Everyone's favorite '60s/'70s Saturday morning mutt and his mystery solving pals definitely deserved better. Hot on the heels of Hollywood's fetid fever to remake every old time TV series they could into a major motion picture disappointment, genre scribe James Gunn (a Troma vet) and C-list hack Raja Gosnell (Home Alone 3, Big Momma's House) deconstructed the famed quintet of Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and a talking dog named Scooby-Doo and watched as their middling efforts resulted in a big fat pre-tween box office hit. Success demanding a sequel, they returned for the slightly better Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed. Since then, the equally bad Brian Levant (Are We There Yet? , The Spy Next Door) has helmed two direct-to-DVD follow-ups, with more to come. As with many things tackled by Tinseltown, nostalgia has been replaced by nonsense, the entire exercise a combination of questionable casting, uninspired direction, and some of the worst CG since SyFy discovered mega-shark schlock. Need proof? Check out the new Blu-ray release of Gosnell's groan-inducing updates and see for yourself.
After solving yet another cockeyed whodunit, the Mystery Inc. gang start infighting. They berate each other for being a jerk (Fred), a helpless drag (Daphne), a waste of space (Shaggy), and a smarty pants credit whore (Velma). The animosity causes a major rift, then a split. Two years later, an invitation to Spooky Island amusement park reunites the group, where they learn that an evil spell is tormenting the guests. Turns out, demons are targeting everyone, possessing their souls and turning them into mindless zombies. It will take the concerted efforts of all five members to figure out what is going on, and who or what is behind the mysterious mayhem.
Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed **
With yet another successful case under the belt, Mystery Inc. attend the opening of their new Coolsonian Criminology Museum. It features statues of the many famous ghosts and ghouls they defeated over the years. While an arrogant reporter tries to undermine the gang, one of the figurines comes to life. Soon, a masked figure with revenge on its mind is taunting the quintet and threatening to unleash the rest of the monsters on the general public. Going back over their past and trying to figure out who could conceive of such a dastardly plan, the group only has a few days to figure things out before the fiend wrecks havoc on the citizenry.
One has to weep for the late Joseph Barbera and his partner in animation glory, William Hanna. Like Sid and Marty Krofft, the Saturday AM surrealists who believed it was a good idea to turn the semi-serious sci-fi of Land of the Lost into a worthless Will Ferrell vehicle, the duo let studio suits dump all over their legacy, the results being two rotten Flintstones films, and this pair of pathetic revamps. Somewhere along the line, between check cashing and focus group testing, Scooby-Doo went from a cool, slightly campy testament to the tenacity of four relatively dated private investigators and their loyal dog and, instead, morphed into an uneven combination of cut-rate F/X and third rate jokes. The original series was simple - the Mystery Inc. gang learned of a suspicious situation in an old abandoned amusement park or creepy swamp side mansion, headed over to the haunted locale to check it out, and after a series of slapstick misadventures (and the occasional terrifying moment), uncovered the truth about what was going on. Usually, some disgruntled old coot would complain about those "meddling kids" and all would be right with the sugared cereal universe. Both cinematic Scoobys do away with this idea, instead focusing on standard action movie muck, believing that loud bombastic set-pieces will take the place of the original's basic joys. They don't.
Scooby-Doo is the worst offender of the two, even though Monsters Unleashed! has more subpar CG. Instead of following the cartoon, or trying to somehow update the idea without destroying its charms, Gunn and Gosnell go for a smarmy sense of reinvention that just doesn't work. Fred is now a butthead, Daphne even dimmer than her '60s go-go girl persona. Velma is a jealous biz-nitch, while Shaggy and Scooby have been reduced to irritating inferential beats. In the original, the Mystery Inc. gang were a cross-section of the nicer aspects of the counterculture - a BMOC, a hot homecoming queen type, an intellectually tuned-in smart girl, and their slacker hippy friend. No excuses, no attempt to explain them away. But in 2002, this concept made no sense, so the first film simply decided to fudge it all up. Our heroes are undermined and twisted around, given pointless emotions and even more senseless motives. At least Monsters Unleashed! tries to take them back a bit, to retrieve their former likeability and place it within a recognizable milieu. The shout outs to previous animated fiends is nice, but again, the effort seems forced, as if Gunn and Gosnell believed that no post-modern kid would sit through a straight version of the gang's goofy adventures.
And then there is the casting, perhaps Scooby-Doo/Monsters Unleashed! worst crime. Don't be fooled - for every wonderful character concept that Matthew Lillard gets right as the ditzy doper Shaggy, real life loser couple Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. destroy. They piss on as Daphne and Fred. She was still everyone's favorite TV vampire slayer. He was a coattail hanging out of a crappy sports car. Together, they were the Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag of the middling movie, a combination that could never work and only functions to infuriate all who cross their path. They are both atrocious in their roles, reduced to more or less complaining to and at each other. As for Linda Cardellini as Velma? Well, she's not quite on Lillard's level (he is truly inspired at times) but doesn't instantly irritate us like' Frarah'. In fact, Velma is perhaps the most underwritten character in both films. She's not "jinkies" enough, not plain girl smart. Instead, she gets an attempted make-over, a red herring love interest, and too little credit for being the glue that kept Mystery Inc. from being a glorified glee club. While we can tolerate Scooby and all his dog fart foolishness, such forgiveness is for naught. What should have been a hilarious throwback with lots of recognizable character attributes instead suffers from unnecessary desire to 'update' everything. As a result, Scooby-Doo/Monsters Unleashed! implodes. Damn those meddling Hollywood suits!
First, each movie is presented on its own disc, and both appear to be ported over from previous releases, from tech specs to added content. One thing we have learned over the last few years is that the Blu-ray format is not sloppy CGI friendly. Something like Avatar can look amazing in the high-definition update, but lax F/X like the ones present in Scooby-Doo and Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed! look like bluescreen action sequences circa 1971. The 1080p, 1.85:1 image present practically pops with appreciable primary colors, but then the creatures show up and everything looks fake and phony. While the VC-1 codec transfers can be really clean and crisp, the overreliance on non-practical "magic" undermines both movies.
On the sound side of things, each disc is different. The first film has only a limited and rather harsh Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix. The speakers get little workout and the sound F/X often show up in the front, without a great deal of directional presence. You can also experience Scooby-Doo in French or Spanish 5.1` if you want. As for Monsters Unleashed! , we finally get a lossless DTS-HD MA track. It's much better at handling the ambient elements of the movie and gives a very good sense of exterior atmosphere. When the action arrives, the channels chime in with lots of movement. Again, you can experience the film in 5.1, with English and French as your options.
As mentioned before, we are talking about content ported over from previous releases. On Scooby-Doo, there is a commentary track featuring Gosnell and the film's producers. There's also a full length discussion between the five main cast members. Both offerings unearth some interesting facts about the original approach (more adult and snarky) and how the characters were re-imagined. We are also treated to a Making-of (decent, in an EPK kind of way), a collection of F/X featurettes, some production design documentaries, and a look at how Daphne's wire-fu fight scene was accomplished. There's also some additional scenes, an Outkast music video, and a trailer. Monsters Unleashed! provides some deleted material, a goofy take on E! called The True Ghoul Hollywood Story, a trio of making-of featurettes (including one highlighting Scooby's unnecessary '70s disco dancing) and a pair of music videos. Overall, the level of bonus features is very good - much better than the movies they complement.
It's interesting how far we've come in nearly forty years. Back in the late '60s, Saturday Morning programmers saw nothing wrong with creating a silly supernatural whodunit that didn't talk down to its intended Cocoa Puffed demo. Fast forward four decades and studio suits dumb everything down to the point where only inbred zygotes would appreciate the effort. No matter the format or the proposed level of irreverence, Scooby-Doo and Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed! are nothing more than electronic babysitters - brightly colored crap guaranteed to keep the little ones mesmerized and adults aggravated. While each is probably worthy of skipping, the parent-friendly positioning of each title makes the Blu-ray combo a Rent It reality. If you really loved your children, you would seek out the various Scooby-Doo: Where Are You? DVD releases out there. Nothing beats the original - except these pathetic knock-offs...and only in the most literal, abusive definition of the phrase