforts of four young actors: Freddie Prinze Jr. as the self-absorbed Fred, Sarah Michelle Gellar as beautiful but perpetually in distress Daphne, Linda Cardellini as brainy Velma and Matthew Lillard as the easily scared, eternally hungry and fiercely loyal stoner Shaggy. Scooby is a computer-generated dog inserted into the action and, while his CGI antics don't always fit perfectly into the scene around him, his comic expressiveness is priceless.

"Zoinks" and "jinkies" abound as the group of young sleuths suffer through a bitter parting, then are reunited at the behest of reclusive amusement park owner Emile Mondavarious (Rowan Atkinson). Mondavarious has a ghost problem ... or is it a demon problem ... or maybe some sort of wizard or witch. It's not really clear, but there's certainly a problem on Spooky Island -- but that won't stop the droves of visiting college students from partying hard while they're there. Mondavarious also does a great impersonation of someone trying to be scary, a feat that makes excellent use of Atkinson's rubber-faced abilities ... and he has one great line about a bobble-headed cat.

Being a Scooby feature, you expect certain stock villains to appear in outlandish costumes -- but, I'll admit, the sinister tattooed piano player surprised me. So, too, did an unwelcome cameo by the annoying Scrappy-Doo, the pint-sized pooch who ruined later years of the cartoon when I was a young viewer.

The movie recreates the Mystery Inc. team fairly well, although purists will note that the four actors are caricatures of their cartoon counterparts. Lillard and Cardellini are exceptionally good in their roles, and Gellar was a treat to watch as she tried to reinvent herself as a non-victim. Prinze was a questionable choice, but I can understand the film-makers' desire to capitalize on his off-screen romance with Gellar by casting them together. Scooby, of course, is still an animated dog, but only marginally more realistic than he was in Hanna-Barbera's day.

But, while the heroic sleuths still haven't learned that it's never a good idea to split up in a potentially haunted situation, the movie does take a few detours from other cartoon traditions. For instance, there is a bit more flatulence than I remember on Saturday mornings (a really unnecessary scene -- most people stopped laughing at fart jokes years ago), and I don't remember there being much on-screen peeing going on, either. Gellar's plunging necklines I expected, even if frail Daphne was never so bold -- but what's this? Velma shows some cleavage, too? Where was that on Saturday mornings??

Still, live action and special effects aside, Scooby-Doo is very much a cartoon and should be watched with that in mind. It's silly and pointless and colorful and fun. The cartoon was never one of my favorites as a child, but I still liked it at some distant and occasional level. The movie was more enjoyable because it laughs at itself, and it's hard not to chuckle along.

Video and DVD versions of the film provide several deleted scenes after the credits. I'm not sure why they were cut -- at 86 minutes, the movie surely couldn't have been deemed too long -- and most of the scenes do a lot to further the story. Plus there's Velma's spotlight song, which is delightful!

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 21 December 2002

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