- Jun 3, 1999
Directed by Raja Gosnell
Written by James Gunn, Craig Titley, James Gunn, Andrew Gunn and John August
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Length: 85 minutes
Rating: ** out of ****
I've always loved the "Scooby Doo" television show. Long before I was aware of its hippy 60's exuberance, its obvious yet subtle takes on marijuana and Casey Kasem, hell, even before I heard of "Woodstock," I grew up with the goofy animated adventures of Fred, Velma, Shaggy, Daphne, and of course the beloved talking dog Scooby, and it taught me valuble lessons about friendship, teamwork, and if you're running away from something, you'll pass the same lamp and table a zillion times.
This live action film brings some of the original comedic flavor from the series to the contemporary age, but not enough. For every bit of cleverness, there's too much of the usual contemporary garbage that seems spawned from the "Austin Powers" sequel. Meaning, gross out gags. A lot of them. Instead of Shaggy yelling "Zoiks" a lot, instead we have him farting in a contest with Scooby for a solid two minutes.
The film has a rather goofy opening that is fairly similar to the last five minutes of any episode. It sets the tone of the movie, where we meet the Gee-Whiz gang trying to capture the ghost at the spooky mansion. It's a pretty solid opening, and it's sad that the film dies off after that. After the case is solved (and the obligatory mask is pulled off the head), the gang, consisting of boyish Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.), babe magnet Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar), brainiac Velma (Linda Cardellini) and scaredy cat Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) part ways after an argument. Cut to two years later, and the gang are brought back together again for a mission at Scary Island, led by Mondavarious (Rowan Atkinson).
Is it too much to ask that the world of Scooby-Doo actually look like a fully breathing, alive place? Director Raja Gosnell and his art directors put so many obvious sets and "We're on a stage!" settings that I kept wondering which stage on the Warner lot they were shooting. And it doesn't help that Scooby Doo has been entirely rendered with computers, and he looks somewhere between a cartoon and, well, a cartoon. He looks far too digital and fake, moving far too quickly, but maybe this is the point. Some won't mind this, and at times I didn't mind since this is such a animated live-action film to begin with. Still, less is more.
The performances are, simply put, half and half. Oddly enough, this may be the very best performance of Matthew Lillard I've seen, who is so funny as Shaggy that he steals the show. His voice and mannerisms echo the original Casey Kasem-voiced Shaggy rather well. Linda Cardellini has some goofy fun as Velma, the thick-glassed quiet type who never gets the credit she deserves. These two disappear into their roles, and yet neither Freddie Prinze Jr. nor Sarah Michelle Gellar do; try as they might, they're both completely unconvincing and dull as Fred and Daphne, respectively.
"Scooby Doo" may not be a good film overall, yet it does have a few laughs and an inspired moment or two (and surprisngly, even for a PG movie, the pot references are still there) that make it slightly more watchable than one might expect. Yet it doesn't break free from the usual studio-movie cliches, or better know as, the typical gross-out gags. I guess it's too much to ask to have a scene where Shaggy and Scooby flee past the same beach hut over and over again in an escape sequence. Maybe in the sequel.