With over three decades of various incarnations of Scooby-Doo, it’s actually quite surprising that it took Hollywood this long to try for a live-action version of Mystery Incorporated — one could assume that they were waiting for computer graphics to reach a certain point where an animated Scooby-Doo would work in live-action, but they could easily have gone the Who Framed Roger Rabbit route and no one would have blinked — yet when we finally did get our first theatrically released live-action Scooby-Doo, the end result was less than stellar.
The movie starts with a cold open as we are dropped into “Mystery of the Luna Ghost” where we find the Scooby gang wrapping up the mystery and revealing that the ghost was just Old Man Smithers the janitor of Wow-O Toy Factory: “And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!” This seems like a standard happy conclusion, but there is trouble in paradise as Velma (Linda Cardellini) is pissed off at Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.) for taking credit for solving the mystery and Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is quick to point out that she is fed up with constantly being kidnapped, and this results in the group breaking up, much to the chagrin of Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) and Scooby-Doo (Neil Fanning) who hate to see their friends abandon them.
The movie then jumps ahead a couple of years where we learn that the gang have all been invited, unbeknownst to each other, to solve a mystery at the popular resort Spooky Island. The resort is owned by Emile Mondavarious (Rowan Atkinson) who needs Mystery Inc. to be reunited so that they can uncover the sinister plot behind the apparent brainwashing of the teenage visitors to the island. The gang is reticent about working as a team again and breaks off to prove that they can solve the mystery on their own, which leads to Daphne encountering Voodoo Maestro (Miguel A. Núñez Jr.), who warns her not to go into the Spooky Island Castle, advice which she of course ignores, resulting in her meeting up with the rest of the Scooby gang who all somehow end up at Spooky Island Castle.
This does lead to one of the best moments in the film, where Daphne tries to recruit Shaggy and Scooby to inspect the castle but they are quite set against the idea, “Like, Scoob and me don’t do castles. Because castles have paintings with eyes that watch you, and suits of armour you think are a statue with a guy inside that follows you every time you turn around!”
On the mystery side of things, there isn’t much going on in this particular Scooby-Doo movie; the gang quickly discovers that someone is using a pyramid-shaped artifact called the Daemon Ritus to steal the souls of the park guests and replace them with that of a demon and that the closed Spooky Castle ride is being used as some sort of indoctrination facility to teach the demons how to act like regular teenagers.
We aren’t given much in the way of suspects aside from the park’s resident Voodoo host N’ Goo Tuana (Steven Grives), who claims that the island was once ruled by ancient demons that have been plotting their revenge ever since they were displaced when Mondavarious built the resort. Other than him, all we have is the aforementioned Voodoo Maestro who pops in and out of the movie with absolutely no explanation for his existence. Is he a park employee or an original island inhabitant? We never find out.
Emile Mondavarious is floated as being a potential suspect, mainly because he creeps Fred out, but as he was the one to invite them to the island, this doesn’t make much sense…that is unless he needed them on the island for some nefarious purpose. It’s quite clear that Scooby-Doo: The Movie isn’t trying to do anything other than cash in on childhood nostalgia and director Ras Gosnell and screenwriter James Gunn were pretty hampered by the studio in what they could and couldn’t do with the Scooby property. James Gunn has since revealed that there was an “R” rated draft of this movie, but fear of angry moms prevented this from ever happening. The end result was a rather tepid Scooby-Doo adventure that thought to throw the much-maligned character of Scrappy-Doo under the bus to please older Scooby-Doo fans and make up for the film’s otherwise complete lack of balls.
That’s right folks, the villain of this piece is Scooby’s estranged nephew Scrappy-Doo (Scott Innes) who orchestrated this whole thing so as to capture his uncle Scooby’s “pure soul” that would allow him to rule the world for the next ten thousand years. Or check into a psych ward, whichever comes first. Turns out that Mondavarious who hired the gang was just a robot shell that Scrappy had been operating from within and that this whole thing was a massive revenge plot that started way back when Scrappy got kicked out of Mystery Incorporated for peeing on Daphne, which is something none of us needed to see. Sadly, the filmmakers were forced by the studio to have Velma state that Scrappy-Doo, “Was sadly corrupted by the Daemon Ritus” to appease distraught mothers who hated the idea of Scrappy being turned into a straight-up villain.
• The opening sequence reveals that the gang was working for actress Pamela Anderson, which could be considered a nod to the celebrity-centric series The New Scooby-Doo Movies.
• The movie tries to land some pothead jokes, alluding to Shaggy and Scooby smoking weed, but the filmmakers didn’t have the balls to fully commit to this fan theory.
• To get aboard the plane, Scooby-Doo dresses up as a woman, but we later see that another passenger is able to bring her cat with her. Was this a pro-cat anti-dog airline?
• Shaggy and Scooby are depicted here as vegetarians, which is a nod to voice actor Casey Kasem’s real-life preference.
• Both Shaggy and Velma get sort of love interests, but the film doesn’t do much with either of these subplots.
• Daphne bribes Scooby with a Scooby Snack, but being she didn’t expect to see any of the gang on this mystery, why did she have Scooby Snacks in her purse?
• Scooby is almost killed while exploring the Spooky Island Castle with Shaggy, but if Scooby had died at this point, it would have ruined the villain’s plot, which required his ritualistic sacrifice, making this all a case of very bad planning.
• At about the halfway point in the movie, Velma inexplicably sports a serious amount of cleavage, but then at the end of the film, her turtleneck sweater is back.
This live-action Scooby-Doo movie is far from the worst entry in the lexicon of Scooby-Doo adventures and they did pretty well in the casting department as you couldn’t find a better choice than Matthew Lillard to play Shaggy (so good that he ended up voicing him for many of the animated shows and movies to follow). Of course, Linda Cardellini’s Velma was pretty spot on as well, and the fact that she gets to shine a little more than usual in this outing is a definite plus. As for Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr, they both were fine in their respective parts, but maybe it wasn’t the best idea to cast Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Daphne, as it brings a little too much baggage to the project. I can understand the filmmakers wanting to turn Daphne into a bit of a badass, something several of the animated movies had already done, but in this movie, anytime she went to fight, I kept waiting for her to whip out a wooden stake.
On the effects side of things, they did a fairly good job of balancing the animated look of the original Scooby-Doo with this CGI version of everyone’s favourite cowardly Great Dane, and for the most part, his interactions with the actors worked really well, but what failed in this movie were the demons that chased our heroes around. At no point do they look like anything more than three-dimensional cartoons that look as if the effects team didn’t have time to properly finish the rendering.
One certainly doesn’t sit down to watch a Scooby-Doo movie for its edgy humour and true scares, but with James Gunn on the payroll, that is something we certainly could have had if the studio hadn’t chickened out and decided to release a film that was aimed at ten-year-olds. Regardless of all that, we still got a somewhat passable live-action Scooby-Doo movie out of this, one that most fans can enjoy, and it did bring Matthew Lillard into the Scooby-Doo family, so we will always be grateful for that.
You can find all my reviews of the various Scooby-Doo shows and movies collected here: The Wonderful World of Scooby-Doo.
Scooby-Doo: The Movie (2002) – Review
Movie Rank - 5.5/10
A lot of hype surrounded the first live-action Scooby-Doo movie and though it turned out to be a rather toothless affair it at least had a good cast and some fun action for fans to enjoy.