Scooby-Doo (2002)

Rated PG for some rude humor, language and some scary action.

Starring Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini, Rowan Atkinson.
Directed by Raja Gosnell.
Written by James Gunn.
Based on the characters by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.
Distributed by Warner Bros.

LVJeff's Rating: 1/10

Photo ©Warner Bros. All rights reserved.

Scooby Smacked

Someone please give me permission to seek out and throttle the people who thought it was OK to ransack a favorite piece of my childhood. Scooby-Doo is the new live-action movie version of Hanna-Barbera's classic cartoon, but I hesitate to use the word "version." This new exercise in Hollywood get-rich-quick schemes not only eviscerates the spirit of the shows, it stomps on it for good measure.

I remember many a weekday afternoon in the '80's, coming home from school and planting myself in front of the TV to watch re-runs of the show, featuring the mystery solving team of Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and their talking dog, Scooby-Doo. It isn't hard to see the appeal of the winning formula -- fun mysteries, which an interesting monster was always behind, are solved by a determined group of teenage kids. At first, each monster seemed scary, but eventually the creature was caught and exposed as a villain in a costume.

I dare say that this was very good for children to watch. It encouraged kids not to give in to fears and superstitions, to always use their heads and look for the logical explanation. That helped Scooby-Doo stand out from the other cartoons of the day. But what really raised the show head and shoulders above them were its characters. They were distinct, smart, funny, and sincere. It was their very guilelessness that made them so approachable. We knew they would have made cool friends because they weren't smart-asses. They saved their cynicism for the ghosts they were chasing and not for each other.

This brings us to the movie, which violates everything good about the original cartoon. Those characters we loved are gone, replaced by insulting caricatures. Fred (Freddy Prinze Jr.), the resourceful, natural leader, has been turned into a vain egomaniac. The movie makes him dumb, annoying, incompetent, and the butt of countless playground-level jokes. Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar), the pretty red-headed team player, is now a hair-flipping California ditz. Both she and Velma (Linda Cardellini), the assured and brainy skeptic, have been given an annoying self-awareness -- Daphne complains about getting kidnapped all the time (she was never kidnapped all that much in the cartoon), and Velma actually calls herself "the smart one." Cardellini's attentive impersonation of Velma is ruined by new, heretofore unseen traits of insecurity and resentfulness. Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) seems to be the only character who survives intact -- he's still a good-natured, food-loving coward. But the other characters have been treated so contemptuously that Lillard's competent performance seems hardly worth mentioning. The cartoon wanted us to laugh with them, but the movie wants us to laugh at them.

And then there's Scooby-Doo himself, now the most recent example of really bad computer-generated characters. Voiced by Scott Innes in place of the late Don Messick, this incarnation of the easily-frightened Great Dane is colored badly and never actually feels like he's really there. Neither realistically rendered, like The Phantom Menace's Jar-Jar Binks, nor believable as a dynamic cartoon being you can touch, like the title character of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, this Scooby falls somewhere in-between and doesn't integrate with the backgrounds and the actions of the other characters. He appears weightless -- and his face, permanently affixed with a vacuous look suggesting a lack of personality, isn't even half as expressive as his original 2-D self. He's joined by other ugly cg-creations in the movie, the combined effect of which makes the special effects work in The Mummy Returns look like great art.

The rest of the movie rounds out a lesson in how to disregard your source material in favor of Lowest Common Demoninator Moviemaking. The soundtrack uses forgettable rock music fashioned to sell records. The characters' clothing are mocked mean-spiritedly, just because it's easy to do so. Gratuitous fight scenes are thrown in for no other reason than that gratuitous fight scenes are popular these days. And one whole scene is dedicated to a burping and farting contest. Not enough bodily function humor? Pee and snot get to make appearances, too.

What's available to satisfy the desire for nostalgia among the fans who grew up with the cartoon? Nothing. No clever references to familiar episodes, no cameo by Don Knotts or the Harlem Globetrotters, no strains of the distinct background music that all the fans could hum in their sleep. Instead, there's an obligatory appearance by the Mystery Machine and Scooby Snacks, and that's it. Well, all right, I can give the movie credit for acknowledging how much Scooby fans absolute hated Scrappy-Doo, that grating character who wrecked the later, inferior manifestations of the cartoon. Scrappy-Doo was the one thing in the Scooby-Doo universe we could completely loathe. Now, thanks to the makers of Scooby-Doo the movie, we have another.

©Jeffrey Chen, Jun. 9, 2002

An edited version of this review appears at ReelTalk Movie Reviews.

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