By Ray Tate
Somehow, I knew this movie would be great. The subject matter was familiar to the cast and crew according to a many David Letterman, Conan O'Brien and Craig Kilborne interview, and the movie shows this understanding of what it is that makes Scooby-Doo Where Are You? loved my generations of fans. The characters, the plot and of course the mystery come together in an homage and an extension of this clever cartoon series.
Freddie Jones is the leader of Mystery Inc. In the cartoon, he is presented as a hip, intelligent and daring all-American teen. As we all know, such men have become the butt of our jokes. We can no longer take them very seriously. Freddie Prinze Jr. portrays Fred as a vainglorious and slightly clueless slab of blonde beef. In a sense, Fred has grown into the fans' many critiques. As kids, we simply accepted Fred at face value, as we do in the comic books, but as we grew, the ascot and the blonde hair simply were too juicy to ignore. Freddie Prinze Jr. is however one of us, and though we poke fun at Fred amongst ourselves, we will defend him should an outsider insult him. Freddie Prinze Jr. reminds us that the fan critiques are somewhat valid but at the heart of the character is the simple, good-natured, appeal that attracted us as kids.
Sarah Michelle Gellar may not have been the obvious choice for Daphne Blake, but she gamely buries Buffy to become the only actress who could have portrayed Daphne. Daphne is the cute keeper of the Scooby Snacks who has put aside her amply shown fear on the cartoon to help solve the mystery. Though she wasn't as the film suggests the one who always gets abducted by the "nut job in the mask," she certainly did her share of running and getting spooked. In the movie Daphne tries and succeeds to prove there is more to her than merely beauty and a great set of legs that scramble at the first sign of danger. This does not mean Daphne suddenly becomes the Slayer just because she learns martial arts. She still becomes frightened. She still is a little vain--darn our cynical maturity--and above all she's still damn cute and damn courageous just like she's supposed to be.
Velma, played by Linda Cardalini, was Scully before there ever was a Scully. She was the one determined to prove there are no ghosts, and everything can be reduced to a perfectly rational explanation. While Velma indeed displays her scary intellect in the movie, she also shows she is more than a mere brain. Her hurt feelings trigger the dissolution of Mystery Inc. at the end of the first act. Oddly enough, this fits with the continuity of the many incarnations of the series. Through the course of the movie, we learn also that Velma is quite an attractive young woman. Velma never was ugly. She simply hid her natural beauty behind a thick sweater. Thus the knockout Linda Cardalini was a brilliant casting decision.
Every one of the cast nail the voices and mannerisms of the characters. You tend to forget the actor's and actresses' personae as the film unfolds. Matthew Lilliard incidentally is Shaggy. He's a fantastic mimic and also brings out that character's warmth. When the gang breakup, he's hurt that his band of friends went their separate ways to leave only he and Scooby-Doo.
CGI can make the warmest movie cold, but Scooby-Doo is the first CGI I actually wanted to hug. It's not important that the animators drew upon Scooby's classic cartoon routines. Though, they do. What's important is that he has soulful eyes and a fuzzy coat as well as a happy personality. He is exactly what he was in the series: to paraphrase Yogi, a loquacious hound slightly smarter than the average barking mutt--which in fact did appear on the series. Scooby-Doo was always maybe twenty percent away from being fully human, and his special nature becomes the focus of the climax. This means we have a movie that relies intrinsically on the characters. So few movies rely on such a technique.
Other CGI effects appear in surprising places, and these too are accomplished works of art. Certain characters in the film recall nothing less than Ray Harryhausen's genius at stop-animation. These creatures seem so very lifelike and fluid. They lack the stilted, flat look of most CGI that so often ruins a good film.
Unlike some films, Scooby-Doo has a beginning, middle and end, nor is it a kitchen sink comedy because neither was the cartoon. The cartoon featured substantial characters. The film features those same characters who without losing their essence gain even more substance. Unlike most films, they do not gain this substance in one lump at the end of the movie but gradually in a parallel to actual growth. Unlike the cartoon series' limited budget, the sets in the movie impress with creativity, creepy mood and obvious expense.
The direction perfectly spotlights the importance in each scene and brings to light several inside jokes: the scene for instance where Shaggy and Scooby are trapped recalls a scene in Night of the Living Dead. Continuity in the entire spectrum of Scooby-Doo mysteries is addressed, and this mystery while fair-play delves into realms that Mystery Inc. have never before explored. Furthermore, the writers were actually smart enough to deliver the screenplay you would have written. Even when it becomes obvious what it is they have concocted, you cannot believe that this is how the smart solution will play out, yet it does.
By now you must have deduced I haven't an unkind word to say about Scooby-Doo, but how much does a sterling review mean from an admitted Scooby-Doo fanatic? Consider this. Had this film ridiculed Scooby-Doo like Joel Schumacher ridiculed Batman, I would have sharpened the stake I was saving for his next Nipple-Man film and use it on Scooby-Doo. Had the cast not done their very best to bring the characters who still have a warm place in my heart to life, I would have rabidly ripped this movie to shreds. Had this movie been less smarter than the cartoon and indeed insulted the viewer's intellect like so many movies have done, I would have gladly lunged for the jugular. I thoroughly enjoyed this fun, unpretentious Scooby-Doo film as a fan and as a movie buff. Without hesitation, I recommend it to all.
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