Has it really been 33 years since Hanna-Barbera’s "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?" premiered on CBS’ Saturday morning kids’ lineup? Zoinks! Like, time sure flies! In the decades to follow, that show spawned numerous follow-up series, TV specials, straight-to-video movies, and an endless stream of licensed products ranging from Scooby lunchboxes and jewelry, to Band-Aids and Halloween costumes. The answer to Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? is easy: everywhere! Look no further than the Cartoon Network, where the lovable canine and his meddling . . . er . . . mystery-solving friends are a daily staple. Now, for fans hungry for more than just animated reruns, the eagerly awaited live-action feature is in theaters.
The comedy/adventure Scooby-Doo both plagiarizes and satirizes its ample source material. After an old-school opening scene (mystery solved, ghoul unmasked), Scooby and the gang break up due to severe personality conflicts. Two years later they’re drawn back together by an invitation to do some sleuthing on Spooky Island, a voodoo-themed Spring Break hotspot where carefree college students are being possessed by a strange supernatural force. Actually, the invading "force" is a race of vicious creatures who need human hosts in order to survive in sunlight—and conquer earth! It’s up to Mystery Inc.’s Fred, Shaggy, Daphne, Velma and Scooby to put their differences aside, thwart an old friend-turned-fiend and save the world.
positive elements: It is said that the beauty of something broken is that it can be fixed—including relationships. A central message is the importance of friendship. When the Mystery Inc. gang lets pride and ego get in the way of teamwork, the group breaks up. But by story’s end, they all realize how much they need each other to get the job done. Inseparable pals Shaggy and Scooby recover from a rift caused by distrust, and Shaggy puts himself at risk to save Scooby’s life ("Friends don’t quit"). Tired of constantly being rescued by her friends, Daphne refuses to be the victim any longer and learns to defend herself. Narcissistic teen idol Fred eventually surrenders his need to be in the spotlight and lets Velma take the credit for their plan.
spiritual content: Some families will object to the dark, haunted-house motif of many scenes. But those images pale in comparison to the occult themes central to the plot. Voodoo rituals. A diabolical high priest. Sacrifices. Alien life forms possess people, leaving their disembodied spirits (shown as floating protoplasmic heads) whirling around in a cauldron. When a ghostly head is plucked out of the stew, it flies like a bottle rocket to reconnect with its body. On occasion, the ricocheting souls miss the mark, causing characters to occupy one another’s frames. For answers to this insanity, the gang turns to a voodoo disciple we’ve already seen chanting over a sacrificial chicken. Velma tinkers with a small pyramid containing mystical powers, which is eventually used in a climactic ritual that involves extracting the soul of a "pure sacrifice" so that the villain can absorb it via an energy stream and acquire absolute power (since Scooby is the sacrifice, this also implies that dogs have souls not unlike a human being’s).
sexual content: No activity, though young women wear bikinis, very short shorts and low-cut dresses showing cleavage. Fred is obsessed with pretty girls and, after his soul inhabits Daphne’s body, says lustily, "Hey, I can look at myself naked." Fred and Daphne kiss passionately. Shaggy is smitten by a cute girl, causing Scooby to tell him he’s "whipped." EDITOR'S NOTE: Although removed from the final version, scenes were filmed raising questions about Velma’s sexual orientation—including a kiss with Daphne. Sarah Michelle Gellar, whose prolonged lesbian kiss in the movie Cruel Intentions was well-known enough to snatch up the 1999 MTV Movie Award for best kiss, said, "We did kiss. It got cut. We hope they’ll add it to the DVD." This attitude should give parents some idea of how close the film comes to overstepping the bounds of its PG rating.
violent content: There’s a lot of cartoonish mayhem and hand-to-hand combat, but some of the violence is uncharacteristically intense and will no doubt disturb young children. People are attacked and dragged off by large, pouncing, gargoyle-like creatures. The heroes get tossed around during wild action sequences, and are almost sliced, diced and skewered. Scooby, the "pure" sacrifice, is held down as his spirit is plucked from his body. A bunch of possessed kids, including Fred, chase Shaggy and Scooby into a shed and proceed to tear it apart in pursuit of their prey. A masked wrestler goes mano a mano with Daphne, who uses moves on him that are part karate, part Matrix. Scooby punches Fred in the face. The monsters explode when exposed to sunlight.
crude or profane language: There are several juvenile remarks, such as "Your mom eats cat poop!," as well as one exclamation of "oh my g--." Daphne says she’s going to "open up a can of whoopa--" on a bad guy. A character is interrupted before he can complete the phrase "if it weren’t for you meddling sons of . . .," but it doesn’t take a genius to fill in the last word.
drug and alcohol content: Velma shows signs of inebriation as she sits at a bar and talks about the good old days. Subtle double-entendres imply that Shaggy is a stoner: In one scene, we see the outside of the Mystery Machine as smoke pours through vents in the roof while Musical Youth sings "Pass the Dutchie" (it turns out Shaggy and Scooby are barbecuing inside). Also, when Shaggy meets Mary Jane he says, "Like, that is my favorite name!" These references will be lost on children, but for teens and adults it casts unnecessary aspersions on the morality of a beloved character.
other negative elements: Spooky Island exudes a toned-down, MTV-style beach party atmosphere. Crude humor includes Scooby getting a face full of monster snot, a puppy urinating on Daphne, and a belching contest between Shaggy and Scooby that evolves into an extended exchange of flatulence. By magnifying the imagined flaws of Fred (who has become a lustful egomaniac), Daphne (a shallow airhead hungry for a fight), Velma (now a pouty smart girl) and Shaggy (an implied pothead), the film humanizes them in an unattractive way.
conclusion: While mildly spooky, the classic cartoons of the early ’70s always ended with the unmasking of a bad guy in a costume. No real monsters. No paranormal weirdness. That changed as the franchise expanded to include shows such as 1985’s The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, and it’s a big problem in this live-action feature, which has the violent, occult feel of a Ghostbusters movie. Morally and artistically, it’s a chaotic mess (the lone exception is Lillard, who turns in a very good interpretation of Shaggy). Scooby-Doo seems to have been made by people familiar with the cartoon, but with little affection for it—or for the trusting families of younger children sure to be blindsided by its scary action and joyless satire.