Scooby Doo

"Would you do it for a scooby snack?"

Scooby-Doo is both an excruciatingly lousy movie and a crushing betrayal of its charming source material. It tortures us for eighty-six minutes only to reveal that despite the efforts to make it as aesthetically similar to the popular cartoon as possible, it has no interest in maintaining the show’s playfully skeptical spirit. What’s worse, director Raja Gosnell, who went three-for-three before committing himself to this ill-fated project, has assembled an either talented or misused cast and surrounded it with special effects so cartoonish you wonder why they couldn’t have saved some money and just kept the cartoon format.

The movie begins, strangely, with a bitter break-up of Mystery, Inc., forcing the self-absorbed Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.), the nerdy Velma (Linda Cardellini), the ditzy Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar), and, of course the team of perpetually frightened slackers Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) and Scooby (entirely CGI) to go their own ways. Before long, they are reunited when they are separately brought to an island theme park owned by a shady entrepeneur played by Rowan Atknison, where strange goings-on seem to be transpiring: those coming in are normal, cheerful spring breakers while those leaving are stoic, occasionally violent zombies.

Now, for a confession: I consider myself a fan of the show, a breezy 30 or 60-minute enterprise that’s often adorably loopy, sometimes cute, sometimes funny, always refreshingly skeptical. This — not VeggieTales — is the sort of thing we need to show today’s kids, I’ve long thought, a clever, well-made program that touts the reliability of the scientific method over religion and superstition. Carl Sagan would have been — and probably was, since the show aired partially in his lifetime — proud.

All of that, of course, is thrown out the window in this rather horrifying attempt to update the old workhorse into a live-action boxoffice hit, using modern technology to turn good ol’ Scoob into a CGI monstrosity and the finest in make-up and costuming to reincarnate Mystery Inc. in the form of Prinze, Gellar, Lillard and Cardellini. But as painstaking as the recreations may be, Scooby-Doo can’t live down its fatal error: the movie makes the monsters, and the zombies, and the spirits, and all forms of the supernatural real. Yeah, there’s still something behind the curtain, and I don’t want to reveal exactly what, but I’ll ask this: what’s the point of Scooby and the Gang if they uncover plasma spirits and a plan to take over the universe rather than, like, old Uncle Benny the archaologist who wants to scare people away from his mansion so he can make money, or something? Can anyone think of a more heinous betrayal of the show’s intentions than this?

Scooby-Doo is a disaster on every other level as well, offering little of entertainment value aside from the momentary novelty of seeing the animated characters played by real live “actors” (more on that later). The show itself was only occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, depending more on the comic strength of its characters than jokes and gags in the scripts. Here, the characters themselves are a gimmick, existing not as separate entities but as conscious recreations of their animated forms. Gosnell is so intent on reproducing the cartoon’s look and feel that he forgets not only its spirit, but the crucial task of making the characters funny and engaging. Farting contests aren’t it.

Of the actors playing the human members of Mystery, Inc, only Matthew Lillard as Shaggy proves worth his Scooby Snack. We already know that Freddie Prinze, Jr. isn’t capable of anything, never mind farce, and his significant other Sarah Michelle Gellar is surpringly dry and boring. Cardellini as the brainy Velma is robbed of her very best line, which would have been the only laugh in the movie: “Scooby Doo! Your name means ‘Scooby Poo’!” Dire, isn’t it?

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

Snitch

Ric Roman Waugh, 2013

Score: C

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Score: C+

10 Years

Jamie Linden, 2012

Score: B-

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Score: B+

Warm Bodies

Jonathan Levine, 2013

Score: C

Beautiful Creatures

Richard LaGravanese, 2013

Score: B-

The Window

Ted Tetzlaff, 1949

Score: B+

The Chase

Arthur Ripley, 1946

Score: B

Street of Chance

Jack Hively, 1942

Score: C

The Taste of Money

Im Sang-Soo, 2013

Score: C+

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