THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


A friend and colleague of mine from Gamut! Magazine got to see Scooby-Doo a day before I did. He told me that he enjoyed the movie very much. "Am I going to like it?" I asked. He confessed that he was not sure. I told him that I wanted to enjoy it, although I had heard some really bad buzz from other critics.

My friend's advice was well taken: "Any critic who goes to see Scooby-Doo expecting it to be Citizen Kane is just nuts." And right he was. Cartoons are not really a quality basis for good movies. Although sometimes entertaining, the majority of them are designed to be children's entertainment. They are not generally very groundbreaking or intellectual. Keeping this in mind, I tried to put myself in the right mindset for the film. This was a movie to approach with diminished expectations - one that required a complete turning off of the brain. I sat in my seat and waited for the lights to go down.

When the lights came back up 86 minutes later, I could almost feel my mind at war with itself. Critically speaking, this was not a good movie. It was...cartoonish. I understood what the other critics loathed: the almost non-existent plot, the one-dimensional characterizations, the sheer unapologetic pop-junk brashness of it all. On the other hand, with my brain completely turned off, I admittedly found Scooby-Doo amusing while it played. I - like my friend - grew up watching the Hanna/Barbera cartoon. I knew the Scooby formula never relied heavily on plot. I knew the characters already and needed no sophisticated introductions to them. I was filled with a certain nostalgia for this favorite piece of childhood fluff. As I walked out of the theater, I was forced to ask myself a difficult question: do I trash it or recommend it?

Twenty-four hours later, I'm still not certain I am doing the right thing, but I've decided to recommend it to others who watch (or used to watch) the cartoon. You are the ones for whom this movie was made. You will go in with no grand expectations other than to see a live-action version of a cartoon you know so well. You will happily turn off your brain, sit back, and enjoy. I feel a solidarity with you. Logic and intellect be damned! I recommended the original Flintstones movie as well as Josie and the Pussycats. I can recommend this one too!

Who you gonna call? The Mystery, Inc. gang busts ghosts in Scooby-Doo
This might be a good time to mention that Freddie Prinze, Jr. plays the vain, self-centered Fred, Sarah Michelle Gellar plays the ditzy Daphne, Linda Cardellini plays the dowdy brainiac Velma, and Matthew Lillard plays the hippy Shaggy. Scooby-Doo himself is computer generated, and perhaps it is one of the jokes that the CGI never even attempts to make him look real. The plot (such as it is) finds the Mystery, Inc. clan visiting Spooky Island, a place where normal teenagers are brainwashed by ghosts and other demonic spirits. No one cares about the plot.

To me, Scooby-Doo was always about teaching kids that there is no such thing as monsters (each episode ended with a rubber mask being pulled off someone's head to reveal the human culprit). The movie (directed by Raja Gosnell) makes an error in having at least some of the ghosts be real. Young children might be scared. Adults know that, behind this message for the kids, the cartoon had a countercultural subversiveness. The movie does slip in a few sly jokes suggesting Shaggy's stoner behavior or Velma's lesbianism. Mostly though, it sticks to the kid stuff. I really can't fault the movie for aiming low and hitting its mark. This is entertainment for kids and, like a cartoon, it works at that level. The set design is funky and interesting, the pace is quick, and while there were no big laughs for me, there were at least a few chuckles.

The movie ambles along harmlessly and pleasantly, never really bowling you over but never wearing out its welcome either, as long as you aren't foolish enough to think about it. There was one thing I unequivocally enjoyed about the film, perhaps the very thing that tips the scale over as far as recommending it: Matthew Lillard is perfection as Shaggy. He's got the voice, attitude, and comic timing to make it work. To take a character so well-known to adults and children everywhere and bring him to life is an admirable achievement. Scooby-Doo is Lillard's movie; everyone else just appears in it.

( out of four)

Scooby-Doo is rated PG for some rude humor, language and some scary action. The running time is 1 hour and 26 minutes.

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