Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed

Raja Gosnell’s first Scooby Doo outing managed against all odds, to be a moderately well crafted kids movie. With a ton of over-the-kids laughs and great performances from Mathew Lillard and Linda Cardellini, Scooby Doo’s first big screen outing was a success. The sequel, Scooby Doo 2: Monster’s Unleashed manages none of that, tossing out everything that made the original hit and replacing it with overweight American Idol contestants and hip-hop line dancing.

Scooby 2 opens by continuing the most annoying thing about the the first: Pushing the crew of Mystery Inc. as international jet setting celebrities. I’m not sure where this idea came from, but it certainly wasn’t in the original Scooby cartoonology. The gang of Mystery Inc. always worked best when they were a bunch of mystery solving transients, traveling the country and stumbling onto mysteries, rather than as high priced detectives basking in red-carpet lime light and over-priced mystery pads in the fictional town of Coolsville. Mystery Inc’s celebrity was only a minor annoyance in the first film, but writer James Gunn has pumped it up into an all encompassing, media whoring story for this time out.

The rest of Monster’s Unleashed follows a similar pattern, picking up all the worst things about the original movie and retreading them into a pale derivative of what they’ve already done. Once again the Mystery Inc. crew lets their celebrity go to their heads and once again they all end up questioning their place in the group.

Alisha Silverstone co-stars as an unethical reporter who starts a smear campaign against the kids of Mystery Inc. Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.) of course, brain dead idiot that he is, repeatedly walks into her traps, giving her juicy out-of-context sound bites such as “Coolsville sucks” to fuel her journalistic fire.

Hated and reviled by the town they are sworn to protect (Spider-Man anyone?), Fred, Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Velma (Linda Cardellini), Shaggy (Mathew Lillard), and the worse than ever rendered cgi Scooby set out to clear their names and save the town from a bevy of monsters. All their former nemesis have been brought to life, only this time they aren’t crazy old men in badly manufactured masks… the costumes of their old foes have been brought to life. This time it’s the real deal. The city is under attack by a wide assortment of slimy ghouls, ghosts, and monsters. Throw in a bit of Dan Akyroyd and you have a carbon copy of Ghost Busters minus actual jokes and a kickin cool theme song.

It is Linda Cardellini as Velma, not Mathew Lillard’s Shaggy that is the stand out in this sequel. Cardellini’s geek girl detective is lovable and sexy, which may not be what you want in a kids film, but there it is nonetheless. Lillard continues to give a strong Shaggy impersonation, but the writing just isn’t there this time to back him up. The interplay between he and his doggy partner seems to have gotten worse in direct proportion to how lazy the Scooby-makers have gotten in animating Scooby himself.

Scooby was always a fairly cartoony cgi character. There wasn’t ever much effort towards realism. But he’s gotten a lot worse. Now, not only does he look fake, but he doesn’t really interact with his environment. For instance, when Scooby rests his head on Shaggy’s shoulder, Shaggy’s shirt is undisturbed. Roger Rabbit looks better. Scooby looks like exactly what he is, an animated character overlaid on top of a pre-taped reel of live action actors pantomiming to nothing. Maybe the little kids towards whom the film is directed won’t notice, but that’s no excuse to stop trying.

Scooby Doo 2 just isn’t smart enough to succeed. Giving the dog an afro and forcing him to do the Electric Slide is not a good substitute for a clever attempt at family entertainment. Still, it is nice to see Scooby Doo reaching a new generation of kiddies. If nothing else, perhaps we should just be grateful this isn’t another pre-teen spy movie. A loud and annoying Ghost Busters knockoff is always preferable to another Spy Kids clone. Watch out, I bet they’re saving that up for Scooby Doo 3.