Dir: Raja Gosnell. US. 2002. 86 mins.
Corporate film-making has become so transparent these days that Hollywood studios are not even making a pretence of masking their priorities on a project like Scooby-Doo. Moving at a pace so frenetic it makes MTV look stately, and blanketed in radio-friendly pop tunes (rock group Sugar Ray actually appear in the movie), the film is a bundle of cross-promotional gimmicks masquerading as a narrative feature. But however unimaginatively the much-loved Hanna-Barbera cartoon TV series is transferred to the big screen, its basic concept is enough to give it one of the summer's biggest movie openings around the world in line with its huge $54m North American debut weekend.
Longevity in the marketplace is another question. Scooby-Doo is strictly for young kids ' a miscalculation on the producers' part since many of the parents accompanying their children grew up watching the TV show. And as Monsters, Inc., Shrek and Spider-Man have all proved, family films do not have to be juvenile to appeal to all generations.
Director Raja Gosnell is becoming known for bland popcorn movies ' Big Momma's House, Never Been Kissed, Home Alone 3 ' but Scooby-Doo must rank as the least inspired of them all. The film is so determined to duplicate the tone and characters of the cartoon that it forgets to have any fun in the process. Instead of tongue-in-cheek, it is calculated; instead of trying to give the animated characters human dimensions, Gosnell and the writers are content with 2-D caricatures. Even when they argue, these characters are flat as the animated cels for which they were conceived. At least the movie versions of The Flintstones and The Addams Family made a shot at expanding on the TV icons they were cashing in on.
Of all of the characters, Scooby-Doo, seamlessly revamped as a CGI character, is more endearing than any of the humans, despite valiant attempts by all four actors Prinze Jr (Fred), Gellar (Velma), Lillard (Shaggy, with a note-perfect imitation of the animated Shaggy's voice) and Cardellini (Daphne). The Scooby special-effect, in fact, is so seamless as to be unnoticeable, representing, perhaps, the next step for technology in film ' unreal characters blended into the action without drawing attention to themselves.
The movie begins with a standard climax from classic Scooby-Doo. A phantom ghost in a toy factory has kidnapped Velma and is hovering through the air with her when Fred, Daphne, Shaggy and Scooby attempt to ambush him. In the mayhem that follows, nothing goes according to plan but the ghost is finally captured and, of course, unmasked as sinister janitor Old Man Smithers, who delivers the inevitable line: "If it wasn't for you meddling kids, I'd have got away with it." Outside the factory, however, the friends argue and decide to disband the Mystery Inc team.
Two years later, they are reunited by mysterious millionaire Emile Mondavarious (Atkinson), who hires them to solve the mystery of why the spring break students visiting his theme park Spooky Island are all leaving brainwashed of all personality. The team quickly gets stuck in, coming across an abandoned haunted castle ride, real ghostly ectoplasms, a mysterious plasma-draining machine and various not-to-be-trusted characters such as voodoo worshipper Nunez Jr or bubbly holiday-maker Mary Jane, played by Isla Fisher. Even Scrappy Doo, Scooby's pint-sized and highly irritating nephew from the later episodes of the TV series, makes an appearance ' getting his long-deserved comeuppance.
It is a lumbering story which could have been told in a frothy, animated 20-minute chunk, although Gosnell and accomplices struggle to stretch it out to 86 minutes. But then again, the priority was not necessarily to make a light, suspenseful entertainment. Get the young ones into theatres in the first weekend, and what is the betting that a good percentage of them will want to rewatch the TV originals on Time Warner-owned The Cartoon Network, eat the burger, buy the soundtrack, and look forward to the sequel' Quite frankly, whether it is a good film or not is irrelevant.
Prod cos: Mosaic Media Group, Warner Bros
Worldwide dist: Warner Bros
Exec prods: Robert Engelman, Andrew Mason, Kelley Smith Wait, William Hanna, Joseph Barbera
Prods: Charles Roven, Richard Suckle
Scr: James Gunn, based on the characters created by Hanna-Barbera Productions
Cinematography: David Eggby
Prod des: Bill Boes
Ed: Kent Beyda
Mus: David Newman
Main cast: Freddie Prinze Jr, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini, Rowan Atkinson, Isla Fisher, Miguel Nunez Jr