Vanquishing the soul-snatching alien invaders at Spooky Island theme park (in 2002’s disappointing Scooby-Doo) only enhanced the Mystery Inc. team’s image as local heroes in their hometown of Coolsville. But as the city is rolling out the red carpet to honor Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and crime-fighting canine Scooby-Doo, a ghoulish pterodactyl disrupts the affair and turns the citizens of Coolsville against their favorite teenage sleuths.
Then more monsters show up. Apparently someone is stealing the costumes used by the gang’s old human adversaries and breathing life into them with a ghost-making machine. The Black Knight Ghost. Miner 49er. Captain Cutler’s Ghost. The Skelemen, Zombie, Tar Monster and 10,000 Volt Creature. Fans of the animated cartoon will find a lot of familiar faces rampaging through Coolsville, and it’s up to “those meddling kids” to rise above the pain of public scorn, solve the mystery, rid the city of glowing beasties and restore their reputation.
Shaggy regrets being a bumbler who typically winds up thwarting the bad guy by accident (“I wish once, just once I could do the right thing on purpose”). Later he discovers that it may be a gift, not a curse. After the disaster in the museum tarnishes the group’s reputation, all of the members find a reason to accept partial blame and maintain a sense of civic duty. They proceed to battle insecurities and eventually “take off the mask” of public image. In the end, each embraces his or her uniqueness rather than putting on airs or trying to be someone they’re not. The friends seem closer after confessing their fears and vulnerabilities.
Other great messages involve overcoming pride, resisting the temptation to trade on beauty, and dealing with a fear of relational intimacy. Velma realizes the only boyfriend worth having is one who accepts her for who she is on the inside. Although Shaggy and Scooby lie to their friends, Fred scolds them for being deceptive.
On separate occasions, Fred, Daphne and Velma decide to stay behind—alone—and battle a monster in order to let the rest of the group continue on. A devilish tabloid journalist shows how a reporter using someone’s words out of context can twist the facts and damage that person’s image.
Snooping around in an old house, the gang discovers books of magic and a recipe for making monsters. Velma finds a candlelit shrine that the villain has erected to himself. A booby-trapped doorstep ensnares several innocents, including door-to-door preachers who ask, “Have you heard the good news?”
Velma falls for a nerdy museum curator, but is deathly afraid of dating him, so Daphne attempts to give her confidence by making her a more sexual creature (she dons a tight, red leather outfit). When a guy learns that a woman he’d been partnering with was actually a man in disguise, he says with some disgust, “But we cuddled.”
Frequent scenes of peril, as well as cartoon-style chases, collisions and pratfalls. Some moments are ominous, while others are defused by goofy sound effects straight out of the old animated series (a comical “boing!” is heard when a pterodactyl crashes its head through a billboard).
The threatening Tar Monster oozes through city streets, temporarily ensnaring innocent people. It also grabs our heroes before Scooby comes to the rescue. Fred jousts with the Black Knight Ghost. Daphne engages the Knight in an extended sword fight, and goes mano a mano with a hulking mass of electricity. The pterodactyl seizes a man and flies off with him. Scooby slaps and punches his hysterical pal. Velma disables a ghost with a kick to the groin. Another fiend gets blown to bits. Miner 49er breathes fire at people and attacks Scooby with a pickax. Thinking that Shaggy is a monster, Scooby beats him up. A ghoul in a deep-sea diver’s suit fires harpoons.
There are a few expressions parents of young children probably won’t want to hear their tykes repeat, such as “sucks,” “shut up,” “take a whiz,” “oh, crap,” “I’m a screw-up,” “my god” and the adjective “freaking” (as in “every freaking day of my life”). A canine fan asks Scooby to “sniff my butt.”
Shaggy and Scooby go undercover at a bar frequented by scoundrels (mugs of beer appear on tables). The duo stumble upon a cabinet containing beakers filled with colorful liquids, which Shaggy and Scooby sample. These potions make Scooby extremely articulate and intelligent, and Shaggy develops a womanly figure before bulking up like a bodybuilder on steroids. An antidote returns them to normal, causing Shaggy to compare this “trip” to sensations he experienced during his first year of college.
Conversations about nose-picking, dogs eating their own vomit and several flatulence jokes are kind of gross. A zombie heaves on a reporter. Although the song Ruben Studdard performs during his end-credits cameo is lyrically fine (Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star”), young viewers may be tempted to ask for his debut album, Soulful, which isn’t.
It wouldn’t be Scooby-Doo without creepy set pieces, scary foes, intense chases and cartoonish action violence. With that as a given, there’s little else that will surprise or disappoint families in this sequel, which is an improvement on the 2002 original. The occult elements that severely scarred the first live-action Scooby-Doo movie aren’t an issue here. No voodoo rituals or soul-swapping. Ghouls are created in a monster machine with the help of a glowing green gas called “randomonium.” Flights of supernatural fantasy are brought on by mad science rather than magic spells.
As for our ghost-busting heroes, they are treated with more respect and affection this time around. In the last movie, director Raja Gosnell’s team deconstructed the characters and viewed them through a cynical, postmodern lens. Perhaps the filmmakers learned from that mistake, because Shaggy, Fred, Daphne, Velma and the CGI Scooby are more likable and easier to identify with. They possess greater charm, mature as people and learn to appreciate their roles on the team (a chance for families to discuss Romans 12:3-8 and Ephesians 4:11-16).
Some may argue that this spooky sequel is nothing more than another cinematic roller-coaster ride through a haunted house. True, but the company is better and the turns aren’t as vicious and morally jarring. Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed may be too frightening for elementary-age children (several at my showing were visibly upset), but tweens, teens and adults needn’t be scared off.