Bigger breasts and much more action. Warner Bros. has released Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare, the fifteenth direct-to-DVD Scooby-Doo movie to be produced in the last 12 years. A nice surprise, Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare rates as the best Scooby-Doo flick I've seen, with a storyline that captures the feel of the original TV series, a first-rate production design, good songs, and convincing, non-stop action--a big plus for these sometimes tame, jokey efforts. Some fun extras help make Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare a definite "must-have" for the small-fry (and older kids...and you, too) this Halloween season.
Summertime at Camp Little Moose, beloved repository of memories for Freddy Jones (voice talent of Frank Welker), who spent many happy days there as a boy. With the Mystery, Inc. gang in tow, Freddy plans on returning to Little Moose for a short vacation, working as a camp counselor. Unfortunately, the gang isn't as impressed with the run-down, seedy little camp as Freddy is, nor are Daphne (voice talent of Grey DeLisle), Velma (Mindy Cohn), Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) and especially Scooby-Doo (voice talent of Frank Welker) particularly happy after learning that the camp may be haunted by "The Woodsman," a heretofore made-up legend used by Camp Little Moose's owner, Burt (voice talent of Stephen Root), to scare his little charges when seated around the camp fire. Ranger Knudsen (voice talent of Dee Bradley Baker), strongly suggest Burt close the camp, but Freddy can't turn away the three lone kids who still manage to show up at Little Moose: all-American boy Luke (voice talent of Scott Menville), introverted Goth Trudy (voice talent of Tara Strong), and tubby asthmatic Deacon (voice talent of Mark Hamill). Spurred on by Freddy's desire to save his boyhood retreat, the gang is forced to confront not only "The Woodsman," but also the terrifying "The Fishman" of Little Moose Lake (who guards a secret city below), and the terrorizing "Specter of Shadow Canyon." What secrets lay at the bottom of Little Moose Lake...and will the Mystery, Inc. gang survive to tell the tale?
Hey, I love Scoob--no question about it. I grew up on the original show's endless re-runs and reincarnations and repackaging, from Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! to Scooby's All-Star Laff-A-Lympics, to Scooby-Doo and Scrappy Doo ("Da-da-da-da-da-dah! Puppy power!"), to The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, and beyond. However, at this point, no matter how much I still enjoy the original series and the characters, some of these later efforts can be, to put it kindly, hit-or-miss. That's why I was more than pleasantly surprised by Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare, a bright, smart, fun, and particularly exciting entry in the direct-to-DVD franchise, one that came out of left field for me, considering my initial low expectations for it.
Right from the opening pre-title sequence, which trades on, surprisingly, a scary Friday the 13th-like vibe, you can just tell that Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare is going to be different than the previous Scooby-Doo movies (well...I missed the last two, so I'll qualify that statement). Beautifully designed with heavy character shadowing and at times, multi-dimensional effects that reminded me of old-timey animation, the first appearance of "The Woodsman" (he impressively fills the entire dark frame before slashing his axe) scared the bejeesus out of my younger kids, pushing their expectations for a little Scooby-Doo laugh-fest off-kilter. And then, in a complete 180° turn-around in both mood and visual design, the credits roll, and we're at the beginning of a Pink Panther movie or one of numerous other 60s movies with animated title sequences. Suddenly, our characters, who we know are going to be animated relatively "realistically" in the feature, are given a cartoony make-over to star in their own little mini-movie, where we see the cute, stylized little buggers stare down a moose, go over a waterfall in a canoe, and even form an Archies-like band, among other fun summertime activities (the opening song is a knock-out, too--another rarity for this kind of outing). I don't know who came up with that surprising switch in atmosphere, but it's yet another indication that Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare is working on a different level than most of these direct-to-DVD efforts.
Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare really moves, too. Normally, with a Scooby-Doo movie, a lot of time would be spent on Scoob's and Shaggy's antics (which is fine), but except for a couple of obligatory slapstick scenes specifically designed to showcase "Scooby comedy" (Scoob eating a hot pepper, his pantomiming getting attacked, the lake picnic montage), Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare concentrates on action and story, with solid results. Utilizing three separate, impressive environments that give the film an outsized feel (the woodsy camp, the underwater lair in Little Moose Lake, and the sun-baked Shadow Valley), the movie ups the ante by putting an equally impressive monster in each clime ("The Woodsman," "The Fishman," and "The Specter") for the gang to battle. And battle them they do. The action sequences are frequent and extremely well executed, particularly an underwater fight between Freddy and "The Fishman" that reminded me of a long-lost Johnny Quest episode rather than Scooby-Doo. Referencing everything from Friday the 13th to Raiders of the Lost Ark (with a little bit of Meatballs thrown in for good measure), the film never flags, integrating well the numerous action and suspense scenes with the more traditional Scooby shenanigans (there's a lovely, funny lake picnic scene--with another great song--that fits in nicely as a breather for the upcoming action).
Critically, Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare grounds its action in a surprisingly good mystery, with a brief but intriguing backstory about a 1930s gangster's hidden treasure, and a town completely submerged in the murky depths of Lake Moose. Throughout the film, careful attention to the production design is always given, with this flashback to the gangster's activities a good example: it's colored in a nostalgic sepia tone. Now, the makers of Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare could have taken the easy way out and forgone any artistic considerations like that, saturating the color scheme with primary, blown-out colors that kids like; however, all through the film, little details like that consistently pop up (colors washed out to a dull green under the lake; colors burned out in the camp fire light). Obviously, someone was having a good time not only creating these beautifully designed environments, fast-moving action sequences, and carefully shaded characters, but also designing the women of Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare. Special care is taken to give Daphne, Velma (yes, Velma), and rival camp counselor Jessica (Lauren Tom) long, slow pans upward as we drink in their voluptuously-drawn bodies. Maybe I missed something in those last two movies...but when did sex become a part of the Scooby-Doo mythology? Perhaps the increased attention to action in the script (an effort, maybe, to appeal to a slightly older pre-teen male audience?) also provided an excuse to pneumatically enhance the Scooby-Doo lovelies? It's possible, I suppose. But regardless of the reason, the results, just like the rest of Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare, are impressive.
Sensational on a big, big monitor. The anamorphically-enhanced, 1.78:1 video transfer for Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare is flawless, with deep, correctly valued, nicely varied colors, and a razor sharp image. A great-looking toon.
The audio is equally impressive. English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 stereo mixes are available and they pack a punch, with solid bass and dynamic speaker separation to the rear and side channels. Recording levels are good and loud. English subtitles are included.
A couple of fun extras add to the disc's enjoyment. First, Scooby-Doo Camp Stories is a live-action segment featuring a young actor (maybe he's well-known to kids audiences...but he's not credited here) telling scary camp fire stories for the young viewers. It lasts 9:09 for three stories. Next, a bonus episode of the newest incarnation of the Scooby-Doo franchise, Scooby-Doo Mystery Inc., is included (Beware the Beast From Below). I haven't seen this series yet (it premiered in July of this year), but if the rest of the episodes are anything like this one...I'll be tuning in. Well-written, respectful of the history of the show, this is an entertaining, back-to-basics reboot that scores. Well done. Finally, a trailer gallery is included.
The best straight-to-DVD Scooby-Doo movie I've seen, at least. Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare is a solid toon with an impressive production design, a clever mystery script, tons of Johnny Quest-worthy action, lots of pin-up poses of Daphne, Velma and new babe Jessica, and of course, Scooby-dooby-Doo. A cut way above the standard straight-to-DVD toon movie. I highly recommend Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.