This time the monsters are real!
Scooby-Doo has been a mainstay of American pop culture since his debut in 1969. After bouncing around in reruns on network and local television during the 1970s and '80s, the series' various incarnations found a permanent home on the Cartoon Network and a whole new generation of fans. With popularity at an all-time high, Warner Brothers execs called on fresh talent to revitalize the franchise and create a direct-to-video feature length adventure. The result is Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island.
After years of ghost-busting, The Mystery Inc. gang has gone their separate ways, tiring of being called "meddling kids" by unmasked con men, thieves, and swindlers. Shaggy (Billy West) and Scoob (Scott Innes) are working as part-time Customs Inspectors, Velma (BJ Ward) owns and operates the "Mystery Inc." occult bookstore, while Daphne (Mary Kay Bergman) and Fred (Frank Welker) are television's newest ratings hit with "Daphne Blake Coast to Coast"—an investigative news program. When Daphne decides to focus the show's new season uncovering real paranormal occurrences, Freddie brings the gang back together. Unfortunately, every incident they encounter turns out to be more of the same—guys in masks. That is, until the Mystery Machine finds its way to New Orleans, and the haunted happenings on Moonscar Island. While Island resident Ms. Simone (Adrienne Barbeau, Swamp Thing) and her chef Lena (Tara Strong) fill the gang in on the history of the late Captain Morgan Moonscar and his pirate posse, strange things start happening—but it appears there is more to this story than meets the eye. The situation goes from bad to worse when Shag and Scoob accidentally unearth the remains of Capt. Moonscar and animate his undead self. A bad moon and a bevy of zombies are on the rise and they won't stop until they get what they're after. It's safe to say this time it's not a bunch of bad guys wearing masks. With Shaggy and Scooby on the run, it's up to Fred, Daphne, and Velma to unravel their first real otherworldly mystery before they become zombies themselves.
Writers Davis Doi (Dexter's Laboratory) and Glenn Leopold (Doug) shake up the old Hanna-Barbera formula, breathing new life into these much beloved characters. From the opening title sequence through the movie's surprising climax, Doi and Leopold have blessed this seasoned gang with self-awareness, unashamedly making light of their previous incarnations—from Fred's orange ascot to their unlimited supply of Scooby Snacks and limited wardrobes. With Welker (Fred) as the only returning cast member, the voice talent tries its best to recapture the idiosyncrasies of each character with a mix of success and failure. Let's face it, Billy West (Ren and Stimpy) does a commendable job with Shaggy, but you simply can't replace the great Casey Kasem. The same holds true for Scott Innes' attempt to fill the shoes of the late Don Messick (Scooby). Voice characterization aside, this is not the Scooby-Doo we all remember as kids. The darkly beautiful feature-quality animation and modern elements of horror combine to create a more adult atmosphere than any previous Scooby adventure. Granted, there are still plenty of cornball antics only a six year old can love. However, some of the zombie encounters are bound to frighten small children. Just be forewarned.
Presented in 1.33:1 full frame format, director Jim Stenstrum (A Pup Named Scooby-Doo), Warner Animation, and their overseas partners have created a lush environment for these characters to play in. Gone are the piss poor backgrounds, color changing skin tones and wardrobes, and limited character movements. This is respectable animation, albeit a step below the realism of quality anime. The colors are rich and vibrant, while the evening adventures in the bayou are dark and menacing. The Dolby 2.0 audio track is acceptable, but I would have preferred to see what could have been accomplished with a quality 5.1 mix. Third Eye Blind does a great cover of the series theme "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?" during the opening title sequence. Unfortunately, the supplementary chase music and underscore by original series composer David Mook are disappointing—perhaps trying too hard to give the film a sweeping epic feel. While we're on the subject of disappointing, let's talk about the bonus features or lack thereof. Anchored by a so-called "featurette," which is nothing more than an extended trailer, Warner tries to pass off an interactive trivia game, cursor driven character bios, and studio trailers as something viewers would find valuable. Given this is a series with more than 30 years of history, one might think a documentary or retrospective would be foremost on the minds of fans and producers alike. Unfortunately, this isn't the case.
Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is a visual treat for twenty and thirty-somethings who grew up on the series. Parents of younger fans might find this film a bit beyond their reach. Regardless, this court commends Warner Animation and the new Scooby Gang for bringing these characters out of 1970s cartoon-land and giving them a New World in which to explore. We can only hope there will be more quality X-file adventures for the Mystery Inc. gang in the years to come. Case dismissed.
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