Judge Paul Pritchard would have gotten this review in on time if it wasn't for his pesky kids.
Visit The Scariest Show On Earth With Scooby-Doo!
Considering he first said "Herro" to the world in 1969, it's probably safe to assume that Scooby-Doo and the rest of the Mystery Inc. gang are now with us until the apocalypse, when they'll most likely discover Armageddon is merely some cockamamie scheme dreamt up by a disenfranchised carnie out for revenge.
Scooby-Doo isn't a beloved animated icon simply due to his longevity, though. A quick look at the stats shows that Scooby is just about the hardest-working anthropomorphic animal of the last four decades. Excepting a few brief breaks—when reruns of his earlier series were still shown worldwide—Scooby-Doo has rarely been without a new show to entertain children and adults alike. Not content with being a TV mainstay, Scooby (or rather the money craving corporations who work him like a…er, dog) has starred in two live-action theatrical movies (Scooby-Doo and Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed), which in turn spawned two direct-to-DVD sequels, and an astonishing seventeen animated movies.
Now, thanks to Warner Bros., that number increases to eighteen animated films, with the release of Big Top Scooby-Doo! (Blu-ray).
Facts of the Case
When the Mystery Inc. gang arrives in Atlantic City, all set to enjoy a relaxing vacation, they find themselves inadvertently pulled into another adventure when they stumble across a travelling circus that is being plagued by a pack of werewolves. Always up for a good mystery, Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and, of course, Scooby-Doo offer their help and go undercover as circus performers to find out who or what is behind the werewolf attacks.
For a franchise that has been going for nearly as long as the Rolling Stones, Big Top Scooby-Doo! offers surprisingly fresh entertainment. A large part of this is surely owed to Douglas Langdale's screenplay, which sparkles thanks to its lighthearted approach and playful dialogue. Langdale's writing is able to finely balance an adherence to the successful Scooby-Doo formula, while respectfully making fun of it.
The story is, in truth, fairly standard Scooby-Doo fare, with the gang stumbling into an abandoned circus plagued by werewolves. Apart from the aforementioned dialogue, what keeps everything ticking along so nicely is the cast of characters who bring more to the table than initial appearances suggest. There's European strongman Archambault, who delivers possibly the strangest act involving a horse you'll see this side of a Kevin Smith movie; Wulfric Von Rydingsvard, the pseudo-intellectual lead singer of Swedish rock band Wulfsmoon, and Schmatko, the clown with aspirations of performing the works of Chekhov. The gang's interactions with the oddball cast brings up some real delights, with Daphne and Schmatko's discussions on Russian literature, and general concern for Shaggy's IQ ("Seriously, was he kicked by a mule?") leading to plenty of laughs.
While the gag count remains consistently high throughout, Big Top Scooby-Doo! still remembers to bring a sense of adventure, along with a few light scares to keep kids on the edge of their seats. The Werewolves are menacing enough, without risking any sleepless nights, and a chase scene set on top of a speeding train is heaps of fun. There's also plenty of fun to be had from the gang trying their hand at various circus-based roles, with Fred's trapeze work being a highlight, not to mention Shaggy's bizarre dream sequence.
At 80 minutes, Big Top Scooby-Doo zips by at a quick pace, and with little repetition in the plot, manages to avoid feeling like an overlong TV episode. The voice cast is excellent, with Frank Welker continuing to voice both Scooby and Fred, and Matthew Lillard making as good a replacement for Casey Kasem as is humanly possible in the role of Shaggy.
Presented in a 1.78:1/1080p transfer, Big Top Scooby-Doo! looks "the dogs," as a character in a Guy Ritchie movie might say, or really rather good to the rest of us. As one would expect, the picture is pin sharp, but what really impresses is the depth of the colors. Blues are especially vibrant, and really do bring the relatively simply artwork to life. Likewise, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix delivers a soundtrack that impresses from the moment the film's catchy theme tune, "When the Circus Comes to Town"—which oddly brings to mind early Tom Jones—kicks in. The extras also hold up well, with three similarly themed episodes included: "Bedlam in the Big Top," "The Ghouliest Show on Earth," and "Menace of the Manticore." The Blu-ray release also includes a DVD copy of the film, along with an UltraViolet copy to download/stream on your mobile device of choice.
Big Top Scooby-Doo! may not be Mystery Inc's most memorable adventure, but it's certainly one of their best efforts in some time, and—as my son has since proved—stands up to repeat viewings. For fans, Big Top Scooby-Doo! (Blu-ray) is a no-brainer, but even those only partial to the odd Scooby snack will find much to enjoy here.
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