Rated PG - Running Time: 1:27 - Released 6/14/02

Throughout the recent rash of TV-cartoon-to-film adaptations, the quality has ranged from marginally clever (The Flintstones) to cute but unnecessary (Rocky & Bullwinkle, Josie & The Pussycats) to abysmal (Mr. Magoo, Dudley Do-Right). Scooby-Doo, the latest entry in this genre, helmed by editor-turned-director Raja Gosnell (Big Momma's House), barely falls into the first category; while I never cared much for the original TV series, I must admit the film is reasonably funny and its source material well-researched. Blending the characterizations of the famous mystery-solving gang with the digital animation of the title dog, Scooby-Doo is watchable and mercifully short. Wow, what a ringing endorsement.

This film starts with a bit of tension among the members of Mystery, Inc. While fun-loving and highly ticklish Great Dane Scooby-Doo (voice of Scott Innes) and his hippy-dippy human soulmate Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) are just a couple of good-natured and perpetually hungry pals without a care in the world (except when they are being pursued by a ghost, goblin, or monster), the vain and handsome leader of the group, Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.), comes under fire from vapid fashion-plate Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and brainy, glasses-wearing Velma (Linda Cardellini) for always taking credit for the group's mystery-solving success. The group breaks up, leaving the dejected Shaggy and Scooby in charge of the modly decorated "Mystery Machine" van until 2 years later, when they each receive a letter asking them to come to the Spooky Island amusement park to solve a mystery.

Each member thinks he or she has been summoned alone, but they all meet up at the airport. After briefly considering a reunion, they decide to compete against each other to solve the case. On the island, they meet Emil Mondavarious (Bean's Rowan Atkinson), the park's owner, who informs them that something strange is going on at his establishment. The college students who come there for rides and scary fun are all turning into angry zombies with superhuman strength. Sounds like PCP to me, but Fred, Daphne, and Velma all begin searching separately for clues. With the help of a sweet girl named Mary Jane (get it?), even Shaggy begins putting the pieces together, while Scooby mainly just looks for something to eat. Soon they all meet inside a malfunctioning Haunted Castle ride and are forced by the circumstances to work together, finally discovering that teamwork is really the only way.

I like this movie's willingness to poke fun at itself, and its clever devotion to its source. In addition to the story by Craig Titley and screenplay by James Gunn (based on the Hanna/Barbera TV show), the actors have obviously gone to great pains to copy the characterizations of their cartoon alter-egos, especially Lillard and Cardellini, and of course Innes as the voice of Scooby. Also amusingly accurate are the costume choices, with mini-skirts, bell-bottom pants, and platform shoes faithfully rendered in each character's particular color scheme. Some elements that were definitely never seen on the show are the Scooby/Shaggy farting contest and a clever bit where all the group members trade characterizations, forcing Velma to act like Shaggy, Shaggy like Daphne, etc. This is but one of the examples where the movie adds some much-needed wit to the show's lackluster comic style.

While I wouldn't exactly hover in midair with my legs disappearing in a speedy blur to get to this movie, I can at least recommend it as a reasonably enjoyable diversion that will please SD devotees. Heck, it's better than the show ever was—but that isn't saying much. ***½

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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