Fred: Man, we got beats like it was the lizniz on earth, ya know what I’m sayin’, G?
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
The 1969 Hanna-Barbera cartoon, Scooby-Doo has had multiple remakes throughout the years and is still going strong even today. In 2002, we got our first ever live-action version of the series. While it isn’t considered a definitive remake (nor have any of the movies proved to be such), it has amassed something of a following. In some ways, the movie is quite clever while in others it is somewhat juvenile.
The story involves the Mystery Inc. gang splitting up as tension has mounted among the members as Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.) takes all the credit for Velma’s (Linda Cardenelli) plans and Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is tired of being kidnapped time and again. The decision leaves Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) and Scooby devastated. Two years later, an amusement park owner named Emile Mondavarious (Rowan Atkinson) invites the gang to his park known as Spooky Island to help him figure out the strange behavior among the residents of the Island.
On the one hand, the writing does a good job at parodying and paying homage to various tropes about the characters and past incarnations of the show. For instance, the opening includes a cameo by Pamela Anderson and halfway through the movie Fred drops a reference to Don Knotts’ Christmas party. Both of these are parodying the New Scooby-Doo Movies in 1972 where celebrities would guest star on the show. The movie also opens with the team formulating a trap to capture the Luna Ghost, which is a clever homage to the original show. Shaggy meets a girl named Mary Jane (Isla Fisher) to which he responds that is his favorite name which is parodying Shaggy’s nature as a stoner. Fred is often shown to be quite scatter-brained which gives way to a hilarious scene with him acting like a frat guy. When the team decides to investigate the mystery at a ghost ride in a haunted castle, Shaggy refuses claiming as quoted “castles have paintings with eyes that follow you, suits of armor that you think’s a statue, but there’s a guy inside that keeps following you every time you turn around.” It’s details like this that show that the movie at least as some idea of the source material it wants to satirize.
All the actors do at least a decent job of capturing the spirit of the characters. Matthew Lillard in particular does an excellent job of capturing the character of Shaggy and would even go on to voice the character in the cartoons following the retirement of the original actor Casey Kasem. Linda Cardenelli also did a good job of capturing Velma’s brainiac-like nature and would go on to play Velma’s best friend Marcie Fleach in Mystery Incorporated.
The movie does however have a number of glaring flaws. For starters, the CGI, while it was good at the time, the movie was over reliant on it and it really doesn’t hold up. Scooby, for instance, doesn’t look like he’s really there by today’s standards. There’s also a demon army in the movie, and there’s only one design for all of them.
The direction is where the movie suffers a lot. The gang splitting up at the beginning is rather off-putting since Mondavarious’ invitation brings them back together almost immediately. The movie claims it had been two years since the event but it could just have easily been a couple months. Whatever tension the gang has when they reunite is completely gone when they reach Spooky Island. There’s a burp and fart scene that drags on way too long. The writing made it clear they were trying to satirize the series but it goes in several wrong directions. For instance when Velma and Fred are abducted by the demons, Shaggy is insistent on running away and leaving his friends to them, which feels completely out of character. A flashback reveals that the gang outright abandoned Scrappy-Doo on the road which leads to him becoming the villain in this movie. Considering that Scooby and him are family, it feels quite mean-spirited that they all decided to do it without a second thought.
Finally, there’s Scrappy as the villain. While he did save the series from being canceled, he still remains one of the more hated parts of the franchise. With a lot of the writing satirizing the tropes of the show this is something that could have potentially been hilarious in a meta sense. Like he might have been angry that Mystery Inc. and their fans completely forgetting he existed (as he had not appeared in the franchise since 1988) but here it’s just feels forced at the last minute and he only appears in one scene prior to his reveal pretty much making the truth about him obvious.
Scooby-Doo (2002) is not a great movie but it has some good ideas in its writing. It’s just that a lot of the other aspects of the movie could have used a lot of tweaks in its direction to make the jokes mesh perfectly with the rest of the movie. If you’re a major fan of the cartoon then this might not appeal to you. Even the idea of parodying the show was done so much better with A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. But as far as a live-action remake of a popular cartoon goes, there is definitely worse.