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Zoinks! This "Doo" Stinks "2"

The legendary Scooby Doo cartoon franchise has had a difficult transition from small to big screen. The first film was much maligned by critics and fans alike for departing too much from the source material and including too much “irreverent” self-referential humor. I found it to be an uneven but enjoyable effort, buoyed by Matthew Lillard’s fantastic performance as Shaggy and the comeuppance of much disliked sidekick Scrappy. Taking some of this criticism into account, Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed is generally more in keeping with the original format of the cartoons, apart from one significant detour. The results are largely uninspiring.

The principal cast all return from the first film, with Freddie Prinze Jr. as Fred, Linda Cardellini as Velma, Sarah Michelle Gellar as Daphne, Lillard as Shaggy, and of course Scooby Doo as, well, Scooby. Cardellini and Gellar do a decent job in what are generally thankless roles, while Prinze and Lillard ham it up with great aplomb. Maybe this time Lillard will get the Oscar nomination he was denied before. That may sound like generous praise, but his portrayal of Shaggy is so dead-on perfect that it demands some sort of recognition. Rounding out the cast are Peter Boyle as the crotchety Mystery Inc.-hating Old Man Winkles, Seth Green playing his usual nerd as the Coolsonian monster museum curator Patrick, and Angela Silverstone returning from has-been land as pushy reporter Heather. Boyle has one great scene in which he delivers perhaps the movie’s funniest line (admittedly no great challenge), but the other two are somewhat dull caricatures.

This time around Scooby and the gang begin their adventure as giant celebrities, having earned public adoration for saving Coolsville from monsters time and time again. Soon enough, the gang is attacked by (gasp!) a monster, and they begin an investigation. They discover that someone is creating an army of real monsters at an abandoned silver mine. At the same time a variety of screw-ups causes the public to turn against them and has the gang doubting themselves. They race against time to stop the monster operation before the city and their careers are utterly destroyed.

Whereas the first film’s plot was really all a set-up to poke fun at Scrappy, this one strives for a touch more complexity. As in the cartoons, there is more of a genuine mystery to be solved as one doesn’t get a good feel for who the real villain might be until the final third of the film. Correspondingly, the gang gets more of an opportunity to do actual detective work.

Much less welcome is an attempt to create depth through banal character exploration. Though fans of the cartoon may hardly be able to imagine it, here all five Mystery Inc. members are given time for self-doubt and soul-searching, as if the production team had called in Dr. Phil. Velma is attracted to Patrick, but too shy to do anything about it, she creates an extroverted sex kitten façade to try to lure him in. Daphne is concerned that people think she’s been coasting along on her looks alone. Shaggy and Scooby are tired of being slacker screw-ups, and set out to prove they can be real detectives. Only Fred avoids the analyst’s couch, perhaps because there’s little up there to examine. These moments of trite melodrama are not only out of place but really weigh the film down.

Of course one of the prime selling points of the sequel is that unlike the first film, it features a plethora of classic Scooby monsters taken straight from the show. Hardcore fans will be thrilled to see the 10,000 Volt Ghost, Tar Monster, Miner Forty-Niner, Black Knight and more in action. Here they are mostly played for genuine menace though, as opposed to the cartoon where it was always a joy to see these fearsome beasts subjected to slapstick indignities by Scooby and company. One exception would be the Cotton Candy Glob, who Shaggy and Scooby are only too happy to make short work of, if you catch my meaning.

Both the monsters and the sets indicate that a huge sum was spent on the film’s production. The monsters all get a stunning CG makeover as impressive as Scooby’s. The Tar Monster in particular is fun to watch as he slithers and contorts himself into various shapes, including becoming a skating rink for Scooby in the climax (involuntarily). The sets on this film are just fantastic. Not that they are exceptionally original, but the depth of detail, explosion of colors, and sheer scale are quite incredible. If this film had come out a year earlier it might have challenged Return of the King for Best Art Direction. Or not.

The film does have a few notable highlights, including some moments ripped directly from the cartoon. In one scene Scooby runs frantically in midair before falling into a trap door. In another Scooby and Shaggy race to barricade a door against the Black Knight while the same, having entered through a side door, assists them. I did have to laugh a few times. At one point, while looking for the sources of the monster army, Mystery Inc. realizes that a certain suspicious character is actually innocent. In their disappointment the gang completely fails to notice that he is instead constructing a child labor camp. Later Daphne, in a fit of insecurity, asks the clueless Fred if she’s just a pretty face and he responds at first thoughtfully “No,” then slyly “I mean, yesss,” and finally confusedly “I mean not fat, definitely not fat – is this sort of what you’re looking for?”

However, the majority of the film was just deadly dull. Whereas the first film just took the caricatures of the gang and had fun with them, this one spends way too much distinctly unfunny time trying to develop them into real people. Even when the jokes are flying fast and furious, they are so weak and halfhearted that the upteenth season of the cartoon would probably have held out for fresher material.

There isn’t much of interest in the DVD extras, just some bland deleted scenes and making of footage. The menu screens are fantastic though, evoking spooky locations from the film with Scooby popping up here and there.

Scooby Doo 2 is not recommended for anyone but serious Scooby diehards who want to see their favorite monsters in CG. Although it looks fantastic, and Lillard is still great, it simply isn’t very funny. Prior to seeing this film I had been disappointed to hear that a third Scooby movie wouldn’t come to pass. Now I think it’s probably for the best. For the moment, this old dog’s out of tricks.

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