Scooby Doo (PG)

Review by Jack Foley

IT’S A crime worthy of the great Mystery Inc investigation team themselves; why isn’t Scooby Doo, the movie, better or funnier?

It has taken some 33 years to finally put together a live-action version of Hanna-Barbera’s classic cartoon (which ran to some 310 episodes), yet while children under the age of 10 will no doubt revel in the childishness on-screen, the adults will probably be pining for a return to the animation formula, given that this fails to properly engage on almost any level.

So who’s to blame for, quite literally, putting together this dog's dinner of a movie? James Gunn’s screenplay isn’t that bad, given that it dispenses with the traditional cartoon format within the first 20 minutes and disbands the investigators due to a clash of egos.

Yet things start to go wrong from the moment the crime-fighters reunite and step foot onto Spooky Island to investigate a series of paranormal incidents which are leaving young visitors brainwashed.

The performers, themselves, are relatively blameless given that each member of Mystery Inc delivers a spirited update of their cartoon incarnation, from Freddie Prinze Jr’s appearance-obsessed leader to Linda Cardellini’s frumpy but frustrated ‘brains behind the team’, Velma.

Sarah Michelle Gellar also deserves praise for helping to turn the kidnap-prone Daphne into a high-kicking Buffy variation, while Matthew Lillard is the pick of the bunch as Shaggy, pretty much nailing the voice, look and mannerisms of the cartoon favourite in one deft swoop. There is a smile to be had whenever the panic-stricken actor mutters the classic ‘Scooby Doo, where are yooou?’ line in the same inimitable style of the original.

Which brings us to Scooby himself. The canine companion does deliver some of the film’s funniest moments but never looks entirely convincing. Director Raja Gosnell opted for a cross between a photo-realistic 3D and the old cartoon animation instead of the traditional 2D approach and the result looks decidedly ruff!

The voice and mannerisms remain intact, of course, but there is something very wrong with the appearance and when the funniest gags revolve around flatulence competitions between man and dog, you know you are in trouble.

Which leaves us with Old Man Smithers, or rather Gosnell, the director responsible for uninspired movies such as Big Momma’s House and Never Been Kissed. So much of Scooby Doo’s failings can be attributed to flat direction, lame set pieces and a general lack of imagination that Gosnell has to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility.

He aims his movie almost squarely at the children, with only occasional nods to the adults, making this a laboured and disjointed experience.

The likes of Shrek and Toy Story are great examples of films which are both visually creative and intelligent enough to appeal to both age groups, yet Scooby Doo runs out of inspiration early on and reverts to cheap shots for its laughs. The result makes for scrappy viewing - and, yes, the tiresome little mutt does get a look in.

RELATED STORIES: Click here for the completely gratuitous Daphne/Sarah Michelle special...