Live-action Scoob? Judge Dan Mancini says, Ruh-roh.
Shaggy: Who's your best buddy?
To be honest, the lasting appeal of Scooby-Doo is a bit mystifying. The talking canine and his mystery solving teenage pals debuted on CBS's Saturday morning cartoon line-up way back in 1969 in the Hanna-Barbera produced Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! In the decades since, no fewer than 10 television series starring the pooch have been produced in various formats and venues—each featuring cheap animation and formulaic storytelling. Still, Scooby remains enormously popular with today's generation of pint-sized TV viewers, as well as maintaining a nostalgic place in the hearts of his now middle-aged original fans.
Given the character's lasting popularity, it should come as no surprise that Warner Bros. decided to make a live action feature film adaptation of the pooch's adventures. The result was 2002's Scooby-Doo, a film almost universally reviled by critics, but financially successful enough to warrant 2004's Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed.
Scooby-Doo was treated to an HD DVD and Blu-Ray release back in 2007, when there were still two high definition formats. Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed has never seen a high definition release—until now. Scooby-Doo 1 & 2 Collection is a budget release that repackages the original Scooby-Doo Blu-ray with a second disc containing its sequel.
Facts of the Case
As in Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, the Scoob flicks follow the adventures of Mystery, Inc., a paranormal detective business run by a quartet of teenagers and their speech impediment inflicted Great Dane, Scooby-Doo. Fred Jones (Freddy Prinze Jr., I Know What You Did Last Summer), the team's leader, is a clean-cut, blond-haired, (and in the case of these films, entirely egocentric) all-American boy. Daphne Blake (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is a rich, beautiful, miniskirt wearing redhead skilled in martial arts as well as being captured by the team's various nemeses. Velma Dinkley (Linda Cardellini, Freaks and Geeks) is a nerdy, bespectacled problem solver. Shaggy Rogers (Matthew Lillard, SLC Punk) is an easily-spooked and always hungry hippie, perpetually dressed in brown bell-bottoms and a green T-shirt. His best friend is the equally cowardly, hungry, and bumbling Scooby-Doo. The gang travels around in a custom van called the Mystery Machine, meddling in and ultimately unraveling the schemes of criminals who use the paranormal to bilk the gullible and unsuspecting.
Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed
To the extent that Scooby-Doo deserves the critical drubbing it received, it's because director Raja Gosnell and Warner Bros. executives didn't decide until the eleventh hour what kind of film they were making. In trying to appeal to two different audiences—young children and nostalgic adults—they ended up making a movie that doesn't quite work for either. The original screenplay, written by James Gunn (Tromeo and Juliet), was pitched squarely at adults who loved Scooby-Doo Where Are You! when they were kids. Aggressively self-aware, it included overt drug use by Shaggy and Scoob, as well as a little girl-on-girl action between Daphne and Velma. Gosnell eventually softened his approach, making the film more appropriate for a younger audience. The result is a ton of inane, family-friendly silliness (including a farting contest between Shaggy and Scooby) laced with eyebrow-raising double entendres likely to make parents showing the flick to their kids squirm with discomfort. Worst of all, the movie culminates in a Scrappy-Doo slamming finale that is jarringly out of place since its originally intended postmodern sense of humor is largely neutered otherwise.
Where the movie has taken some undue flak is in its use of a CGI Scooby-Doo. Once the dubious decision to make a live-action Scooby flick was made, a 3D computer-generated version of the pooch was really the only viable approach. And the special effect itself is quite good—as realistic as an anthropomorphized talking dog should be. More important than the quality of the effect, perhaps, is that Gosnell and voice actor Neil Fanning (who'd never previously voiced Scoob) nail the dog's personality. The heart and soul of Scooby's animated adventures is always the genuine warmth of his friendship with Shaggy. In Scooby-Doo, the duo gets plenty of screen time, and Fanning and Matthew Lillard (whose performance as Shaggy is eerily accurate) exude heartfelt camaraderie throughout. If the rest of the movie captured the essence of Scooby-Do Where Are You! as effectively as it does the friendship between Shaggy and Scoob, it would be easy to recommend.
Though the movie flopped, Gosnell and Gunn are much more successful in walking the fine line between kid-friendly shenanigans and shameless pandering to nostalgia-hungry adults in Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. Gone are most of the double entendres and hyper-obvious references to Shaggy and Scooby suffering from marijuana-induced munchies (though there is an extended sequence in which Velma sexes it up in skin-tight orange vinyl). Instead, the movie shoots self-aware winks at the adult crowd by featuring a rogues' gallery of baddies from Scooby-Doo Where Are You!, including Miner Forty-Niner, the Black Knight, the ghost of Captain Cutler, the Creeper, the Tar Monster, the 10,000 Volt Ghost, and the Ozark Witch. It's a surprising amount of fun for fans of the old series. Kids will love the Day-Glo production design (heavily influenced by the old cartoons), army of digitally rendered villains, and light smattering of fart jokes. Lillard continues to do an admirable job of acting alongside a cartoon dog, though his Shaggy impersonation isn't quite as convincing here as it was in the original. Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed is, at best, disposable fun—better than the original, though that ain't saying much.
The two films land on DVD in excellent 1080p/VC-1 transfers. Colors are bold, blacks are deep and satisfying, and detail is superb. Grain is tight and controlled to the point of being almost non-existent, even in the many sequences set in the dark. Scooby-Doo's audio mix is an old school Dolby Digital 5.1 (a concession to the fact that the movie was simultaneously released on HD DVD, a format that lacked the disc space for high definition video, uncompressed audio tracks, and supplements). It's not a bad track, but nowhere near as bright or dynamic as the DTS-HD master audio track that accompanies Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed.
Disc One of the set is identical to the original Scooby-Doo Blu-ray. It includes an impressive list of supplements along with the main feature:
There are two commentary tracks—one with Gosnell and his producers, the other with the film's cast. Both are decent, though plagued by long gaps of silence—surprising considering the number of participants on each track.
"Unmasking the Mystery" (22:10)
"Scary Places" (4:22)
"The Mystery Van" (1:02)
"Daphne Fight Scene" (2:28)
"Rain on the Set" (1:18)
In addition to the commentaries and featurettes, there's also a reel of deleted scenes with optional commentary; a music video for Outkast's "The Land of a Million Drums"; and a theatrical trailer as well as an advertisement for the movie's soundtrack.
Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed isn't lavished with as many extras as its predecessor, but Disc Two does offer some supplemental content.
"Scooby-Doo's Triple Threat" (10:20)
"True Ghoul Hollywood Stories" (5:47)
"Scooby-Doo is The Dancing Dog" (5:30)
In addition to the three featurettes, the disc contains a reel of deleted scenes, and music videos for "Thank You (Falletin Me Be Mice Elf Again)" by Big Brovaz and "Don't Wanna Think About You" by Simple Plan.
Fans of Raja Gosnell's Scooby-Doo movies will find little to complain about in Scooby-Doo 1 & 2 Collection (Blu-ray). The transfers for both films are excellent, the set is priced to move, and there's a solid slate of extras despite it being a budget release. But those just looking for a little Mystery Inc. entertainment would be best served by sticking with the cartoons—these are not good movies.
Guilty as charged.
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• Deleted Scenes
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