Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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‘Scooby' sinks in special effects

No animals were harmed in the making of Scooby-Doo, although, frankly, for a little while as I watched the finished product, I kind of wanted to hurt a few.

Digitally created ones, of course. The new live-action version of this Saturday-morning Hanna-Barbera favorite is, in Scooby-speak, not as really really rorrible as you might think, but it is really, really rumb.

The original cartoon debuted in 1969 and featured some of the least animated animation on television. If it was pretty cheap-looking to begin with, the live-action remake is a dubious $90 million improvement.

Watching low-budget childhood memories turned into a Super Bowl halftime show, I was reminded of a few months back, when I stared in horror at a rapping, animated Colonel Sanders on TV commercials. The obvious question isn't so much “Why?” as “Why try to make a character hip whose appeal has to nothing to do with hipness?”

The Scooby movie begins with a rap version of the old “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” theme song - we never actually hear the original - then stalls trying to decide if it wants to be an ironic, self-referential Gen X romp or a silly mystery for kids about a talking dog and his three friends. For a while, anyway, director Raja Gosnell (Big Mamma's House) faithfully re-creates the cartoon, right down to the sound effects.

The Mystery, Inc., gang - ascot-wearing Fred (Freddie Prinze, Jr.); ditzy, trouble-magnet Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar); trouble-solving Velma (Linda Cardellini); stoner Shaggy (Matthew Lillard); and Scooby - are chasing a floating ghost in a toy factory. Velma drops her glasses and says “My glasses!” and Shaggy says “Zoinks!” and Scooby leaps into Shaggy's arms. They solve the case, rip the costume off the disgruntled factory employee, and listen to Old Man Whoever say “If it wasn't for you meddling kids ...”

Then it's off to a mystery on Spooky Island. And on and on.

Prinze is a blank and Gellar does this kind of thing better on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But Lillard and Cardellini (from TV's Freaks and Geeks) seem to channel their characters, and the movie's bright colors and somewhat clever sets - imagine Tim Burton's understudy at work - make it go down a bit easier. As for Scooby, this three-dimensional computer-generated knot of fur looks real, and Lillard, considering his co-star was added later, manages to generate some genuine emotion in their scenes together.

But never for a second can you shake the sensation that the real actors are opposite anything other than empty space. A sharper, more clever film would have recognized this and maybe made fun of it, but instead, the solitary joke here is how dumb the original cartoon's plot contrivances were. Where can a movie go from there?

Three words: special effects bonanza. Any goodwill the film generates in its first half is squandered as Scooby-Doo collapses around itself, steadily moving from lightweight kid flick with a few jokey drug references to the usual overdose of digital effects we get every year about this time. The more films like this fall back on supernovas of spiraling ghosts and snarly digital monsters, the more we're underwhelmed.

One side note: Coming a year after the live-action Josie and the Pussycats film, Scooby-Doo is the second big dumb movie in a row based on a Hanna-Barbera cartoon that includes heroes thwarting an evil plot hatched by cynical adults to brainwash teenagers and turn them into mindless zombies.

How very post-post modern of the producers, no? To at least have the decency to acknowledge the contempt they have for the audience? Even as they hatch their evil plot - also known as “a lucrative Hollywood franchise based on material no one is dying to see turned into a movie” - with the intent of brainwashing the audience into ticket-buying zombies who only want movies starring characters they're familiar with?

This is the only time you will see Scooby-Doo and the Sex Pistols in the same sentence, but in the immortal words of Johnny Rotten:

“Ever feel like you're being ripped off?”

Those who answer no - or rather, ro - get psyched for that Fat Albert movie.

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