With Warner Bros. losing faith in the live-action Scooby-Doo films as a theatrical property, a team-up with the Cartoon Network to make lower budgeted live-action versions seemed like an almost natural next step, but instead of going with a continuation of the Scooby gang’s adventures following Scooby-Doo 2: Monster Unleashed, we got a prequel that would show how the gang all met up for the first time.
This movie begins with your standard teen-comedy introductions. In the case of Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins, this means our cast of characters would meet aboard the Coolsville High School bus, where Shaggy (Nick Palatas) is tripped by your typical cliché school bully, one who just happens to be friends with Fred (Robbie Amell) and though Fred doesn’t approve of such behaviour, he doesn’t go out of his way to stop it either. Also, on board the bus is Velma (Hayley Kiyoko) the school’s resident science nerd and the beautiful Daphne (Kate Melton), who is a wealthy member of the school’s Drama Club.
We later find Shaggy having trouble with his locker, which somehow results in him falling headfirst into a trashcan and rolling into the principal’s office, but while there, Principal Deedle (Shawn Macdonald) gives Shaggy some advice about making friends and stamp collecting. Now, if you think a character blurting out such a non-sequitur as stamp collecting is a little weird, you’re not alone and are probably well on your way to solving this mystery.
But what is the mystery that begins this little adventure? Well, we eventually get introduced to everyone’s favourite talking Great Dane Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker) whose been having a little trouble getting adopted (him being big and excitable are apparently bad pet attributes), and this leads to him getting lost and finding himself in the Coolsville Cemetery at night, and before you can say “Jinkies,” a pair of ghosts rise out of the ground.
After a terrified Scooby-Doo finds his way into Shaggy’s basement bedroom, where he is quickly adopted without anyone in the family being at all concerned about where this large stray dog came from, the mystery finally gets underway. After another scuffle on the school bus causes the distracted driver to crash said bus into a nearby pole (which then smashes Vice Principal Grimes’ (Garry Chalk) new car’s windshield), Shaggy, Velma, Daphne and Fred are all sentenced to detention in the school library, while Scooby remains tethered outside.
At this point, our ghosts make a second appearance as they swoop into the library to terrify our heroes before continuing their spectral flight to the school’s gym where a pep rally is in progress. A third mysterious figure appears, cloaked in black and wearing what is clearly a theatre mask, and he announces, “Students of Coolsville High, leave this place now or pay for all eternity.” Not only does this cause a mass exodus from the school, but it also results in Vice Principal Grimes blaming the Scooby gang for creating the hoax, so he upgrades their detention to a suspension. With no alternative but to clear their names by solving this mystery, our heroes band together to hunt down clues and expose the villainous masked spectre.
I’ll give Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins credit for trying to give us a classic Scooby-Doo mystery, but unfortunately, it’s not a very good one, as the guilty party is fairly obvious from the outset and all the red herrings and alternate suspects weren’t going to fool anyone. Now, just who are the suspects? First, we have the school janitor Otis (C. Ernst Harth), who hates his job and would rather be a dancer, and then we have the school’s librarian (Lorena Gale) who is angry about her budget being slashed and having to deal with illiterate students, and finally, we have Vice Principal Grimes who the gang discovered had recently checked out the book “A Practical Guide to Raising the Dead and How to Use them For Your Own Evil Purposes,” and they find this piece of incriminating evidence in the man’s own home.
Well, that looks to be the nail in the coffin of Grimes’ guilt, but no sooner does the Scooby gang find themselves captured by the Masked Spectre than it is revealed that Grimes is also a prisoner of this nefarious spook. Turns out, the man behind the mask is none other than Principal Deedle who raised the ghosts of Prudence Prufrock (Leah James) and Ezekial Gallows (Brian J. Sutton ) so as to scare people away so he’d be free to look for a lost time capsule that contained a rare stamp. I’m sure there are dumber Scooby-Doo plots out there, but this one has to be near the top.
Note: At one point, towards the end of the movie, Shaggy accidentally reads the wrong spell from the book, which releases all the ghosts from Coolsville Cemetery, but he has no control over them as Deedle did nor does this onslaught of ghastly ghosts have any bearing on the mystery’s conclusion.
• This prequel ignores the series A Pup Named Scooby-Doo where the gang was shown to have met as children.
• While in detention, Velma complains that Fred only apologized to Daphne: “I just find it interesting that you apologized to the pretty girl and not to the girl whose science project you destroyed.” Now, for this bit to have worked, the studio needed to have hired someone other than Hayley Kiyoko who is very attractive. Hell, the film doesn’t even bother to try and hide how cute she is.
• Hayley Kiyoko would later go on to voice Velma for many of the Scooby-Doo cartoons and animated movies.
• The Vice Principle suspends the Scooby gang from school believing they are behind the ghostly antics plaguing Coolsville High, but the ability of high school kids to pull off such an elaborate visual effects hoax is pretty farfetched.
• Our heroes are somehow suspended without the school notifying their parents of said punishment.
• In this incarnation of Scooby-Doo, the Mystery Machine now belongs to Daphne, but Shaggy is the only one with a license to drive as he’s the oldest due to being held back by a couple of years.
• Vice Principle Grimes has WWII model airplanes that can not only fly but have functioning guns. Neat, but a little odd.
• Why would the villain need the Scooby gang to recover the time capsule when his two enslaved ghosts have been shown to be quite capable of possessing mannequins and moving objects?
• We learn in this movie that Shaggy came up with the recipe for Scooby Snacks, but if that were the case, how can he and Scooby be bribed with them? Couldn’t Shaggy just make more?
• This movie continues the live-action trend of giving Velma a make-over.
It’s clear that Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins didn’t have the budget of the two theatrically released Scooby-Doo movies — the CGI for Scooby is even more cartoonish this time out — but it’s kind of odd that they’d go with a combination of real ghosts as well as a dude in a mask for this prequel, as they’d already done that shtick in Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. What is more of a shame is that the mystery itself is badly written. The janitor and librarian are incredibly thin as far as suspects go, but then the film doubles down on its cheating by then having the gang discover that Grimes had checked out the ghost-raising book, which begs the question, why did Grimes check out that book? Did Principal Deedle check the book out under Grimes’ name and then place it in his home to frame him? Nope, because framing someone was never really part of his plan and leaving such a powerful book lying around for someone else to discover is rather stupid.
On the plus side of things, I found this new cast of actors did a fine job bringing the Scooby gang to life, with Nick Palatas giving Matthew Lillard a run for his money in the Shaggy impression department, but a lazy script and a lopsided mystery sank this feature beyond salvaging, making Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins is a prequel we truly didn’t need.
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 Mystery Begins (2009)
Movie Rank - 4.5/10
Directed by the man who gave us Jingle All the Way and Snow Dogs one couldn’t have expected much out of a made-for-television prequel to the previous theatrically released Scooby-Doo movies but Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins still manages to disappoint fans on multiple levels.