Dir: Raja Gosnell. US. 2003. 93 mins.

The sequel to Warner's surprisingly powerful summer 2002 hit Scooby-Doo adds more characters and more effects to the formula first used to turn the long-running Hanna-Barbera TV cartoon into a live action feature - and it also delivers more genuine fun than its painfully forced predecessor. The extra oomph may be especially needed in the domestic market, where Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed gets a pre-Easter release and will quickly face competition for the broad family audience from Disney's Home On The Range. Internationally, the sequel might, thanks to increased audience awareness, have a shot at outperforming its predecessor, which made less than half of its $267m total gross in overseas territories.

The sequel reunites director Raja Gosnell and screenwriter James Gunn (who also wrote the recent Dawn Of The Dead remake) with their original core cast. Yet the whole enterprise feels more relaxed this time out and the film comfortably mixes a darker, bolder look and pumped up action with retro elements that recall the original seventies cartoons.

The ghostbusting members of Mystery Inc - Freddie Prinze Jr's suave Fred, Sarah Michelle Gellar's preening Daphne, Matthew Lillard's proto-slacker Shaggy, Linda Cardellini's brainy Velma and talking hound Scooby (once again voiced by Neil Fanning) - are now stars in their hometown, operating out of new high-tech headquarters. But the gang's image takes a hit when some of its past foes apparently come back to life and run rampant through the city. The hunt for the mastermind behind the monsters involves three new characters and the requisite teen-friendly life lesson (in this case, be yourself and good things will follow).

The story's monsters - among them the 10,000 Volt Ghost and the comical Skelemen - originally appeared in old Scooby TV episodes and their reappearance on the big screen will give adults a nice nostalgia buzz. Here, of course, they are realised with the help of CG effects and the results are often amusing and sometimes mildly scary. Improved technology makes Scooby Doo himself seem more lifelike and appealing than in the first film.

The production design (again by Bill Boes) has pleasantly vintage touches too and uses vivid colour to further enhance the cartoon feel. The Gothic-style sets and mostly nighttime settings work much better than the sun'n'sand locations of the first film.

The comedy aims to please both kids and adults by mixing cartoon-style slapstick and fart gags with knowing references to such things as dot-coms and montage sequences.

Human performers get subtly different weighting in the sequel. Prinze Jr is less prominent this time, as is Gellar, though she does get a couple of martial arts scenes that echo her now-concluded TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Cardellini (currently an ER regular) makes good use of Velma's larger presence and Lillard wisely tones down his performance as the most cartoonish of all the human characters.

The new characters are curiously underused. Alicia Silverstone appears fleetingly - though in the end significantly - as a pushy TV reporter. Seth Green (The Italian Job) plays it mostly straight as a nerdy museum curator. And Peter Boyle (from popular sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond) provides a false lead as one of Mystery Inc's past adversaries.

Like its predecessor, the sequel will get some extra promotional leverage from its soundtrack. UK pop rappers Big Brovaz perform in one nightclub sequence and American Idol winner Ruben Studdard appears on screen with the cast to deliver a closing credits number.

Prod cos: Warner Bros Pictures, Mosaic Media Group.
Dist: Warner Bros.
Prods: Charles Roven, Richard Suckle
Exec prods: Brent O'Connor, Kelley Smith-Wait, Joseph Barbera.
Scr: James Gunn, based on characters created by Hanna-Barbera Productions.
DoP: Oliver Wood.
Prod des: Bill Boes.
Ed: Kent Beyda.
Music: David Newman.
Main cast: Freddie Prinze Jr, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini, Seth Green, Peter Boyle, Tim Blake Nelson, Alicia Silverstone.