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Producer-director Brian Levant, the grand champion of live-action feature adaptations of animated television shows (The Flintstones) and movies about dogs (Snow Dogs), returns with a sequel to his made-for-TV movie Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins, a live-action prequel of sorts to the adventures of everyone's favorite animated Great Dane and his teenage pals. In Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster, the Mystery Inc. gang scores summer jobs at an Erie Point country club newly opened by Daphne's uncle (Ted McGinley, Married with Children). Upon arrival at Erie Point, the kids are warned by a crazy old lady (Marion Ross, Happy Days) that the new club will only raise the ire of the legendary Lake Monster, and lead to tragedy for everyone involved. When strange things begin to happen at the club (including an invasion of human-sized frog monsters, and the presence of a mysterious cloaked figure), Mystery Inc. is on the case. Meanwhile, Shaggy (Nick Palatas, True Jackson, VP) is inspired by the budding romance between Fred (Robbie Amell, Left for Dead) and Daphne (Kate Melton, Friday Night Lights) to finally express his feelings for Velma (Hayley Kiyoko, Wizards of Waverly Place)—much to the chagrin of Scooby-Doo (voiced by Frank Welker, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!).
One could pick Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster apart for a litany of breaks with the cartoons' continuity—the dual romances between the four teens, Fred being a brunette, or Velma being recast as Asian—but none of that stuff is particularly problematic. The romances are lame, to be sure, but appropriately chaste for the kid and tween audience at which the movie is pitched. The film's producers may not have subjected Robbie Amell to a blonde dye job, but he still proves far more capable of capturing the spirit of Fred Jones than Freddie Prinze Jr. did in either of the big-budget theatrical Scooby-Doo features. Hayley Kiyoko's impersonation of geeky Velma Dinkley is far less spot-on than Linda Cardellini's, and her waif model figure doesn't fill out an orange turtleneck the way it should, but there's a likable charm to her interpretation of the bespectacled teen sleuth. Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster's real problem is one of budget. If Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins was a bit light on Scooby-Doo, Curse of the Lake Monster is even lighter. The movie skirts the expense involved in rendering the computer-animated pooch by focusing on the relationships between the four human characters more than that between Shaggy and Scoob. It does so to its own detriment. Scooby shows up when needed, but spends long stretches of the movie off-screen. And about half of his scenes involve him hula dancing or playing waiter during a Shaggy-Velma dinner date, allowing Levant and his effects crew to cut costs by using an upright, costumed human actor with a CGI Scooby head composited onto his shoulders. The special effects themselves aren't bad, given the production's made-for-TV budget, but by largely stripping the story of Scooby's charming, bumbling innocence, the movie loses much of the soul that made Scooby-Doo something more than a forgettable kids' cartoon of the '70s. The CGI lake monsters get at least as much screen time as Scoob, which is too bad considering they bring very little the show.
If not for Scooby's reduced role, Curse of the Lake Monster would be a substantial improvement over The Mystery Begins. A bit shaky in the earlier movie, Nick Palatas is more comfortable and natural as Shaggy the second time around, though his take on Norville Rogers is more vocal impersonation than full-bodied performance. Unburdened by uninteresting (and, frankly, unnecessary) exposition introducing characters that have been around for four decades, the movie is able to get down to the mystery right off the bat. The mystery itself is entirely predictable (and too reliant on the supernatural to be a classic Scooby-Doo story), but given that Curse of the Lake Monster is designed specifically for young audiences, that isn't a deficiency worth getting hung up on.
Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster is presented on Blu-ray in a bright and colorful 1080p/AVC transfer. The image is smooth and pristine with reasonably sharp detail and no intrusive video artifacts. The movie itself is slightly expanded from the version broadcast on the Cartoon Network to include a couple musical numbers that, while predictably goofy, are competently executed by everyone involved.
Dialogue, music, and effects come across beautifully in the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio mix. The rear soundstage is used creatively, including some directional panning that makes for an engaging aural experience. In addition to the default English track, there are five foreign language dubs presented in far thinner and more cramped Dolby stereo surround mixes.
The only extras are three lightweight featurettes:
Scooby-Doo: Rock, Rap and Rollerskates (8:15)—a featurette about the making of the movie's two musical numbers.
Jeepers! Jinkies! Zoinks!: A Tribute to the Classic Gags of Scooby-Doo! (8:23)—an electronic press kit that pimps the movie as well as taking a brief look at the history of Scooby-Doo.
Ruh-Roh! Gag Reel (5:16)—a little bit of on-the-set silliness, sanitized for young audiences.
Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster is a worthy follow-up to Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins. Make of that what you will. Adult viewers won't find the old Scooby-Doo magic that allows them to relive their childhoods, but little kids are bound to enjoy the brightly colored production design, silly gags, and light mystery.
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