Before the release of Scooby-Doo back in 2002, studios getting their hands on cartoons and putting them through the live-action treatment was very hit-or-miss depending on your age range. Nobody cared about The Flintstones and its awful prequel or The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Those who grew up back this came out will feel so much nostalgia from this adaptation of the Hanna-Barbera favorite. It’s been a very long time since I watched this, and seeing this from an adult’s perspective, I can’t say I’m shocked to realize it’s trash.
What’s the Story: After going their separate way for two years following one of their latest mystery-solving adventures, the gang of Mystery Inc., Scooby-Doo (voiced by Neil Fanning), Shaggy (Matthew Lillard), Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.), Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar), and Velma (Linda Cardellini), have reunited to investigate a popular spring break hot spot called Spooky Island as certain paranormal incidents are going on about from its young visitors.
When I was a kid, I remember being obsessed with everything Scooby-Doo. This was back when I was watching most of the original television series on Cartoon Network and just loved being involved with the mysterious heroes went up against. This also included owning the VHS tapes of the direct-to-video movies like Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island and the Scooby-Doo! and the Witch’s Ghost. But I believe the first time I ever knew a live-action movie based on the cartoon was coming out was when I saw a commercial during one Saturday morning or saw the teaser trailer before a videotape. Either way, I didn’t think turning cartoons into real movies were a thing.
I didn’t get to see it in the theater, being too young and all, but my sister owned the DVD, and that was when I watched it. Did I also have a poster? I think so. As I said before, it’s been a long time since I watched this in its entirety. In retrospect, this doesn’t sound like a terrible idea on paper with some potential for Warner Bros. to get behind. Does Scooby-Doo fall on the status of a guilty pleasure? Maybe, but I was just wondering why this wasn’t so much better.
Most of the performances were alright, but nobody was expecting them to give Oscar-winning performances out of a Scooby-Doo movie. These actors were very popular when this came out, as most of them were fairly well-known for other movies and television shows. Freddie Prinze Jr. as Fred was probably the weakest one out of the bunch since I never felt like he gelled his character through enough to care for him; Sarah Michelle Gellar, who worked with her now-husband before in I Know What You Did Last Summer, was serviceable as Daphne, a bit different from playing Buffy, and Linda Cardellini has always been a favorite of mine since watching her on Freaks and Geeks, so her portrayal of the smart Velma was spot-on.
Out of everybody, I always thought Matthew Lillard was the perfect guy to portray Shaggy right down to his look and voice. Even if you don’t like this, you gotta admit he was the best part. The character of Shaggy was probably my favorite character from the cartoon growing up. Even when the movie is in the awful territory, at least his performance and chemistry with his Grant Dane companion is a major bright spot. For someone like him to play off a CGI dog and make it work, mostly, is a good enough reason why it can be somewhat entertaining. Lillard has always been an underrated actor when given the right material to work with; that’s why I’ll always remember him as Stu in Scream. Since then, he provided the voice of Shaggy in other Scooby-Doo projects after Casey Kasem, the original voice of Shaggy, retired.
Raja Gosnell directed this, and he’s someone whose track record after the release of this has hit very low afterward. Even before helming this, he only made one decent movie, 1999’s Never Been Kissed, and his previous effort came in the form of 2000’s Big Momma’s House. Nothing about his direction stood out was incredible when we’re just watching our protagonists trying to solve this mystery predictably. Trust me, he did a better job with this than what he’ll be doing nine years later when ruining The Smurfs.
But do you know who’s wrote this? James Gunn. That’s right, the same guy who’s responsible for my love of Guardians of the Galaxy, and this was his first major screenplay after writing a couple of small movies from before. His original screenplay was supposed to be a sort-of darker satire on the series and wanted to make it R-rated. But it instead went for a more family-friendly attempt because of the property’s sake. Does that sound weird, or what?
In terms of the story and what the Mystery gang is taking on, it’s not the most interesting thing in the world, and it’s kind of all over the place. When it first began with the gang breaking up, I thought the movie was over in five minutes. Weird move. But everybody knew they’ll get back together. I like how certain references were constantly mentioned in the shows like how Daphne is always being the damsel in distress or why the same people split up together; things like that were self-aware. Some of the other characters I didn’t care about either like I thought Rowan Atkinson (I knew him as Johnny English when I first watched this) as Emile Mondavarious was under-used or that one guy who was interested in Velma.
Thinking back at it now, so many of these jokes that were attended for adults and went over my head as a child. For instance, when Shaggy meets his love interest Mary Jane (Isla Fisher) on the airplane, he tells him that’s his favorite name. I just thought he liked the name, but what I didn’t know back then was that “Mary Jane” is one of many names for that sweet marijuana. Not every joke in here isn’t funny either. What was supposed to be hilarious about Scooby dressing up as an old lady to get on the airplane? Or what about a 30-second long scene with farts/burps? Simply put, it’s there for kids. I only laughed twice during the latter half, one of which was when Shaggy said, “No, Scooby-Doo! Your mom eats cat poop!”
I think with talking about the CGI, the look of Scooby isn’t the greatest thing in the world, but it’s mildly passable. Everything else when it calls for CGI does not hold up well after 18 years, especially the design of those big demons as they looked fake as frick and didn’t terrify me as a kid. And this is a spoiler for those who’ve never watched them: When it was revealed that Scrappy-Doo was the villain behind all of this, I didn’t buy it whatsoever. Scrappy has got to be one of the most unnecessary cartoon sidekicks ever, and I didn’t even like him when I was younger. I just learned Tim Curry was going to play Mondavarious at one point but turned it down when he doesn’t like the character of Scrappy. We could’ve gotten Pennywise!
The film received negative reviews from critics, currently holding 30% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it still became the 13th highest-grossing movie of the year. Plus, do you know what other movie opened the same weekend? The Bourne Identity. And I remember owning the soundtrack before I even watched the movie. It included artists like Sugar Ray (“Words to Me”), who made a cameo since it’s was the early 2000s, Baha Men (“Scooby D”), The Atomic Fireballs (“Man with the Hex”), and one of my personal favorite Canadian punk-rock bands Simple Plan (“Grow Up”). This was also the last episode covered on the original run of the Nostalgia Critic. If only it was the last episode ever.
Scooby-Doo‘s big-screen treatment should’ve been an exciting experience, and though it has its fun moments to spare, there’s not much else to it. Is it good enough for families to watch? That’s an indifferent question to really answer. People have jokily stated this is “perfection,” and I can’t get on it. If you grew up watching this, it might bring back memories. It was never boring for all its 87 minutes as it keeps you on your feet to reach towards the climax, so you won’t feel like you’re being tortured by it. This isn’t one of the year’s top ten worst movies, but I just wished this tried harder.
Overall Grade: D+