Do you have any idea how hard it is to not start this review with "Zoinks!" or "Jinkies!"? It's damned hard. It really is.
This is the live-action version of the long-lived Hanna-Barbera cartoon, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? The cartoon's been around long enough that it has its own set of urban legends, fan obsessions, and belief systems. The pre-opening buzz for this movie wasn't hopeful. Any enterprise taking on such a cherished portion of childhood is almost certainly doomed to failure, and this particular playing field is strewn with skeletons: Josie and the Pussycats, The Beverly Hillbillies, Car 54 Where Are You?, The Flintstones...
There's a surprise, though, worthy of having its mask pulled off at the climax: this movie doesn't suck. In fact, it's pretty darned good.
In case you are a refugee and grew up without the influence of evil capitalist cartoonery: Mystery, Inc. is a bunch of teenagers who solve mysteries that seem to have supernatural elements. The group is made up of handsome Freddy (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), beautiful Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar), bookish Velma (Linda Cardellini) and Shaggy (Matthew Lillard), who was a Slacker before Slackers were invented. And let's not forget the title character, a Great Dane with a speech impediment (A Computer).
As the movie begins, a clash of egos leads to the break-up of Mystery, Inc. Two years later, they are invited separately to Spooky Island by the owner, Emile Mondavarious (Rowan Atkinson). Something is stalking the revelers at the voodoo-themed resort, and it's going to take the re-united Meddling Kids to solve the mystery, save the day, and maybe find some eye candy love interests. (Australia, how long have you been hiding Isla Fisher from us?)
It owes rather too much to Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (the first and best of what I like to call the "heisei Scooby-Doo movies"), to really be considered its own creature, but Scooby-Doo is nonetheless good fun for fans of all ages. The live actors bring some changes to the characters (to be expected in this Deconstructionist age), but are, in the main, respectful of the heritage they represent. Lillard in particular absolutely nails Shaggy... you'd swear that was Casey Kasem doing the voice.
Come on, it was in the theaters just a few months ago - what do you expect? The video is flawless and the sound crystal clear. The animated menus feature the CGI Scooby capering about and cowering from menacing shadows. The menu design is a bit garish and you can lose the cursor if you're not careful.
There are two commentary tracks. The first features director Raja Gosnell and producers Charles Roven and Richard Suckle, and is unfortunately rather dispensable - most of the interesting details they reveal are covered in other extras. Even more dispensable is the second track, which puts the four stars together in one room. They're certainly having fun, but the track is also distractingly spotty. You can assume they are respectfully watching the performances while silent. Or if you're feeling particularly mean-spirited, you can pretend the actors are gazing at themselves in awe and wonder.
Speaking of mean-spirited, "Alternate Scenes" is somewhat mistitled, as these are all actually deleted scenes. The movie works better without most of them, as they cast some unflattering light on the main characters, but there are also some swell scenes that need to be experienced, such as the original animated credit sequence, a torch song by a most surprising character, and Velma in a swimsuit. As a longtime geeky fanboy, I have to say I could have done with more Velma in a swimsuit. The commentary by Gosnell and the producers is more informative here.
Unmasking the Mystery Behind Scooby-Doo is an excellent making-of doc that runs 22 minutes. It's a mixture of interviews and behind-the-scene footage that packs a lot into its running time. Especially interesting is split-screen footage contrasting the cartoon and live action, as well as pre-and-post CGI Scooby scenes.
The "Two Player Spooky Island Arcade Challenge" is a trivia test that rewards the winner with a video clip about a very special celebrity cameo. And the last thing on the first extras screen is an Easter Egg: at one point, the panicking Scooby drops a Scooby Snack. Highlight the snack and hit enter, and you'll be taken to a brief featurette about the weather during the shoot ("Well, we knew it was going to be the rainy season when we came...")
The second screen is more sparsely populated, starting with the music video for Outkast's "Land of a Million Drums" (which plays under the menus and is referenced repeatedly in the movie, so you'd better convince yourself you like it now). There are three short featurettes: "Scary Places" about the art direction, "The Mystery Van", wherein Lillard takes you inside the Mystery Machine, and "Daphne Fight Scene", which details the import of a Hong Kong fight crew to shoot the climactic scene involving a certain redhead. There's also a commercial for the soundtrack album masquerading as an extra, but we'll ignore that.
The sequel's set for 2004. See you then.
Dr. Freex, 11/6/2002