The Warner Brothers Animation division has been making a lot of money from their direct-to-video movies over the years, a venture that really kicked into gear back in 1998 with Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, a film that took Scooby-Doo and friends into darker territories with an adventure that was genuinely scary, and though this was not the first time the Scooby gang had encountered real monsters — as it was promoted back then — it did set the tone for the next few animated movies to follow. Now we have this quasi-sequel titled Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island which tries hard to recapture that original magic.
With Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island, we find the people over at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment have once again done the “Retcon Shuffle” as elements of Scooby-Doo lore are both referenced and ignored in almost the same breath. Now, fans of Scooby-Doo are more than used to continuity being thrown out the window with each series reboot or animated film that is released — how else do you keep a group of mystery-solving teenagers immortal — but as Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island is a sequel to the 1998 movie, the alterations to key character and story elements are more likely than not going to piss off those selfsame fans.
This movie finds Mystery Incorporated being disbanded, an event that has happened multiple times over the run of this show and is now becoming a little tired, and the reason for this particular breakup is once again laid at the feet of the local Sheriff (David Herman), who tells the gang, “Best to leave mystery-solving to the professionals, you guys have been running around looking for trouble for so long that you’ve forgotten how to just be kids. Open lemonade stands, play kick the can, talent shows in the barns, sock hops, potato sack races.” Both Velma (Kate Micucci) and Daphne (Grey Griffin), for some reason, agree with Sheriff, stating, “He’s not wrong,” which is all kinds of bullshit because if fifty years of mystery-solving has proven anything, it’s that local law enforcement sucks at their jobs. Without Mystery Incorporated, there would have been dozens of people scammed out of their fortunes. Then we get Fred (Frank Welker) stating that going on a vacation is a great idea, which is another strange thing to hear from this group as I’d be hard-pressed to remember when Mystery Incorporated was not on vacation.
Where they should go for this vacation quickly becomes a sticking point as Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) astutely points out that every amusement park they’ve ever visited has turned out to be haunted, the zoos are full of demon animals, and theatres are always menaced by phantoms, so he insists they stay right here — in the malt shop — and watch their favourite television show hosted by Elvira Mistress of the Dark (Cassandra Peterson). Staying in a malt shop is certainly not an ideal vacation spot, unless you’re Shaggy and Scooby of course, but fate takes a strange turn when Elvira announces that the winner of a trip to a “Tropical Paradise” is none other than Shaggy Rogers. Suspicions are raised when Elvira mentions, “Shaggy is allowed to bring up to three guests with him and one pet.” A little bit on the nose there. Could a mystery be in the offing?
Unfortunately, suspicions must be put on hold as the gang has promised Shaggy and Scooby that they would not be looking into any mysteries, no matter how oddly convenient and suspicious things sound, which leads to a rather tired and overlong bit where mounds of evidence are thrown into their collective faces — which, if true, could put the team in real danger — that they must ignore all for the sake of their promise to the two idiot slackers of their group. The gang’s forced obtuseness is just insulting, as they not only ignore the fact that this tropical vacation is reached by taking a ferry down a Louisiana river to a swampy island, an island that seems to have a few plastic palm trees randomly planted around, but they also ignore the fact that “Moonstar Resort” is clearly “Moonscar Manor” from Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, and that the staff bear more than a striking resemblance to the Cat People from that adventure. Yet, even when zombies attack, Shaggy and Scooby, who were waiting for a massage, Velma spouts off stuff like, “As a woman of science, I know there are no such things as zombies,” and Fred suggesting that it could have been other guests with mud masks on.
Sadly, it turns out that these zombies are fake and that resort manager Alan Smithee (John Michael Higgins) is actually a movie director who used this “Tropical Paradise” contest as a ruse to lure the Scooby gang back to Moonscar Island so that they could star in his “found footage” movie. Apparently, Alan came across Velma’s blog and was intrigued by her Unsolved Capers section, where he found the “Tale of Zombie Island” to be rather intriguing and thought it would make for a great horror movie. Yet Daphne is quick to point out, “But Zombie Island wasn’t unsolved, the cat people disintegrated and all the zombies went back to an eternal rest,” but Velma pipes in, “There is nothing you just said that sounds unsolved,” and that is the crux of the problem I had with Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island, as this film turns Velma into some idiot denier who ignores the evidence in front of her own eyes.
To say that Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island was disappointing would be a vast understatement, as it took one of the greatest Scooby-Doo mysteries and then pissed all over it. Not only was Velma a victim of character assassination, but we also spend way too much time with Fred bemoaning the loss of the Mystery Machine — he’d sold it when the group decided to give up mystery-solving — and then poor Daphne is given almost nothing to do at all but stand around like a pretty piece of furniture. I must point out that this kind of retconning is nothing new as this year we also had the movie Scooby-Doo and the Curse of the 13th Ghost doing the same, ignoring the real supernatural threat of the original series and making the new one a hoax.
Much of the film’s run-time is all set up for this zombie movie — wonderfully titled Zombie Teenagers and the Island of Doom — and then more time is wasted when the gang decides to go along with the production and is actually willing to star in the film. Which begs the question, “Why didn’t Alan Smithee just straight-up hire them in the first place?” Tricking them into going to the island and terrorizing them with zombies would have opened him up to a major lawsuit, not to mention he’d also need the Scooby gang’s permission to release a film that they star in, making this whole premise completely ludicrous and a time-waster, that is until the real mystery starts to unfold. That’s right folks, there is more afoot than just an idiot director making a zombie movie.
You see, the filming of Zombie Teenagers and the Island of Doom is soon interrupted by a group of ferocious cat people who seem hell-bent on chasing after our heroes throughout the hotel — as would be expected in a Scooby-Doo mystery — and the remainder of the film is spent with the Scooby gang running in a panic from set to set-piece, all to nice pop music, in a montage that was a clear nod to the original chase sequences from Scooby-Doo Where are You! But this too is just a hoax, as it is revealed that the cat people are just a trio of masked treasure hunters who were trying to scare everyone away so that they could hunt in peace for Captain Moonscar’s buried treasure. Not only is this lazy, but it seems to justify Velma’s “There are no real monsters” belief, and this is just terrible. Though a fourth cat person is left unaccounted for, to keep the idea of a true supernatural threat at least a little alive, it is still an insult to fans of the original movie.
• This is a sequel to Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, but it retcons the Scooby gang to be back in school and that Daphne’s stint as host of her own show “Coast to Coast with Daphne Blake” was now some student internship, even though we were originally told her show ran two seasons, and it also completely ignores Velma having a book shop and Shaggy and Scooby’s brief stint as custom inspectors.
• In the past, when the gang has given up mystery-solving, Fred has just repainted The Mystery Machine, so there is no real reason as to why he’d feel forced to sell his beloved van. However, in the DTV movie Scooby-Doo and the Curse of the 13th Ghost, when the gang was forced by the Sheriff to retire Mystery Incorporated, Fred sold off the Mystery Machine, which made no sense then and doesn’t here.
• The name Alan Smithee is an official pseudonym used by film directors who wish to disown a project and the people behind this movie should have adopted it as well.
• Fred is given a stunt double, but for some reason, no one else gets one. You’d think Shaggy would be more in need of a double than Fred, but worse is the moment when Fred tries to do a stunt himself, a simple jumping through-a-window stunt, but he runs into the wall next to it instead. Now, Fred has been portrayed as a bit thickheaded at times, and his being strangely trap-obsessed is a key character trait, but having him be physically inept is so very wrong.
• The actors whom Smithee had hired to play the resort’s staff vanish into hiding during the cat people attack, but they are never seen again.
• Alan Smithee has the pendant that once belonged to Simone Lenoir, but where did he get it?
• In this movie, Moonscar’s treasure is found buried in the subterranean lair of the cat people, but it had already been found by Shaggy and Scooby in Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, and it wasn’t down in the lair.
• The fourth cat person being left a mystery isn’t so much a hook for a possible sequel as it is either a case of lazy writing or a cheap attempt at placating fans of the original movie.
Not only was the writing of this Scooby-Doo mystery subpar, with its rampant character assassinations and bad continuity at every turn, but the animation was nowhere near as good as the original movie, which was made over twenty years ago. The animation here is mostly flat and uninteresting; gone are the darker spookier tones that we saw back in ’98. Overall, I found Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island to be nothing more than a simple cash-grab that shamelessly tried to ride the coattails of a classic Scooby-Doo adventure; there is nothing on display here to make this a movie worth recommending.
You can find all my reviews of the various Scooby-Doo shows and movies collected here: The Wonderful World of Scooby-Doo.
Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island (2019)
Movie Rank - 4/10
For fans of the original Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island this will most likely be a rather infuriating adventure, painful at times, but I’m sure younger viewers will find some of the goofy antics entertaining, sadly older fans such as myself will decry the shoddy writing and poor animation.