Daphne: What I need is a real live ghost.
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
I remember when I first saw the trailer for this movie, the main thing that stuck in my head was the line “this time the monsters are real.” Much of Scooby-Doo I saw growing up, always involved someone in a costume so that piece of information was something shocking. Looking back on the movie years later, while there were a couple of Scooby-Doo scenarios involving real monsters predating this movie, what makes this movie work so well is not only the concept but the way it is handled.
The story is the gang goes their separate ways after being bored of solving mysteries. However for Daphne’s birthday, the gang reunites and are invited by a woman named Lena Dupree to investigate a haunted house on an island in New Orleans owned by her employer Simone Lenoir. Upon their arrival, the gang discovers the place is haunted with zombies.
The story poses a legitimate scenario as to what it would be like for the gang to encounter real monsters and it works as it is done with the original gang showing that they had been capturing people in masks for years. A montage in this movie still shows them unmasking criminals, which once again helps build up to the real monsters and how it turns out to be more than they bargained for when they wanted something new.
Through the first two acts of the movie the gang’s skepticism about the existence of real monsters is heavily emphasized. The gags are sometimes repetitive but nothing out of character in terms of what Scooby-Doo has provided over the years. The gags may be repetitive but no superfluous which prevents this from feeling like an extended episode. All of this helps ease the viewer into dark shift in tone once the zombies are revealed to be real. The comedic antics in the first two acts help in building up the horror factor involving the zombies, their story, as well as their connection to Lena and Simone.
The confrontation with the real zombies gives a genuine sense of creep and dread as Shaggy and Scooby are constantly faced with them at almost every turn. And there is a mystery to the zombies as their presence in the first two thirds mostly provides scariness for Shaggy and Scooby. We don’t know what they want or why they are on the island. As far as the audience and the gang are led to believe, they are creatures bent on doing nothing but causing trouble for inhabitants. The mystery behind them comes full circle in a surprising twist. We find out the zombies are good people trying to save the gang from having their life drained out of them from Lena and Simone like the two did to them. In a way, it gives a whole new meaning to how the monsters in Scooby-Doo are human as the monsters here have far more humane intents than the humans.
The animation is also amazing for this movie. The backgrounds have a stylized look that helps contribute to the creepy atmosphere of the bayou. The designs for the ghosts and zombies in this movie also look creepy and not at all comedic which helps contribute to the horror vibe the movie gives to its characters and audience.
One of the best moves this movie did with the characters was the fact that it showed just how strong Shaggy and Scooby could be. We find out that Lena and Simone created wax dolls to control the gang but left Shaggy and Scooby out seeing them as complete idiots who wouldn’t be able to navigate their way through the mystery. However their cowardice and clumsiness turns out to be their greatest strength as it leads to them discovering far more than the gang and the villains could have thought.
Scooby-Doo: Zombie Island took the scenario of actual supernatural creatures and played the gang’s reaction to it all straight. It emphasized the horrors of the whole thing in both the surroundings of the setting and the gang. It set up a typical mystery but gave a whole new spin to the series easily cementing it as a timeless masterpiece in the many movies of Scooby-Doo.