Gaston Leroux’s classic tale, The Phantom of the Opera, is one of the most adapted literary horror stories to date — only beaten out by Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula — so it’s a bit surprising that it took Scooby-Doo and the gang this long to give us their take on this classic tale. What is even stranger is that Scooby-Doo! Stage Fright isn’t a musical. We were already subjected to Scooby-Doo! Music of the Vampire — with some of the worst Disney knock-off songs to date — but when it comes to adapting The Phantom of the Opera, which they set during a talent competition, they don’t go full-on Andrew Lloyd Webber for some reason. Talk about a wasted opportunity.
The movie opens with Scooby and the gang arriving in the Windy City because Fred (Frank Welker) and Daphne (Grey Griffin) are finalists in a talent show called Talent Star; meanwhile, Velma (Mindy Cohn) is interested in checking out the local showing of the famous “Soap Diamond” while Scooby and Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) are more focused on the city’s famed deep-dish pizza. Unfortunately, the opera house, where the show will be held, is being terrorized by a masked phantom, and surprisingly, this is information that Shaggy takes in stride: “Of course, it’s haunted, like when do we ever go to a place that is not haunted?” Though the opera house is over one hundred years old, this particular phantom made his first appearance back in the 70s when the place had been converted into a disco.
With Scooby-Doo! Stage Fright we not only get a nice homage to Gaston Leroux’s literary masterpiece, with the Phantom demanding that his Christine win the talent show, but we are inundated with possible suspects as to who the real phantom could be. First, we have Brick Pimiento (Wayne Brady), the host of Talent Star, who points out that the Phantom’s attacks are doing wonders for the show’s ratings. Next is Mel Richmond (Jeff Bennett), the theatre owner, who has been losing money on the opera house ever since he inherited it from his dad, and he jokes about burning it down for the insurance money. We meet young violin virtuoso Emma Gale (Isabella Acres), whose family needs the contest prize money so the bank doesn’t foreclose on their farm. We also have singer Lotte Lavoie (Vivica A. Fox), who constantly threatens violence on her fellow contestants, one of whom is stage magician The Great Pauldini (John O’Hurley) whose stagecraft could easily create The Phantom’s antics. Finally, we have Chrissy Damon (Ariel Winter) aka Christine, a spoiled girl with overbearing stage parents.
As much as this is a Scooby-Doo spin on The Phantom of the Opera, there are major differences from the source material — Gaston Leroux didn’t even have a dog in his story — in this version, Christine is an abrasive diva, not the sweet ingénue of the book, and is more like the character of Carlotta, but here we also have Lotte Lavoie, who kind of takes on aspects of Carlotta as well, and it is her voice that is sabotaged by the Phantom. In Scooby-Doo! Stage Fright, there is no true Christine analogy as this particular Phantom has no muse; at most, we have Fred and Daphne’s love story filling in for Christine’s and Raoul’s tryst from Gaston Leroux’s book.
Now, it is the love story between Fred and Daphne that is easily my favourite part of this movie. First, we have Daphne quietly mooning over the seemingly oblivious Fred while everyone else in the Scooby gang is completely aware of the pair’s feelings for each other, but we get a wonderful payoff with Daphne writing a love ballad to music that Fred wrote, leading to the two finally declaring their love. Unfortunately, the film later undercuts this during the end credits with Fred and Daphne both wondering if that declaration was just part of the act or if the other really meant it. Aside from this return to the “status quo,” I found this movie handled the Fred/Daphne relationship better than any film before or since.
Scooby-Doo! Stage Fright also has one of my favourite meta-exchanges between characters, with Daphne pondering the strangeness of the Scooby gang constantly running into ghosts and monsters, leading to this wonderful interchange:
Daphne: “Fred, why do ghosts and monsters and stuff turn up wherever we go? Is it something about us?”
Fred: “No, this happens to everyone. It would be too much of a coincidence if this only happened to us, so logically, everyone must run into ghosts and monsters all the time.”
Fred: “Sure! It’s simple math. They must be everywhere.”
So who is the Phantom of this particular Opera? The villain reveal aspect of this movie makes this entry stand out from the rest. In the past, we’ve had villains wearing multiple masks, and in Chill-Out, Scooby-Doo!, we had a monster and a villain that was not actually connected, but in Scooby-Doo! Stage Fright, we get four villains, all with their own motives. First, the gang chases the Phantom into the sewers below the opera house, where they discover the lair of Steve Trilby (Paul Rugg), who was the notorious Phantom terrorizing the opera house back when it became a discotheque, but he’s not actually behind the current attacks on Talent Star, he was only prowling around looking for food to steal. He had remained a reclusive Phantom all these years because he thought he was a hideous freak. Unfortunately, this was only due to the fact that his only mirror was a funhouse mirror. Then, Mel Richmond is unmasked and admits to trying to burn down his “money-losing theatre” for the insurance money, which makes his early joking faux pas extremely stupid. Next, Lance Damon, in Phantom Garb, is caught trying to break Emma’s violin because he wants his daughter Chrissie to win the talent contest. Then, another Phantom is revealed to be assistant-director Dewey Ottoman (Peter MacNicol), who was using the Phantom threat to draw the police away from the museum that was displaying the famous Soap Diamond so that he could steal it. And finally, we have Velma revealing footage of Pimiento putting on the Phantom costume which he admits that he used to boost the show’s falling ratings.
• In this movie, Fred’s character is treated with a greater amount of respect, and though he may still be a little trap-obsessed — we find out that he sleeps with a net — when up against the villain he is a true man of action. He even uses his ascot to grapple with the Phantom.
• Steve Trilby believed he was disfigured due to his only mirror being a funhouse mirror, but this means he somehow went through his ENTIRE life growing up without ever looking at his reflection. Even for a Scooby-Doo movie, that is a bit of a stretch.
• Chrissie ends up being one of the final three finalists, but shouldn’t she have been disqualified immediately when her dad was exposed as being one of the Phantoms?
• Fred and Daphne’s love ballad win them more votes than Emma, which means Emma’s family would lose the farm, and they then start telling bad jokes as a way to throw the contest, but how would that even work? Can people call in and un-vote?
Scooby-Doo! Stage Fright was the twenty-first entry in the direct-to-video series of Scooby-Doo animated films and is easily one of my favourites — if they had gone full-on musical with this movie, it could possibly have eclipsed Zombie Island — as the multiple villain aspect of this movie was pure genius, and we even have a moment at the end where a police officer asks the audience, “Is anyone else the Phantom? Show of hands,” which is just brilliant. Then we have Grey Griffin’s stammering performance of Daphne’s delightful awkwardness with Fred, which is simply hilarious, making this the cherry on top of an already amazing dessert. Scooby-Doo! Stage Fright wonderfully showcased the relationship between Daphne and Fred while still giving the rest of the Scooby gang fun moments — Velma in top form unravelling suspect after suspect, making this a Scooby-Doo movie that will delight fans and novices alike, so if you haven’t seen this one yet, do yourself a favour and hunt it down.
You can find all my reviews of the various Scooby-Doo shows and movies collected here: The Wonderful World of Scooby-Doo.
Scooby-Doo! Stage Fright (2013)
Movie Rank - 7/10
Scooby-Doo! Stage Fright is an incredibly fun Scooby-Doo mystery, with the multiple villain aspect adding a lot of fun to the comedic antics, but if they had made this a full-on musical this could have been a classic.