SCOOBY-DOO

Director:  Raja Gosnell

Starring:  Matthew Lillard, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Linda Cardellini

There have been many attempts to bring cartoon characters to the big screen, but it's a notoriously difficult transition. It's common for all of the available creative energy to be channeled into elaborate set, costume and prop design (The Flintstones, for example), leaving other aspects of the production (the script and  the performances) severely undernourished. It seems relatively easy to make a film that looks like the source material, but very few have successfully captured the essence or the soul of their source material. For every movie as good as The Addams Family there are a handful of duds like Inspector Gadget.

Scooby-Doo bravely attempts to drag the premise into the 21st century, and does it by keeping the characters rooted in the sixties, while updating all the other elements that surround them (the island that most of the film is set on is a spring break vacation for young adults, and there are scenes including skateboarding and wrestling elements, for example). It's a clever concept that doesn't entirely work: the contrast between the old and the new is appealing, but this is rarely used as the springboard for moments of genuine inspiration. The other thing that brings the film right up to date is the use of CGI to bring Scooby himself to life. On the evidence here, it's obvious that the process still has a long way to go before it becomes completely believable. There aren't many scenes where Scooby seems completely integrated into the live action footage, but a small leap of faith should remove most reservations. Most viewers will quickly adjust and quickly forget that the dog isn't really there. The animators have done an outstanding job of  instilling the character with a real personality, as well as maintaining a lot of dog-like behaviour. There are many shots where Scooby is merely a background character, and the film will certainly have repeat viewing potential for anyone interested in special effects or animation. 

Sensibly the filmmakers have made few changes to the basic structure of the early TV episodes, but this also means that a plot that would have comfortably fitted a twenty-five minute TV show is stretched to the length of a feature film (as it is, the film is a mere 83 minutes long - 78 minutes, if you exclude the end credits). It's more sophisticated than the TV series was (if you can can use the word in the context of a film which includes a scene where a dog and his best buddy have a farting competition), and there are more twists than the formulaic plots of the TV series ever attempted. 

After a archetypal opening sequence (the gang encounter a ghost at the Wow-O Toy Factory) the film soon falters, as tensions between the team members result in them splitting up, only to reunite two years later, when they are all invited to the Spooky Island theme park by it's mysterious owner, Emile Mondavarious (a role well-suited to Rowan Atkinson, but not one that's stretched his repertoire).  The main reason for the split (an amusing series of flashbacks showing what the characters have been doing for the last two years, explaining some of the character changes that have been made in the interests of bringing the concept up to date) has been eliminated from the film (but is available as one of the deleted scenes), so the film is immediately derailed, and it's not until about half way through that any of the original series' charm and magic kicks back in.

Raja Gosnell has tackled the project with some skill, investing the movie with great energy, and some nice directorial flourishes. The film has terrific production design, although it's not terribly faithful to its simplistic cartoon roots (if it had been, the film would have looked like an amateur dramatics pantomime). The film is boosted by some inspired casting. Matthew Lillard is a perfect Shaggy, accurately replicating the mannerisms and vocal style of the cartoon character. Cardellini, too, attempts to mimic the original, and does so rather charmingly. Sarah Michelle Gellar, finally joining the real Scooby Gang, captures Daphne's physical presence, but it's a role that doesn't tax her unduly. The less said about Freddie Prinze Jr (who plays Fred as a dim-witted narcissist) the better. It's a thankless role, but even within the limitations of the script, Prinze Jr drains the life out of those around him like a black hole.

Warner Home Video's impressive DVD version contains a beautifully mastered 1.78:1, anamorphic presentation of the film. The cartoon-like colours are vivid; blacks are well-anchored; contrast range is excellent; and there's plenty of detail (almost too much - the film must have looked great on the big screen, but reduced to TV size, the sets look very cluttered). There's a good mix of bright daylight scenes, and dark interiors, both of which the transfer (and David Eggby's sharp cinematography) reproduces very well. The bitrate averages at 6.55Mbps, rarely dropping below 6Mbps. The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio (at 384kbps) is very busy, but imaging is rarely impressive, and it's not as detailed as you might expect it would be. There are also a few lines of dialogue that are difficult to make out (one or two might even have you reaching for the subtitles button).

The disc contains a generous array of bonus materials. There are thirteen minutes of deleted scenes, with optional commentary, starting with a very nice animated opening sequence (which would have led straight into the Wow-O Toy Factory sequence). There's also a couple of good scenes featuring Velma (a couple of out of character moments including a sexy Fabulous Baker Boys-style song) , and a slightly more graphic version of a scene where Daphne is possessed. The disc also contains a catchy music video, The Land of a Million Drums, by Outkast, which features Matthew Lillard, and props and sets from the film. The Unmasking The Mystery documentary (22m) offers plenty of good behind the scenes footage, complemented by three very short on-set micro-documentary snippets, each focusing on a particular aspect of the production (the Mystery Machine van, the wire-work fight sequences, and the set design).  There's also an advert for the film's soundtrack, and an easily-found Easter Egg that shows how bad weather affected the filming.

The disc also contains two commentary tracks. The first is by the filmmakers (director Gosnell and producers Charles Roven and Richard Suckle), which offers some interesting comments about their approach to the live action adaptation, and elaborating on some of the changes that were made to the film as it evolved. A second commentary, by the four principal cast members, is more informal. They spend a lot of time teasing each other, but you don't get the impression that you're eavesdropping on the real juicy gossip.

The UK disc has been cut by a second by the BBFC, to "remove sight of potentially imitable martial arts techniques (kicks to head)". Unsurprisingly, the distributor declined the chance to release the film uncut with a 12 certificate, accepting the edit and releasing the film as a PG.

There's a good selection DVD-Rom material, providing a portal to the film's website, offering viewers access to several more behind the scenes clips (all of which should have been contained on the disc itself, dammit). There are also a range of mini-games and other things for kids to do. An interactive game that's on the Region 1 disc is missing from the UK release, but it certainly shouldn't factor in a decision to buy one or the other: the UK disc is terrific and will keep kids of all ages entertained for a good few hours. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unless explicitly stated, DVD screen captures used in the reviews are for illustrative purposes only, and are not intended to be accurate representations of the DVD image.   While screen captures are generally in their correct aspect ratio, there will often have been changes made to the resolution, contrast, hue and sharpness, to optimise them for web display.

Site content copyright J.A.Knott - 2002-2004