Covered in this installment:
- Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed
Welcome to the desert of the real, Scooby-Doo. Turns out it’s actually kind of fun?
I hadn’t seen the first live action Scooby-Doo movie since it was released in 2002, and I had never seen its sequel, Monsters Unleashed, but as a kid’s movie from 16 years ago, and especially with a CGI lead, the movies weren’t meeting me in full health in 2018. If LucasFilm’s material from the same era looks cheap despite being made for 10x Scooby’s budget, how could the Doo be expected to fare any better? For God’s sake, the monsters in the first movie even look like Jar Jar Binks.
Scooby-Doo begins with a minor mystery’s end, the break-up of Mystery, Inc. and a time jump that sees the Doo gang pursue their own interests. They’re brought together after Mr. Bean invites them to Spooky Island, a horror theme park and tropical resort, to figure out why people fly in with boundless enthusiasm and fly out feeling like dumpy slug zombies. Turns out demons are stealing guests’ souls at Rowan Atkinson’s command, and Rowan Atkinson is just Scrappy-Doo in a robot suit. Like most Scooby-Doo mysteries, a bunch of stuff happens and then a villain is unmasked, but if you’re watching that stuff intently searching for clues, you aren’t going to find anything. There are locked room mysteries, where all evidence and suspects are isolated and available for the audience’s perusal, and then there are Scooby-Doo mysteries where a tiny dog has been manipulating everything from a Black Adder mech. And boy does this movie hate Scrappy.
The movie’s version of Scrappy is, to be sure, a dick. He pees on Daphne at one point. His plan, if I’m following everything correctly, was to take over a horror theme park, suck out visitors’ souls and then, as he was on the cusp of gathering enough of those souls to become a giant monster, reunite Mystery, Inc. and hire them to foil his plan. (As I type this out, I realize “defector retreats deep into jungle and creates cult around the idea his old team was poison” makes Scrappy the Colonel Kurtz of the Scooby-Doo Cinematic Universe.) When the big bad is finally revealed to be a runty dog (it’s specified that he isn’t a puppy, but a Great Dane suffering from a gland disorder), it’s taken as a given that everybody in the crowd already hates this little shit.
But I liked Scrappy as a kid. On the television show, at least from what I remember, Scrappy was the only one with any enthusiasm. Everybody else in the gang seemed like they wanted to be anywhere else, but “Let me at ‘em” was literally one of Scrappy’s catchphrases. And his shtick was repetitive, but there was less of him than there was of everybody else, and so I didn’t want to change the channel when he went into one of his routines the way I did when Velma and Scooby did their “Would you do it for a Scooby Snack?” dance.
After informally polling friends on Scrappy, I found opinions were split. My friend Marco had an interesting take, saying “I knew that if Scrappy-Doo was there, it was not the good Scooby-Doo episodes and some spinoff, so I avoided it.” I spoke in my introduction of preferring Hanna-Barbera’s spin-offs to its “main” shows, but I understand Marco’s aversion here. Scrappy is, to be sure, a Cousin Oliver sent to Coolsville to convince the world there was a reason to keep paying attention (the great pop-culture-Zelig Mark Evanier wrote of his involvement in Scrappy’s fascinating creation a few years ago and confirmed everything you assume about the character when you watch him as an adult). I recognized that provenance in The Great Gazoo and the kangaroo thing the Rubbles adopted, but I never felt like Scrappy was only around as a studio proxy, begging for my love.
I have two younger sisters, and so even though I was 13 at the time of its release, I saw Scooby-Doo in theaters and was confused that I was expected to hate Scrappy. Even looking back now, it’s odd a movie starring Matthew Lillard has the gall to push me toward disliking anybody. Perhaps younger children were more shattered by the revelation that the rest of the world hates Scrappy— it would be like watching a Disney movie where Mickey, Minnie and Donald complain about Goofy’s B.O. and then the narrator jumps into say “Seriously, Goofy is a turd.”
Still, I enjoyed Scooby-Doo more than I expected to. It’s fun! It embraces the energy and bright colors of a Saturday morning cartoon, and is certainly the best thing from a director who will otherwise be remembered for making a movie where a different talking dog arguably grooms children to accept abuse.
The second movie, Monsters Unleashed, proves how quickly all things Scooby-Doo overstay their welcome. It isn’t a bad movie, but I was mildly offended at a “This gross nerdzilla takes off her glasses and suddenly she’s hot?” subplot. Linda Cardellini’s Velma tries to earn the affection of a museum curator played by Seth Green, which is bizarre to a person who had a big crush on Linda Cardellini in high school but gets a migraine when reminded of Robot Chicken. By the end of the movie, Velma has both the glasses and the guy, so somewhere off-screen she learned she didn’t have to act like a different person to find love. But the guy is still Seth Green, so who can say if that was a good development?
Another indulged cliché: Everybody gathers at the end to dance. Ruben Studdard sings Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Shining Star” while good and bad characters alike, including a villain played by Alicia Silverstone who was just moments ago revealed to be Tim Blake Nelson in an Alicia Silverstone costume.
The kid and teen movie clichés in general and the music specifically show off the bizarre shift in effort between the two movies. Here’s the soundtrack listing for the first film:
and here’s the soundtrack listing for the second film:
Monsters Unleashed licensed a bunch of songs from decade-old Now That’s What I Call Music! CDs while the first movie went after original music from a post-Stankonia Outkast (and, okay, a post-post-post “Who Let The Dogs Out” Baha Men). And the song was written specifically for Scooby-Doo. Here’s part of the first verse, courtesy of Big Boi:
“This one for Scooby,
pass the doobie, I’mma do me one, do me one,
only you clean over,
I pick up the mic and rock it while I’m sober
For the rated G exposure
If you listen what I’m tryin’ to told ya”
General Patton isn’t giving as subtle a wink to the adults as he thinks he is here, but I love that the only non-album track the best group of all time ever released is about Scooby-Doo. The crap here absolutely outweighs the good, but a peak-Outkast track, an early Solange song and an original jam from Tim Fite’s group Little-T and One Track Mike? Somebody knew what they were doing. That person was later shouted down by an Uncle Kracker fan, but we got some gold before that happened.
I also sincerely love that DVDs from this era included special features like Monsters Unleashed’s “Challenge,” where the viewer can click around Mystery, Inc.’s headquarters, see the various members’ rooms and scroll through the team’s computer. Kids didn’t care about a digital format’s picture quality over cassette tape’s, so you had to sell them on selling Mom and Dad on DVD by creating complex (for the time) animated menus, easter eggs and mini games. I’m not saying I want the Blu-rays of movies I love as an adult to feature wacky character name generators and long tours through secret bases, but The Florida Project Blu-ray doesn’t have either of those things and I don’t own it and maybe that isn’t a coincidence. Robert Pattinson’s character in Good Time probably has a sweet bedroom and it’s a crime I can’t play tic-tac-toe on his computer is all I’m trying to get across here.
Author: Alex Rudolph
Alex is from the Bay Area and has lived in Philadelphia for three years, though he is trying to find a way to transport into the Squand commercial that always played early in the morning on Nickelodeon (with a summer place in the Crossfire ad). If you want to talk about Dan Clowes comics and Merzbow, he will sit here and talk about Dan Clowes comics and Merzbow all dang day. He is also the founder of the popular websites AV Club, The New York Times, Harpo Productions and Bitcoin. Follow him on Instagram.