Friday, September 25, 2009

Blu Ray Review: Scooby-Doo: The Mystery Begins (2009)

Scooby Doo: The Mystery Begins
82 minutes
Rated PG (for 'some mild peril')
Available now on DVD, Blu Ray, On Demand, or iTunes Download.

by Scott Mendelson

If you treat the previous two Scooby-Doo feature films as the equivalent of Joel Schumacher's Batman pictures, then Scooby-Doo: The Mystery Begins is very much the equivalent of Chris Nolan's Batman Begins. The previous live-action adventures were over-the-top, wildly colorful, and garish in their bubble-gum excess. This new version, which aired to record-breaking ratings on Cartoon Network a week prior to the DVD/Blu Ray release, is a distillation of the classic formula, a back to basics reboot that honors and respects the traditions of the mythology without feeling the need to constantly comment on them. It's just 82-minutes, and there isn't an ounce of fat to be found. I'm not a particularly die-hard fan of the franchise, but I have a passing interest. I was shocked at how enjoyable this movie is. It just plain works on every level.

The cast of unknowns are surprisingly naturalistic and low-key, especially when compared to the stunt casting of Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr (Mazel tov on their new daughter, by the way). While some may carp over minor details (among alleged sins - Fred's hair is black, Shaggie drives the eventual mystery machine), the newbies have the confidence to play these iconic roles as if they are inventing their characters from the ground up. Nick Palatas's Shaggy doesn't quite reach the brilliant heights of Matthew Lillard's astonishing mimicry, but Palatas earns points for not doing a carbon copy of the Casey Casem vocals. His Shaggy is the original Shaggy, just not as unhinged and thus a little smarter. Best of all, the kids are not introduced to us as obnoxious brats and/or bullies who must put aside their differences to become friends. Rather, they are friendly, cheerful, and outgoing kids who discover they have a common bond in their love of mysteries. Palatas and the rest of the gang work so well together that Scooby himself (a CGI creation voiced by Frank Welker) often fades into the background.

Unlike the previous films which tried to blend older-teen-friendly plotlines with childish humor, this new one is both perfectly appropriate for young children and not the least bit condescending to any age group. The film is rated PG for 'some mild peril', but it's strictly G-rated all the way in my book. And because writers Daniel Altiere and Steven Altiere take pains to make their teen protagonists genuinely intelligent and/or intellectually curious, the story itself avoids the trap of dumbing itself down for the young audience. It's certainly not a complicated narrative, but the movie does go out of its way to set up several would-be suspects in the central mystery, so the solution isn't completely obvious until at least the half-way point. And thankfully, none of the suspects are portrayed by a famous character actor (hey look, it's Martin Donovan as the janitor!). The much lower budget of this go-around actually works to the picture's advantage, as the film feels more down-to-earth and plausible. While the film is still cheerful and colorful, it feels more like it's actually taking place in any small town in Ohio. And since the filmmakers can't indulge in unending special effects or dazzling locations, they put the money where it counts - the script and the acting.

At the end of the day, Scooby-Doo: The Mystery Begins is still a Scooby-Doo movie. But thanks to a tight script, solid acting, decent production values, and genuinely likable protagonists, it's an awfully good Scooby-Doo movie. This reboot is every bit as satisfying for Scooby fans as Batman Begins was to a Bat-geek such as myself. All that's missing is an epilogue hinting at the devious machinations of Scrappy Doo for the inevitable sequel. And yes, I'd look forward to said sequel.

Grade: B+

Extras on the Blu Ray -
- Coolsville Yearbook - The actors who play Fred, Velma, Daphne and Shaggy reveal even more of their character’s back-story including what they do in their spare time, their favorite foods, what they want to do when they grow up, and a secret time capsule message for the future that can be solved by finding clues hidden within the DVD enhanced content.

- Velma, Daphne, Fred or Shaggy? Personality Quiz - Are you a brain, a drama queen, a jock or a loveable nerd? By navigating a series of questions, you can decide which member of the Mystery Inc. gang you are most like.

- Character Pop Up Factoid Track - Velma gives scientific and trivia factoids, Daphne offers stylish and dramatic interpretations, Fred flexes his muscles, and everything reminds Shaggy of food. Available on Blu-Ray only.

- Behind-the-Scenes, Shout-Outs and Out-Takes.

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