A bewitching case of ghostly deeds and spine-tingling suspense
A year after revitalizing the franchise with Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, Warner Brothers capitalizes on the surge of Scooby popularity with the release of the series second full length animated feature Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost. Director Jim Stenstrum returns to the helm based on yet another interesting, non-formulaic story by writers Rick Copp (The Brady Bunch Movie), David Goodman (Futurama), Davis Doi, and Glenn Leopold. The voice cast from Zombie Island is also on board, with the exception of Billy West (Shaggy), who has been replaced by Scott Innes—now challenged with voicing both Scooby and Shaggy.
Back on the road seeking out true paranormal experiences, we join The Mystery Inc. gang, as they are about to unravel the "Mummified Museum Monsters" caper. This time, the gang receives some unexpected help from famed horror novelist Ben Ravencroft (Tim Curry, Clue), who happens to be in the museum doing research at the time. Enthralled by the rich history of Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shag, and Scoob, Ben invites the gang back to his sleepy New England home for the town's annual autumn festival. Upon arriving, they are surprised to find the town overrun by tourists all hoping to catch a glimpse of the Witch's Ghost. Apparently, while building a replica Puritan Village, the townsfolk disturbed the final resting place of Ben's ancestor, Sarah Ravencroft—an earth mother and alleged witch. While the gang learns of Sarah's Wiccan history from an agitated Ben, Shag and Scoob come face to face with not only the ghost but a trio of teen vampires as well. However, all is not as it seems. The girls are actually a local rock group—The Hex Girls (Kimberly Brooks, Jennifer Hale, Jane Wiedlin)—headlining the town festival, and the Witch's Ghost appears to be something less than a supernatural visitor. When the gang begins to unravel the mystery, they come across Sarah's lost journal and suddenly an alleged ghost is the least of their problems.
Like Zombie Island, Warner Bros. Animation continues to do an admirable job of updating the Scooby mythos. Writers Copp and Goodman bring their unique brand of self-referential humor to the story, addressing more than a few long discussed questions surrounding everyone's favorite animated detectives. What raises Witch's Ghost a step above Zombie Island is that this story is not just a one trick pony. Unlike your standard animated fare, this tale takes a hard left halfway through the picture and confronts the gang with a whole new set of circumstances. In other words, the old rules no longer apply. What disappoints, however, is the creative team's inability to deliver the knockout punch—for a variety of reasons. Superficially speaking, a majority of the jokes, both written and visual, are cornball and aimed at five to ten year olds—very out of place within an otherwise more adult world. Second, the vocal casting of Tim Curry would appear to be a major coup, but the great actor seems to sleepwalk his way through the role, coming across as bored with the entire project. Finally, a great setup demands a strong creative follow-through, which is missing here. It's almost as if the writer's became so excited with the premise they peaked early and had no idea how to finish the job. Don't get me wrong, the majority of the picture is the strongest Scooby-Doo adventure to date, with the added bonus of an animation style that has evolved from the theatrical richness of Zombie Island to an Americanized-Anime appearance—a welcome and much needed development for these classic characters. Be forewarned, however, there still lingers somewhat of a backlash against the film. Apparently a vocal few took offense to the mini-Wicca history lesson contained within, with some claiming Warner Brothers was trying to lure America's youth into alternative spiritual thinking. Take it all with a grain of salt and feel free to screen the film prior to showing it to the kids.
Presented in 1.33:1 full frame format, Witch's Ghost is a beautiful animated feature that begins to take our much beloved heroes out of the Hanna-Barbera minimalist cartoon universe. The New England autumn setting is magnificently rendered with bright fall colors and deep midnight blues and blacks. The supernatural elements pop off the screen with great energy and flair. The Dolby 5.1 audio track is a surprise, although they could have taken it further, as much of the action takes place in the center channel. I wasn't all that impressed with Billy Ray Cyrus' cover of "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?" or The Hex Girls pop songs. The musical score was functional at best. The action sequences scream for something more along of Shoji Yamashiro's Akira. In terms of bonus features, Warner hasn't done much more than what was presented on Zombie Island. Character Bios and Scooby Trivia are marginally interesting, but act more as filler than anything else. The three minute featurette plays more like a promotion piece than providing any true behind-the-scenes insights. The so-called music video is nothing more than obnoxious kids dancing to "The Hex Girls" music in front of a blue screen, overlaid with clips from the film. Cap it all off with studio sneak peeks at other Scooby material, and you have yet another missed opportunity at delving into 30+ years of Scooby-Doo history.
Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost is an enjoyable adventure and a perfect treat for annual Halloween viewing. The creative artistry on this series continues to grow and improve. This court once again commends Warner Brothers on evolving the series beyond its simplistic roots, but warns against getting rich, fat, and complacent. Case dismissed!
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