Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins
Warner Bros. // PG // $35.99 // September 22, 2009
Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 3, 2009
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is ringing in its fortieth anniversary this year, and hey...! What better way to celebrate than to yank back the curtain on the biggest mystery of all: what'd make four people pile into a lime green van with an oversized, kinda-sorta talking dog and unmask spooks?

All Shaggy (Nick Palatas) was trying to do was trot to the back of the school bus with a talking Great Dane in a hoodie when...oops!...a practical joke from a Neanderthalish linebacker type gets outta hand and lands four completely innocent kids in detention. The four of 'em couldn't be any more different -- Fred (Robbie Amell) is the resident dashing football hero, Daphne (Kate Melton) is the daughter of a quadraseptazillionaire and has her heart in the theatre, and Velma (Hayley Kiyoko) has an IQ larger than the GDP of most small countries -- but they find out that they still have a few things in common as they're Breakfast Clubbing it up. One...? They're all into mystery novels! Okay, maybe not Shaggy so much. He's jittery enough as it is. Anyway, two...? They get stuck with the blame when three terrifying ghosts trash Coolville High's pep rally. Ack! Still, with as much as they lo-o-o-o-o-o-ve mysteries, the gang can't shrug off a chance to play detective and investigate this haunting. Out of the frying pan and into something a whole heckuva lot worse, a second attack by the ghosties gets 'em expelled! Now Fred, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy, and -- why not? -- Scooby have to band together and clear their names, so it sounds like we've got a mystery to solve!

The Mystery Begins mashes the reset button on Scooby-Dooby-Doo, but not all that much has changed. Velma's lugging around a laptop these days, Fred traded in his ascot for a football jersey, and there's kind of a love triangle bubbling around in here, but otherwise...? This live-action flick is much more of an homage than a top-to-bottom revamp, playing almost exactly like the cartoon most of us grew up with all those years ago. I mean, they even got Frank Welker back to relt out the roice of Rooby-Roo, and a bunch of the gags are straight out of the old cartoons. We're lookin' at statues lurching to life, cartoony white eyeballs against a big black screen, down-the-line "sssh!"-ing from the Scooby Gang that winds up with Shaggy telling a guh-guh-ghost to quiet down... Yup, they do tool around in a lime green van, Shaggy's still chucking out Scooby
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Snacks (complete with a recipe, even!), and even though there are a couple of genuine, back-from-the grave ghosties this time around, the Gang still has a mask to yank off at the very, very end. Scooby-Doo sticks with the same formula that's made the cartoons last for forty years, and really, why stop now?

The Cartoon Network piled together a pretty great cast for their own live-action Scooby-Doo flick. Nick Palatas in particular shoulders the heart of the movie as Shaggy, a hapless guy who hasn't really had all that much luck but never once lets that get him down. Kate Melton never lets Daphne slip into some sort of snobby rich girl cliché, and the movie's clever enough to build on her character's theatrical background and resourcefulness to nudge its story along. Robbie Amell isn't so much the Fred I grew up with, but hey...! I didn't like the original Fred all that much anyway, and the remake pokes fun at the way Freddie always took the reins as leader. Hayley Kiyoko, though...? She's the secret weapon here in The Mystery Begins. Velma scores most of the tongue-twisting dialogue this time around, and Kiyoko lobs it all out perfectly. This is a movie with an oversized CGI dog, fer cryin' out loud, and the exceptionally expressive Kiyoko still manages to be the most animated thing about The Mystery Begins. Even with as much as I loved Linda Cardellini in the last two live-action Scoobys, it's kinda tough to picture a more perfect Velma than this one, and like the rest of the cast, Kiyoko strikes that perfect balance between big and cartoony without ever veering deliriously over-the-top.

Sure, I definitely like the cast, and it's nice to see that The Mystery Begins is staying so faithful to the original 'toons rather than Poochifying them up. It's kind of a drag that there aren't more laughs, though. I couldn't help but smirk at some of the nods back to the cartoons from back in the '60s and '70s, but the movie doesn't really use those a springboard to anything shiny and new, and the newer gags -- like a dumpy janitor dance party or a bit with a gas mask and a Scooby fart -- fall pretty flat. The Mystery Begins has most of the right ingredients on the kitchen counter...they just forgot to toss that extra couple helpings of funny into the pot afterwards. It didn't really feel like a movie to me either, playing so much like a pilot that I halfway expected a "next week on Scooby-Doo..." to close it out. That's okay, though. The Mystery Begins won't change your life or anything, but it's a really cute update to the cartoons I dug so much growing up, and it's not a bad way to share that sort of nostalgic blast with a couple of wide-eyed five or six year olds. I can't really shake the sense that it's better off as a rental, tho'. Rent It.

The Mystery Begins doesn't rank all that much higher than "okay, I guess" in high-def. I'll admit that I waltzed in expecting something bright and candy-colored, but the palette wound up looking really understated this time around. More dimly-lit stretches come across as flat and noisy, and there's one pan early on where that noise clumps together and looks kind of distorted. Crispness and clarity are solid enough -- it's definitely lugging around enough detail that you can tell at a glance that this is a shiny new Blu-ray disc -- but they aren't exactly exceptional either. Great...? Nah. Good...? Sure, I'll go with that.

This VC-1 encode fits on a single-layer platter with plenty of room to spare, and The Mystery Begins is served up at its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1.

I missed out on The Mystery Begins when it first popped up on Cartoon Network's HD channel, but I bet it didn't sound all that much different than this. The Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kbps) track on this Blu-ray disc is kinda thin, really. I've been spoiled with stacks and stacks of discs where I felt as if I could clearly pick out each and every individual element in the mix, but I never really got that same sense of distinctness and clarity this time around. Don't expect all that much skulking around the lower frequencies, and a few scattered lines of dialogue sound clipped or noisy. On the upside, at least the sound design has guzzled down a couple cans of Red Bull, keeping the surround channels chattering pretty much from start to finish: everything from possessed model airplanes divebombing around Shaggy to a couple of snarling spirits all the way to those creepy crawlies skittering around near the climax. The Mystery Begins does sound like it was mixed with 5.1 -- well, maybe not the point-one so much -- primarily in mind, and that's kind of neat considering how much of an afterthought the surrounds seem in most TV movies. I'm not sure how different The Mystery Begins would've sounded with a lossless soundtrack, and I can't really guess why Warner didn't bother to lob one up here. The movie's perfectly listenable, just doesn't sound like a Blu-ray disc to me. Oh well.

The Mystery Begins also belts out dubs in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. The long list of subtitles includes streams in English (SDH), French, German, Italian (traditional and SDH), and Spanish.

  • Trivia Track: This pop-up trivia track is anchored more around random facts with the props and stuff on-screen -- The first postage stamp! The Wonder Twins taking the blame for the whole fistbump thing! The most ancient recipes on record! -- than anything about the making of The Mystery Begins itself. You do get a chance to learn quite a bit about the cast, though, and it turns out they even did a lot of their own stunts!

  • The Mystery Inc. Personality Quiz (HD): This quiz chucks out a few different questions, and after it tallies up the results, a shiny new high-def video clip tells you which member of the Mystery Inc. crew you're like the most. Me...? I'm Velma, if you're curious, and that sounds about right.

  • Scooby Doo: Coolsville High Video Yearbook (5 min.; marginally HD): Oh,
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    if The Mystery Begins left you itching for a little more face time with Daphne, Velma, Fred, and Shaggy, you can catch up with 'em a little more with this video yearbook, from armfuls of statuettes to Iron Chef to a list of extracurriculars that'd make Max Fischer slink over to the corner and pout.

  • Cast Time Capsule: Fun on the Set (7 min.; SD): The Mystery Begins veers away from the usual standard issue making-of featurette, instead belting out this home movie reel. Along with oodles of behind-the-scenes shots, "Cast Time Capsule" shows off a kinda bungled round of Rock-Paper-Scissors, a peek at Fred's goofy wig that thankfully never actually made it into the flick, palling around with squirming creepy crawlies, and...why not?...even a little Macarena action. This one's supposed to be in HD according to the flipside of the box, but it's a pretty lousy lookin' upconvert instead.

  • Gag Reel (6 min.; SD): The highlight of this gag reel for me was catching a peek at the guy in the blue jumpsuit who's standing in for Scooby on the set. Otherwise, it's standard but pretty well done with all the flubbed lines, stumbling around on the set, and...hey! Scooby shadow puppets you'd probably expect.

  • Music Video (3 min.; SD): Finally, Anarbor serves up a Scooby-themed video for "You and I". It's been upscaled to 1080i but still looks like soft, muddy, murky DV to me.
The second disc in this set doubles as both a DVD and a digital copy, and that means you can give The Mystery Begins a whirl on pretty much anything...except for iPods, iPhones, or Macs. Oops! Warner opted to snub the Apple crowd this time around. Oh, and The Mystery Begins comes packaged with a glossy cardboard slipcase too.

The Final Word
Jinkies! This plays more like the pilot to a TV series than a movie, sure, but The Mystery Begins is still a cute, charming, and surprisingly faithful update to the Scooby-Doo cartoons I dug so much growing up. It's nothing howlingly funny or devastatingly clever, but if you're looking for something for the kids to watch and are still trying to figure out what a Bakugan is, exactly, then The Mystery Begins ought to be worth a couple of clicks on Netflix. Rent It.

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