It’s 90-plus minutes in a live-action Hanna-Barbera hell. It’s directed by the man who gave us Home Alone 3 and Big Momma’s House. It stars Freddie PrinzeJr. with a blonde dye-job and make-up that occasionally looks like it was applied by someone who flunked out of mortician school. I’m not at all sure that anyone needs to know any more about it than that. But since I had to sit through it, I see no good reason why I shouldn’t share the experience. To start with, though, I have to confess that I have always found the subtle charms of the TV series absolutely and completely resistible. I think I was just born too early. Other Hanna-Barbera horrors like Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, and Top Cat were an inescapable part of my youth, though I’ve no tremendous nostalgia for them. By the time Scooby Doo appeared on the scene, I’d discovered Warner Brothers cartoons, Betty Boop and Rocky and Bullwinkle, and found no appeal in Hanna-Barbera’s further debasement (even de-bargain-basement) of animation. I could have blissfully gone the rest of my life without hearing another person utter, “Ruh roh,” much less slog my way through a CGI Scooby “ruh-roing” for the length of a feature film. As a result, Scooby Doo was some distance from the top of the list of summer movies I was awaiting with keen anticipation. (In its favor, it was still several levels up from The Country Bears, Like Mike, The Powerpuff Girls Movie and Hey, Arnold! the Movie.) I did hold out some faint hope that this might be at least stylishly done — and in one sense, it was. The production design by Tim Burton/Henry Sellick alumnus Bill Boes (whose only other solo design credit is Monkeybone) is nothing short of gorgeous. Even the fact that Raja Gosnell has less than no idea how to make the most of the design doesn’t blunt its creativity. That said, I happily concede that the movie, for all its faults, is still better than the TV series. This, in itself, is no major accomplishment. However, it is certainly an accomplishment of some kind in just what a peculiar movie it is. It’s neither terribly odd, nor surprising that the writers have tried to pepper the script with attempts at humor that will help hold the attention of the adults in the audience who have been unceremoniously carted off to a movie like this by their children. It’s a little eyebrow-raising that at least two of these jokes are of the drug variety (“What’s your name?” Shaggy asks a girl, only to be told that it’s Mary Jane, and have him enthuse, “Mary Jane! That’s my favorite name!”), but since these are not likely to be picked up on by the 6-year-old set (or the ratings folks, for that matter), it’s not exactly shocking. And, for that matter, Shaggy — by accident or design — always came across as a stoner, so at worst it brings what was subtext into the realm of text. What is peculiar are the film’s numerous references to certain other movies — Re-Animator, Hellraiser and Shrunken Heads — movies that just don’t seem reasonable sources of inspiration for a kids’ picture. This sort of strangeness — along with a guest-starring Pamela Anderson — is enough to keep Scooby Doo marginally interesting on a freakish level, but it’s not enough to make it seem like a clever subversion of the kiddie-flick format it inhabits. There’s nothing much else to fix on in this film. The characters do resemble their cartoon counterparts. In fact Matthew Lillard looks almost too much like Shaggy for comfort. A plot exists that might have been suitable for 20 minutes of cartoon, but it’s stretched to an almost unbearable length here. The height of comedic creativity (apart from a few nice barbs about Prinze’s character’s narcissism and stupidity) is the wind-breaking contest between Shaggy and Scooby — a sequence that brought down the house when I saw the movie, and one that is doubtless going to be played out by children all across America, making me very grateful that my only child is 25 years old. The bottom line is this: Any movie that can take a respectable comedic talent like Rowan Atkinson and afford him only one solid laugh is doing something very, very wrong.
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