When the forces of Hollywood decided to make a live action movie of cartoon classic Scooby-Doo, there were two obvious ways to go: a childish comedy aimed at kids, or a campy homage aimed at the adults who grew up with the animated version of the crime-solving teenagers and their cowardly dog. Unfortunately, with its decidedly Sesame Street approach of teaching friendship and teamwork, the Scooby-Doo feature film leans toward the former. This is one movie that's more for the children than the entire family.
In their live action debut, the meddling kids of Mystery Inc. are invited to Spooky Island, where their latest case may involve something more supernatural than a crook in a ghost costume. But after a falling out between Fred, Daphne, and Velma, the gang must put their personal disagreements aside and learn to work as a team again.
Most cartoons should never be translated into live action, and this adaptation does little to dispute that notion. But in its defense, it's not as atrocious as it could have been--and it's nowhere near as wretched as, say, the big screen take on The Flintstones. It boasts an inventive twist ending that longtime fans of the show should enjoy, and takes a few moments to poke fun of itself (although not as creatively as some of the Scooby-Doo cartoon movies). As it turns out, the actors are the shakiest variable in this movie, bringing decidedly mixed energy to the franchise.
The most ill-conceived bit of casting is Freddie Prinze Jr. as Fred, the unofficial leader of the Scooby crew. The ascot-wearing nancy boy is just about the whitest slice of whitebread in all of cartoondom, yet the character goes to the guy whose father was the Chico half of TV's Chico and the Man! While we're at it, can we get Chris Rock to play Thurston Howell III in a new Gilligan's Island movie? It's a good thing Prinze played Fred as ridiculously square, because the bad hair dye alone doesn't cut it. But even with the exaggerated and often comical performance, it's still more like Prinze playing whitebread than actual whitebread.
As much as I like the Buffster, Sarah Michelle Gellar is far too associated with her vampire slaying alter-ego to be a character that's not a complete departure. She plays purple-loving Daphne as a klutzy, scatterbrained Buffy--she's accident prone and low on self-esteem, until she learns to stand up and deliver a load of whupass. You go girl! What's with this politically correct revamping? I don't remember the cartoon Daphne having any personality at all, much less an inferiority complex. And I certainly don't remember her karate chopping all the villains in sight. The movie would have scored bigger props had Buffy been more eye candy and less role model.
Linda Cardellini admirably does the voice and mannerisms of the bookish Velma, but she's hardly the nerd chick from the cartoon. In fact, the movie actively sexes her up at one point by eliminating her Coke-bottle glasses and taking down the neckline of her trademark orange top.
As Shaggy, Matthew Lillard does the best job of bringing his pen and ink character to flesh and blood life. He does a solid impression of Casey Kasem, who provided the voice of the cartoon's hungry beatnik. But his performance seems to be an ongoing impersonation, like a drawn out skit on a comedy show.
Then there's the big dog himself. While I think computer generated animation still lacks a certain life compared to traditional animation, I'll admit it was the best way to merge Scooby with the three-dimensional world--the character would not have worked as well with a real dog. The technique allows for his lively antics, and, coupled with that silly voice of his, ol' Scoobert is charming and funny.
Adults who grew up with the original Scooby-Doo often harbor certain ideas about the quintet of mystery solvers: Fred was gay, Velma was a lesbian, and Shaggy and Scooby always had the munchies because they were high on the marijuana. Such urban legends aren't really addressed (though I suppose Shag and Scoob coming out of a van filled with grill smoke is an indirect reference), and this tame flick never becomes the campy self-lampooning it could have been. While it ends up being mildly entertaining, I still wish the filmmakers had taken a few cues from Kevin Smith--his racier, funnier take on the gang can be seen in the cross-country comedy Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)