Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed

I was a very sensitive child. When it came to animation, I could handle anything that wasn’t blood and gore but when it came to live-action entertainment, I was way in over my head. My mother tells me that she used to vet episodes of Doctor Who for me and I know for a fact that I couldn’t handle people getting stabbed, even Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I tell you this so that you know what kind of head-space I was in when Scooby Doo 2 was released in the summer of 2004. Despite all this, it still managed to become one of my favourite childhood movies.

We follow Mystery Incorporated as they attempt to uncover the identity of a mysterious masked figure who is bringing ghoulish costumes to life in an attempt to unmask the meddling kids for the buffoons they really are. Not only is this film a direct sequel to 2002’s Scooby Doo but it also acts as a pseudo-sequel to the television series. Whilst this films predecessor seemed to be about moving in a new direction, this film revels in the glory days of yore by making it central to the plot. Having only ever seen animated costumes for every foiled villain, it’s rewarding to see them brought to life by the costume department. They also seem to have paid particular attention to detail when it comes to the Mystery Machine which is brought to life here by a 1984 Ford Transit Mk2. When it comes to adapting books or television shows into films, fans prefer for it to be done as faithfully as possible. I feel like Scooby Doo 2 has done this beautifully in terms of the creature costumes, set dressing and overall tone. The haunted mansion, Velma losing her glasses and over-abundance of ascots are all represented here as cheesy as ever.

The heart of the story, as before, is Shaggy and Scooby who are tired of always screwing things up for the team instead of being genuinely helpful. Whilst this theme was mildly present in the first film, it is thrust into the spotlight for this one. It could have easily come across as gimmicky but Matthew Lillards performance of Shaggy is tremendously heart-warming. His line delivery is so honest and pure that it’s no surprise he voiced the character until 2020’s Scoob!. Meanwhile Fred is teaching us that it’s ok for males to be emotional, Daphne is teaching us that you can be pretty and clever and Velma is teaching us that you are fine just as you are. Scooby Doo 2 is not just highly entertaining but it is also full of really positive messages for the younger audience. This is carried across brilliantly by the cast who have done a terrific job of portraying their characters throughout both films. I didn’t praise them in my previous piece but I want to rectify that here. They are all amazing and deserved a third movie.

The CGI has definitely improved in the two years between instalments, however there is still a huge emphasis on practical effects. The Black Knight Ghost, Captain Cuttler, Miner Forty-Niner and the Zombie are all costumes and prosthetics touched up with a hint of CGI. They look fantastic. Meanwhile the 10,000 Volt Ghost, Pterodactyl Ghost, Skeleton Men and Tar Monster are fully CGI. They also look fantastic…to an extent. Of course it hasn’t held up to the standards of today but as I discussed in my Scooby Doo review, they don’t need to. They can look slightly cartoonish and it still fits the overall tone/ characteristics of the movie. The designs are more detailed than the monsters in the previous entry but they also have individual character. The Black Knight Ghost is a macho brawler and the 10,000 Volt Ghost is kind of sassy but my favourite remains the Skeleton Men. Their sole purpose seems to be slap-stick and I am all here for that. It really hearkens back to the comedy of old cartoons and I love it.

Sadly, Scooby Doo 2 would be the last outing for this live-action squad. The film was panned upon release and, as far as I can find, this appears to be because it was considered too childish. one New York Times reviewer went so far as to claim that it was too similar to Saturday morning cartoons. Forgive me if I sound slightly pretentious but that seems like a really odd criticism for a children’s film. In the years that followed, the film would eventually pick up a following and would even be released on Blu-Ray alongside its predecessor in 2010. Sadly it means that we will never see a three-quel featuring this cast though, thanks to writer James Gunn, we do know what the plot would have entailed. It would have seen Mystery Inc summoned to a town in Scotland where monsters have been terrorising the locals. However we soon learn that it is the monsters who are the real victims and so the gang must come to grips with their own prejudices. Instead the series would get a reboot with a younger cast in 2009 with subsequent films being released directly to DVD. Now with 2020’s Scoob! returning to the teams animated routes, it seems like the era of live-action may be over but it should never be forgotten.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Scooby Doo (2002)

On the 13th of September 1969, a new children’s show about mystery-solving youths and their dog premiered on CBS. Created by Joseph Barbera and William Hana, Scooby Doo, Where Are You! ran for a mere 41 episodes, but would be the launching pad for an entire phantasmic franchise spanning 14 TV shows and 39 films. The majority of this media would be, and continues to be, animated, but one motion picture in 2002 dared to challenge that, leading to what has now been dubbed the live-action Scooby Doo movie.

We follow Mystery Incorporated as they reunite after 2 years apart to solve a case of unusual behaviour on the aptly named Spooky Island. However they get more than they bargained for when the monsters, for once, end up being the genuine article, and they must now prevent the ‘darkpocolypse’. Scooby Doo opens with the team in the middle of a caper, yet to disband, foiling the destruction of the Wow-O Toy factory by The Luna Ghost. It plays out like you would expect it to, with Velma concocting a plan, Daphne getting kidnapped, Fred taking charge and Scooby and Shaggy accidentally capturing the villain. It demonstrates a real understanding of the source material and gets us up to speed on the cartoonish reality of this universe, but the real story comes after the villain’s downfall, where the credits would usually roll. Velma, Daphne and Fred, in that order, decide that they’ve had enough of playing the same roles time and time again, leading them to go their separate ways and leaving the Mystery Machine with Shaggy and Scooby. It provides a solid emotional through-line to the story and results in a satisfying payoff though of course, it works better if you, like me, are already a fan of the franchise. When we catch up with everyone, two years have passed and they have all been individually invited to the Amusement Park getaway on Spooky Island. Fred has succumbed to his self-absorption, Velma has been on a journey of self discovery and Daphne has earned her black belt in karate, while Shaggy and Scooby have simply continued to live their best lives. With a story so centred on change, the friendship between Norville Rogers and Soobert Doobert Doo remains our one constant.

The plot is a lot of fun and that is certainly helped by the casting of Rowan Atkinson, of Mr Bean fame, as the island’s owner which sees him bring his unique sense of aloof-ness to a not-so-aloof film. Scooby Doo feels almost sinister in many places, but the talent of the cast and the slightly exaggerated decor of the island help it to maintain a camp edge. This universe has a certain amount of cartoon physics, with fall damage not being a real issue, but the gravity and weight of items, especially in collision with people, feels very real. The film may be rated PG but it very much feels like there is a 12 rating hiding just beneath the surface- and this is for good reason. Script writer James Gunn, now known for The Guardians of the Galaxy, has clarified that this was to be a more cynical take on the classic tales before Warner Brothers decided on a more family friendly approach. Language, jokes, sexual tension, and a kiss between Velma and Daphne were all cut, but hints at all of these things remain. There is a major focus on providing almost every member of the team with a love interest and I can’t help but wonder if Velma’s was added to distract from her obvious admiration for Daphne. Had the studio carried through on Gunn’s original plan, this would most likely have been one of the most important films of its age. Queer characters in a prominently children’s franchise would have meant so much the the community, especially its younger members, and I really admire Gunn for trying. While this element may be mostly missing, there is only a certain amount of skimpy clothing that can be ignored and Scooby Doo has plenty. There is only so much cleavage that you can cover with 2000’s CGI and I’d imagine that it helped the film keep that PG rating as well as keeping teenage eyes occupied.. Sadly, only one version of the film was made, so we will never see Gunn’s original script brought to life through a #ReleasetheGunnCut movement.

While the emotional and plot elements have sustained the test of time, the same cannot be said of the film’s CGI. Scooby himself is actually fairly decent, especially as far as his fur is concerned, and all these years later I find myself so thankful that they didn’t go down the photo-realistic route. Don’t get me wrong, I’m for photo-realism to an extent, but only in minimal amounts and only when required, because I think that it really won’t hold up to scrutiny. At best, it is slightly off-putting, but at worst you find yourself entering the uncanny valley and that is why I think Scooby’s design holds up. It’s CGI, but it isn’t ashamed to be, and allows him to remain closer to his 2D animated counterpart whilst sustaining all the cartoonish possibilities that entails. On the other hand, we have the island’s monsters which come out sort of rubbery. They don’t posses much detail and are probably supposed to be kind of scaly, but that does not translate well. With that said, none of the CGI, be it Scooby, the monsters or the floating spirit heads, are especially off-putting. In fact, it almost fits the cartoonish nature of the film and the very 2002 aesthetic that it has.

There are movies that feel dated, movies that feel timeless, and movies that feel exactly like the year in which they were made. Scooby Doo feels like 2002. The soundtrack is comprised of music from that year, which was designed to emulate the pop rock of the 1990s but doesn’t. There’s even a cameo from long-forgotten boyband Sugar Ray. Perhaps the most glaring demonstration of 2002 is the fashion. Liberty hair spikes, bedazzled jean pockets and denim-centric attire- you’re faves are all here! I feel like somebody should apologise for early 2000s fashion, not because it was offensive, but because it’s just really weird. Scooby Doo is a perfect encapsulation of how the world was upon its release and as such should be preserved as a historic artefact.

It’s become one of those “meme-able movies” but, if I’m honest, I think Scooby Doo is worth more than that. The characterisations are spot-on and the camp tone is perfectly Hana-Barbera. I appreciate it for being this fun little moment in the ever expanding history of the franchise, and I adore it for the sequel it gave us. Somehow this film remains the best attempt at a Mystery Inc motion picture, and includes so much of the joy and heart that the franchise is built on. I’m sad that we only ever got the two and now, thanks to Scoob!, I’m a little sad that they never spun this off into a whole Hana-Barbera Cinematic Universe. After all, that was kind of their thing.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer