Hmmm... (blank stare)

It was a foregone conclusion that I was going to see this live action version of the old Hanna-Barbera cartoon. I was (and, in some ways, still am) a fan of the original version that started back in 1969.

I was aware of the generally bad reviews, and even read Roger Ebert's review before seeing it, despite my usual policy of knowing as little as possible before walking into the theater. Roger disavows any knowledge of the old cartoons, and proclaims that he's not the one to review, deferring to those on the Internet that are true fans, because there's too much of the Scooby Doo universe being drawn on in this movie.

So, first of all, am I a true fan? It's hard to say, because Scooby Doo has been something of a moving target over the years. The original "Scooby Doo, Where Are You?" is the most pure offering of Scooby. As with many franchise properties, there has been a certain struggle over the years to keep Scooby fresh and interesting to its audience. It started with the introduction of guest stars like Don Knotts, Phyllis Diller, and most frequently for some reason, the Globetrotters. From there, we had the introduction of Scrappy Doo, and the subsequent dismissal of all the humans but Shaggy from their regular episodic duties. Most recently, there has been a resurrection of the cartoon franchise in a series of direct-to-video releases. While I haven't seen these, the biggest difference might be that Shaggy has changed his shirt. Somewhere along the way, we lost the emphesis on scientific and logical explanations for the mysteries they uncovered, and I hear in these most recent videos, our familiar characters are becoming friends with various ghosts and monsters they come across.

In fact, that's my biggest problem with the franchise. We started off with a premise where the biggest suspension of disbelief is in a dog that seems to communicate pretty well with his masters - an advanced, cowardly Lassie if you will. The introduction of Scrappy started a dismal downhill slide. It's nearly impossible to watch episodes after that dreadful event.

Can we agree that I'm a fan? Being able to write up that much off the top of my head and still have a fondness for the early Doo justifies the title in my own eyes. Heck, I even wore one of my Scooby Doo T-shirts to the film - the cool tie die one with the graveyard scene on it.

Scooby Doo is one of those films where you really can get into the mind of the studio that produced it. There is a considerable amount of material with which the audience is familiar with, and the simultaneous need to satisfy both adults and children. They also have one of the most hated characters in history in Scrappy. And once the decision is made to go live action, a lot of needs fall into place - giving additional dimension to the characters, showing off the computer generated effects related to the virtual Scooby.

In some ways, they made some interesting decisions, but simply not the right interesting decisions. I loved the fact that they addressed the Scrappy issue, and most particularly how they approached it. But sadly, they manage to turn it into a tremendous fatal flaw, from a couple standpoints - Scrappy's involvement in the script is both too little and too critical, especially for those not familiar with the cartoon like the aforementioned Mr. Ebert. It was a ballsy move, but the wrong one.

It would have been interesting to stop the film after the first fifteen minutes, because it turns generally downhill after that. That introduction most resembles the earliest Scooby Doo, with a little more depth and commentary around the characters. And then we get into the requisite mystery in the movie, having to deal with an island, run by Rowan Atkinson, where vacationers seem to be getting brainwashed. Very slowly, everything that is good about Scooby Doo starts to unravel. The script tries too hard to be hip, which is somewhat excusable, but all the more cloying with everything going on. More importantly, though, the attempt at executing the Scooby formula fails, giving a false impression that clues and problem solving actually matters. We build up to an action based finale, and the unmasking of the true villain is moved forward in the plot arc in a way that takes the air out of any mystery that might have actually been instilled in the plot. The true desires of the studio are instead revealed - it's an action/adventure flick for kids.

While I'm usually reluctant to share plot details, there's one thing I have to go into becaue it matters to me too much. Maybe I got my hopes up, but when Fred Jones says "there's no such thing as ghosts" early on, I thought the reality of this universe would match that of the early Scooby Doo. Instead, the fact of monsters and spirits actually existing is presented (weakly, yes, but presented nonetheless) as a revelation to our erstwhile mystery solvers, a scenario that matches no part of the Scooby history (yes, I see that it's an event that can only happen once for these characters, but still...)

It's true that just one review ago (Scotland, PA), I wrote "A foolish correspondence to source material is the hobgoblin of adaptation writers". I don't repeat myself just because it feels like a clever quote, but because I feel like this Scooby Doo errs too far on the other side of that question. Those elements of the series that would have most lent themselves to a real story are dropped. It's quite sad, really.

As for the acting, Matthew Lillard is a tremendous Shaggy, and the only other performance that approaches is the rendered Scooby character. Freddie Prinze, Jr. isn't nearly as bad as I feared, but the script isn't offering much to him, or cohorts Sarah Michelle Gellar and Linda Cardellini who all come off as simply playing one-dimensional characters.

That all said, there is still a certain reverie for the Scooby Doo heritage in this film, and they have a certain amount of fun with it. The in-jokes and commentary have a certain playful spirit which lifts the film above its numerous flaws to an extent. I still marvel at some of crudeness that is marketed to young kids in movies these days, but I don't personally have much of a problem with it, especially as it has a basis in character... though it gets pushed a bit further than seems necessary - or entertaining.

And really, the best news in this summer of pseudo-blockbusters: it's better than Star Wars: Episode II.

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Review: scrooby, dooby .. doo-doo star2/10 chinkshady

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