Scooby-Doo

Scooby-Doo. Mosaic Media Group 2002.

Before watching the movie:

As someone who was not a fan of Scooby-Doo in the early 2000s, my main impression of this was that, if there was a right way to make a live action Scooby-Doo movie, this wasn’t it. The characters looked overly stylized, and the CGI dog was neither cartoon nor real, just a CGI mess.

I’ve since enjoyed some of the Mystery Incorporated reconstructive take on the franchise, and I have enough familiarity with it to know this probably at least isn’t the worst version.

After watching the movie:

After a particularly off the rails case, the Mystery Incorporated team breaks up. Velma doesn’t like Fred hogging the credit for her plans, Daphne hates being the designated damsel in distress, and Fred doesn’t see what everyone else’s problem is, leaving Shaggy and Scooby together wishing the group hadn’t broken up. Then, everyone in the old gang receives an invitation to come to the Spring Break theme park Spooky Island and investigate the mystery of why the college students are arriving at the island as normal spring break partiers and leaving as dour, clean-cut silent types. The owner, Mr. Mondavarious, suspects a magic spell. But the gang’s never met a mystery that was actually paranormal. Yet.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an adaptation so intent on rebelling against and mocking its own source material. Just about every member of the gang has an arc involving them being unsatisfied with or otherwise stepping out of their traditional role. They start out having been playing these roles for ages and being sick of them. There is merit in introducing conflict into the core friendships in order to drive story and threaten narrative collapse, but I don’t feel like just pointing at some problems with the formula and saying “these are silly and we’re done with them” is a good way to handle a franchise property. Fred in particular isn’t even all that recognizable. If I had to describe a flaw in his original character, I’d say he’s nice to a fault, not an ass in an ascot. Possibly pompous sometimes, but not self-absorbed. At the same time, a lot of the more well-worn tropes of the old show get used in a “this is the thing! you see the thing? we’re doing the thing now!” way, to the point of parody or worse.

When I think about the Scooby-Doo formula, it includes the apparently paranormal happening being revealed to be entirely mundane, even if the rational explanation doesn’t always cover everything we saw the monster do. However, it seems like so many takes on Scooby-Doo add the element of “but what if this time it was actually real?” There are ways to handle that transition, but I think that it should be a permanent transition. However, each new version seems to need to establish for itself that the gang’s history has always been about exposing frauds, but now there’s real magic involved. It cheapens the effect of the transition to make it again and again every time. I suppose they feel they have to because the “actually a creepy guy in a mask” reveal is an unshakeable part of the Scooby Zeitgeist, but if that’s the case, then stop making the jump to real paranormal activities.

The CGI effects that aren’t trying to be cartoons are pretty good for the time. And the cartoon characters would look good if they were in a cartoon and not in a live action movie. Unfortunately, the cartoon characters are the most noticeable CGI, and they don’t fit in at all, so the overall impression given is that the effects are awful. Which does no favors to the script.

All adaptations find their own broad strokes of the original to build upon. The best ones are willing to leave behind the superficial elements in favor of developing the essential dynamics underneath. This movie seems to have been written with a focus on the superficial elements by people who were at best ambivalent about the source material. It’s such a strange dichotomy to see the superficial elements hit too hard and the so much of the essence misunderstood and rejected.

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