Wednesday, November 18, 2015

MR Scooby-Doo! The Movie

Cartoons rarely translate well in live action films. Yet they keep making them. 

Did you know we almost got, not a good, but a great live action Scooby-Doo movie?

Scooby-Doo - where are you?! Right here:

Movie: Scooby-Doo! The Movie, Scooby-Doo! (movie) or simply Scooby-Doo! (2002)
Directed by Raja Gosnell 
Release date 2002
Genre Horror comedy/Mystery/Family film
Country USA

By now almost every single nostalgic cartoon propriety has been turned into big budget blockbuster films by Hollywood. Popeye, Inspector Gadget, Transformers, you name it!

Following the immense success of The Flintstones back in 1994, almost every single major studio was trying to find the next big hit, and after Jurassic Park's impressive display of special effects the sky seemed to be the limit! Anything could be made possible!

Actually a Scooby-Doo film was put in production as early as '94. They were originally interested in making a pretty faithful live action adaptation of the show starring either Jim Carrey or also Mike Myers at one point, both interested to play the live action Shaggy.

That is where writer/director James Gunn came in. After a career working with the low-budget horror company Troma, where he learned the filmmaking trade, Gunn made his first real "big" project he wrote, the independent film Tromeo and Juliet in 1996, which he also helped direct as assistant director. He wrote, produced and performed in The Specials in 2000. His first major Hollywood project would be writing the original screenplay of this Scooby-Doo film in the 2000s which would be followed by the screenplay for the well received remake of Dawn of the Dead in 2004 before his actual directional debut with Slither.

After his Troma days, James Gunn wrote several scripts for Hollywood.

The movie would be actually directed by - I kid you not - Home Alone 3, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, and The Smurfs films director Raja Gosnell. A man who started his career well enough by editing some classics such as Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Pretty Woman and Mrs. Doubtfire, and whose best credited work is probably the two live action Scooby-Doo films apparently.

The story opens in typical Scooby-Doo fashion, and it's without a doubt the closest any of the live action films would ever come to the original cartoon. The Mystery Incorporated gang are now young adults, and they just captured and unmasked some villain-of-th-week - this spectacular ghost who turned out to just be the janitor of a toy factory that wanted to take his revenge on, no kidding, Pamela Anderson (yay! pointless cameos! That was the entire 2000s in a nutshell..).

But due to a lot of friction amongst the Mystery Inc. lately, the gang finally spluts up. Fred has been getting on everyone's nerves and getting more and more obnoxious over the years, Velma is tired to see all the credit to their traps taken by Fred, Daphne doesn't want to be the damsel in distress anymore and so they part ways leaving Shaggy and Scooby behind.

Two years have now passed. And as fate would have it, the Mystery Inc. gang is reunited on Spooky Island to solve a mystery... or at least the park owner, Emile Mondavarious (Rowan Atkinson!!!) call them all to help restore his spooky island resort back to normal. You see, he thinks the park's cursed.

There, Shag falls in love with a girl named, of course, Mary Jane, leaving Scoobs all alone behind. But this island might just be really cursed! The group will have to put their differences aside and join force once again if they wanna solve this mystery... and stay alive!

The story features something the cartoon wasn't really known for (aside from the bad spinoffs and animated feature films) a magical plot device! You see, the film sees monsters possessing people, demons stealing souls and body swaps! They learn the monsters fear the sunlight. And we finally discover who orchestrated all this!

...But not before we get a quick flashback scene where we see the time the gang left Scrappy in the dust.

Of course, it's all fairly obvious to guess who was the villain behind all this, don't you think?

The film features a pretty decent cast, all things considered. The problem was how they decided to portray these characters, turning our regular fun protagonists into extremely 2-dimensional flat characters. The worst one is probably how annoying Freddie Prinze, Jr. makes Fred who was probably interested in the the character because he wouldn't have to reply to a different name. Fred's usually the smartest of the group actually (up to a point), but he turned him into the weakest link of the band - counting Scooby-Doo and Shaggy. Sarah Michelle Gellar play Daphne, the always lovely Linda Cardellini is the best Velma I could ever imagine and probably the best casting choice of the entire movie - Matthew Lillard simply is Shaggy. In fact he would go on to voice Shaggy in every future iteration of the franchise to this day. Neil Fanning took over the likes of Don Messick (1969–1997) and Frank Welker (2002–present day) as the voice of Scooby-Doo, and he does make a pretty decent Scoobs all things considered. Finally we have Scott Innes as the voice of Scrappy-Doo. Who's just as grating and annoying as he should be.

The supporting cast is decent, with Rowan Atkinson leading them brilliantly in one of his more talkative roles. There's various cameos as well. Isla Fisher as Mary Jane, Shaggy's girlfriend, Jess Harnell and Frank Welker voice creatures, and the obligatory random star cameo with Pamela Anderson. On a fun note, we almost got Christina Ricci as Velma, which in my eyes would have just been perfect in the role.

James Gunn definitively wrote the film for an older audience than what Warner Bros. hoped for. The idea was to make a film for an audience that had grown up with the original series and were now older and more cynic. His original screenplay featured a lot more adult-oriented jokes such as various allusions to marijuana, like the smoke coming out of the Mystery Machine and having the characters wear more provocative costumes. But Warner wanted to make the film more family-friendly in hopes to revive the license for a newer generation.

A lot of adult jokes would make the cut despite the changes. Some of the drug connotations are still there, although most of those scenes for an adult audience would be deleted from the final cut (particularly how sexy Linda Cardellini made Velma - but Velma was always the best girl! There, I said it!).

The film was going to be a fun adult take on Scooby-Doo... Sadly those plans would be filtered by Hollywood to become a much more generic family film. Which I've nothing against, but the new plot was a lot weaker and it just feels like a truncated film compared to either of the outcomes. Either start family friendly... or not! Don't butcher one version of the film to make the other!

It definitively feels like a mixed experience, on one hand they clearly make Shaggy a stoner in live action (riiiight, “Scooby Snacks”…) yet try to mix grown up elements with kids innocence...

And the film starts pretty good too. Just like any episode of Scooby-Doo, and while critics and reviewers complained the whole film felt just like another episode of the show stretched into full feature length, I wish it had really been the case. Because the story takes a very strange direction the series avoided, not based on reality (aside from our talking Scooby, of course). The random haunted place turns out to be really haunted, there's demon spells, magic and captured souls...

There are times the film tries its best to stay true to the original and please a modern audience (like the obligatory random RnB song all 2000s films had).

The mix of live action and CGi is.. not really the best. Scooby-Doo ends up looking half like a cartoon dog and a real one. They could have gone with a real animal. Or make him more cartoony. Part of me thinks it could have worked a lot better with a Roger Rabbit-animated cartoon Scooby. The problem is also that there are too many things jumping all around the picture constantly. The first ghost looks great. After that all the CGi is either too busy/messy or really cheesy (what do you want, computer graphics age pretty fast..).

Cartoon film adaptations are all always kinda bad by definition. It's hard to find a good balance between a realistic too literal too serious take on a silly cartoon premise or just slightly-live action cartoon non-sense filled with cartoons. It's a really thin line to walk.

Scooby-Doo is kind of decent for little kids but older fans can only enjoy it as a guilty pleasure. Yet the film relies so much on knowledge of the original cartoons, the gang isn't that well introduced and the jabs at Scrappy-Doo are clearly a reflection how people got tired to see him forced into the show.

The CGi can be pretty bothersome and cheesy. And worst of all, a problem not found in the actual Scooby-Doo cartoons, there's way too many fart jokes and gross out humor. The cast is okay in general. While Scooby, Shaggy and Velma feel like their cartoon counterparts, and Daphne was funny and interesting for once, Fred is just too obnoxious and grating on your nerves after a while. The best is without a doubt Matthew Lillard, no surprise he has since become Shaggy's default voice.

The movie was of course a huge success since it was actually made on a fairly thin budget.

It can be fun, but all the dated elements and the bad jokes make it a pretty cheesy family film which you might stand or not.

David Newman's music for the film was actually decent. The film featured various remixes of the "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!" theme song. In fact there was a reggae version by artist Shaggy (true story) and a rock one by MxPx which would be the basis for Simple Plan's intro of the following Scooby-Doo cartoon series.

Overall, Scooby-Doo! is a decent bad movie. It's absolutely not good film, mind you. But it's not awful either. It just feels like there was a much better movie beneath then Warner Bros. forced several rewrites to turn an adult film into a family picture...

The film is okay, I guess. But it could have been a much better film actually!

It feels unfocused due to the several rewrites and changes of direction. You get some clever adult innuendos and then scenes with farts... It's a bad satire, a parody and a tribute all rolled in one. It sort of misses entirely the point of the show, sometimes being too mean spirited while others very childish. It doesn't feel much coherent or developed. If only James Gunn could have made the film he originally wanted and get to direct the film himself....

Scooby-Doo! would be followed by a direct sequel, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, in 2004. Due to the underperformed of that film a third film was scrapped, and followed by two direct-to-video prequels Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins in 2009 and Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster in 2010. The film also had a huge influence on the following animated series, What's New, Scooby-Doo? which aired from 2002 to 2006.

I give it:
1.5 / 3 Urkels!

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