Scooby and His Amigos Go South of the Border!
Earlier this year, DVD Exclusive magazine recognized Warner Brothers and Scooby-Doo with their Franchise award. To date, Warner has released more than 35 Scooby home video titles, selling more than 30 million copies. In 2003 alone, Scooby-Doo generated more than $750 million in revenue from licensing and merchandising. Warner VP of franchise marketing, Jeff Baker, summed up its success by stating, "Scooby-Doo is a billion dollar brand with no end in sight." But at what point does greed supercede product quality?
Scooby-Doo and the Monster of Mexico is Warner's second full-length animated Scooby feature released in 2003, and the sixth since the studio re-energized the series with Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island back in 1998. The year's first release, the dismal Scooby-Doo and the Legend of the Vampire, showed clear signs that Warner had crossed into Disney territory, milking its property dry of any redeeming value. Odds were Monster of Mexico would follow this trend right into the ground. Surprisingly enough, it doesn't.
The Mystery Inc. gang heads south of the border to Veracruz, visiting Fred's email pal Alejo and family, to celebrate Dia de los Muertos—Mexico's Day of the Dead. True to form, their arrival also coincides with the appearance of El Chupacabra (The Goatsucker), a bloodsucking mythic monster (think Bigfoot) terrorizing the countryside. As the Scoobies attempt to unravel this mystery, Don Diego—a former business partner of Alejo's father—tries buying out the family's resort and the valuable land that surrounds it. Could there be a connection? The closer the gang gets to the truth, the more danger they find themselves in, including the kidnapping of Daphne. Can the gang uncover the truth and capture the monster before it's too late?
Director Scott Jeralds and his creative team have obviously learned from their mistakes on Legend of the Vampire. While staying true to the new format—part history lesson, part travelogue—Monster of Mexico returns to the roots of the original series with classic Hanna-Barbera detective work and vibrant supporting characters. Sure, cartoonish absurdity abounds—don't all museums have ancient, cavernous, underground booby-traps?—but that's the charm of the series. What's more, the original voice cast is back—Frank Welker (Fred), Casey Kasem (Shaggy), Nicole Jaffe (Velma), and Heather North Kenney (Daphne)—save the late Don Messick (Scooby-Doo) now voiced in respectable style by Welker.
At 75 minutes, the film runs a little long, seemingly padded by several extemporaneous musical montages. These could easily be removed without disrupting the flow and might more effectively maintain the attention of the audience, young and old alike. The animation by Cuckoo's Nest is a respectable mix of traditional and CG-enhanced styles, but several steps below the feature quality of Zombie Island. The musical underscore by Gigi Meroni and Rich Dickerson recaptures the series' zany 1960s style, overlaid by the beauty of traditional Latin American folk rhythms.
What ultimately makes Monster of Mexico work is Douglas Wood's (Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs) script. Taking place sometime between the original series and the events of Zombie Island, Wood's use of foreshadowing, red herrings, and good old human greed combine to layout a classic mystery. Granted, it's not Hitchcock, but in an age when American animation is dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, it's a pleasure to see a Scooby mystery even the adults can enjoy.
Presented in 1.33:1 full frame format, the transfer is pure digital clarity, as one might expect from a 2003 direct to video animated release. The colors evoke the warm and rich tapestry of Mexico and its storied history. Complete with a robust Dolby 5.1 audio track in both English and French, I find it quite funny that a film focused on the country of Mexico lacks a Spanish language track. However, Spanish subtitles have been included.
Warner goes a tiny step further with the bonus materials on this release, some of which entertain and others that, well, should never have made the cut. The best of the bunch is a 6.5-minute "making of" featurette spotlighting interviews with cast and crew. It's worth it just to see the original voice cast sitting together during the recording session. Next up is a feature-length commentary with the cast—in character. It's strange but unique to hear them reminisce about their Mexico adventure and the experiences filming it. If you can sit through more than 15 minutes of it, you are a better person than I am. The rest you can pass on—trust me. A 2.5 minute video scrapbook of the adventure, as narrated by Shaggy, serves as a Cliffs Notes version of the film—perhaps for those who aren't sure if they really want to watch it? As we reach the bottom of the barrel, we find a two-minute narrated blooper reel. Okay, it was funny the first time when Pixar did this over the credits of A Bug's Life, but the joke has since worn thin. Let's put a moratorium on these and invest the money elsewhere, shall we? Round out the bonus period with four trailers for current and future Warner home video releases, and you have a modest attempt at providing supplemental material of value.
This court dismisses all charges against Scooby-Doo and the Monster of Mexico removing the probationary hex placed upon director Scott Jeralds and crew following the release of Scooby-Doo and the Legend of the Vampire. However, Warner is still cautioned against whoring out the Scooby gang to the point of overexposure (see Star Trek), asked to dig deeper in developing quality scripts and bonus archival material, and for Pete's sake finally eliminate use of these ridiculous cardboard snap cases. This court is now adjourned.
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