Ah, summertime. Blue skies. Green grass. The sound of birds singing in the trees. The perfect time for a stroll through the park, watching people and dogs pass the lazy, carefree day tossing the Frisbee and playing catch. Oh crap, I just stepped in “Scooby-Doo.”
Nothing could better sum up the big screen version of the small screen Saturday morning cartoon, a film with all the conviction of a “Scooby-Doo” lunch pail without any “Scooby” snacks inside. A confusing blend adult innuendo, flatulence jokes and a kid-friendly computer generated main character, “Scooby-Doo” wants to be all things to all people.
That attempt leaves us with a “Scooby-Doo” so devoid of focus that it is never clear who the film is intended for. Kids will like the cartoon antics of the live-action characters, and might even warm up to the computer-generated “Scooby,” while their parents might appreciate the nudge, nudge, wink, wink references that are there to assure anyone over 16 that this is their “Scooby” too.
Even though Matthew Lillard (“Scream”) is more Shaggy than the animated Shaggy ever was, he’s the only one who seems to understand the difference between performance and parody. Shaggy is already a parody, so instead of playing him as such, Lillard just turns in the best Shaggy he can, and the results are much more satisfying than the rest of the film.
Much less convincing is the computer generated Scooby, Shaggy’s Great Dane best friend, who rarely seems to occupy the same frame as the actors. Since Scooby is so animated, the best solution would have been incorporate him into the action through traditional animation, like in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and “Space Jam!” That would have been more visually satisfying, and it would have made it easier to suspend disbelief.
Instead, every time “Scooby” enters the frame, the cartoon world director Raja Gosnell, production designer Bill Boes and director of photography David Eggby work so hard to recreate is completely spoiled.
The actors aren’t much help. Aside from Lillard, the young cast looks like they’re performing a high school production of a “Scooby-Doo” episode. Freddie Prinze Jr. looks absolutely dreadful as the blonde-haired Fred Jones, the handsome but vain self-imposed leader of Mystery Inc., a group of friends who solve supernatural mysteries.
Sarah Michelle Gellar plays the beautiful but slow-witted Daphne, who feels it’s time to graduate from her role as the perpetual damsel-in-distress, while Linda Cardellini plays the bookish Velma, the brains of the operation who is in constant consternation over the attention Daphne gets.
When we first meet the members of Mystery Inc., they are closing up their latest assignment when it strikes them that they need a break from each other. The team is reunited two years later when they’re asked to investigate the strange happenings at Spooky Island, a popular spring break destination for college students.
Owner Emile Mondavarious (Rowan Atkinson) claims that the students are being turned into zombies, and needs Mystery Inc. to get to the bottom of things. The team uses the assignment to sort out their personal problems, reuniting them for what will be the inevitable sequel.
As far as cartoon-to-screen adaptations go, “Scooby-Doo” ranks right down there with “Josie and the Pussycats.” The film seems to have been written for 16 year-old teenage boys, and the filmmakers use that target audience as a springboard for most of the questionable humor. The original cartoon’s adult innuendo (pot smoking, lesbian crushes, teenage sex) remains intact, but blink and you miss it.
Instead, writer James Gunn fills the screen with flatulence jokes and bouncing cleavage, great stuff when you’re sixteen and horny, quite another if you’re a six year old or the parent of a six year old forced to sit through “Scooby-Doo.” Unlike “The Brady Bunch Movie,” which took parody to a whole new level, Gunn seems married to the silly antics and slapstick humor that made the cartoon so much fun.
Unfortunately, Gosnell doesn’t have the comic vision nor the cast to pull this off. The film is extremely flat, and so is the cast. Prinze Jr. looks like he’s modeling wigs for the Hair Club for Men rather than engaging in a mystery. Gellar is extremely vapid as Daphne, while Cardellini turns the subtlety of a puppy crush into an attack dog. Lillard is quite funny as the perpetually stoned Shaggy (although the smoke coming out of the Mystery Machine van is something else altogether).
I admired Gosnell’s fairytale romance “Never Been Kissed” for its simplicity and charm, but none of that is evident here. Instead, we get the Gosnell who directed “Big Momma’s House,” where every laugh has to be big and broad or the audience won’t get it. He gets the look and feel of the cartoon right, just not its heart and soul.
SCOOBY DOOBY DOO-DOOComputer generated dog’s byte worse than his bark
Freddie Prinze, Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini, Rowan Atkinson. Directed by Raja Gosnell.
LARSEN RATING: $2