Friday, April 02, 2004

Film Friday: Scooby Don't

When I was just a wee lad of toilet-training age, my grandmother purchased me some Scooby-Doo underwear to help bolter my confidence. "Don't do poo in Scooby-Doo," she advised me wisely.

Ladies and Gentlemen, with Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, Warner Brothers has done poo in Scooby-Doo.

Here's my review from last week:
All right kids, back into the Mystery Machine
National Post

Maybe, just maybe, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed is all right for those who are still forming their childhood memories. But for those of us whose childhood memories consist of the grand old television series, the movie is traumatic and liable to leave you in a horrible, sinking, what-is-the-world-coming-to? funk. Scooby-Doo 2 takes everything that was brilliant and subversive about the original cartoon and smashes it on the altars of inoffensive pap and Burger King product placements.

In a cartoon universe populated by Smurfs and Friendly Ghosts, Scooby-Doo, Where are You! (which originally ran from 1969 to 1978) was and continues to be distinct and daring in the way it debunks the supernatural and promotes healthy skepticism among kids. Sure, it featured a jive-talking Great Dane, but at the end of every episode Fred, Daphne, Shaggy, Velma and Scooby unmasked a monster as a flesh and blood human being. The toon mirrored the questioning spirit of its time: Zoinks, Shaggy! Nixon knew about Watergate! And the Black Knight was that nasty old museum curator Mr. Wickles! And the U.S. policy in Vietnam was a disaster! Jinkies!

The first Scooby-Doo movie followed the original formula to an ironic T. But despite being the product of the same writer, director and cast, the sequel has decided that skepticism is now uncool. (Perhaps echoing the spirit of our times?) So in Scooby-Doo 2, the meddling kids from Mystery Inc. have to do battle with real monsters, paranormal beasts who have been created in a monster machine by a mad scientist. Science is now the villain instead of the hero.

Another thing that made the original series so fab was Velma, cartoondom's first lesbian, albeit only ambiguously so. Short, squat and smart, Velma didn't take no guff. She was the brains of the operation, even if an animated glass ceiling prevented her stealing the leader position away from boring, ascoted Fred.

Though Velma needed a love interest like Scooby needs a bicycle, the filmmakers provided her with one here anyway. And, going against the sly allusions of the first flick, it's a man. At least Velma's prospective museum-curator boyfriend is Seth Green, an actor who may not always elevate bad films to good, but consistently makes them tolerable.

A key sub-plot of Scooby Doo 2 involves Velma dealing with self-esteem issues, worrying that she's ugly and geeky and gross. By the end of the film, of course, she comes to terms with the way she looks and acts and learns that some guys (ie. Seth Green) dig gals like her. But here's the thing: Linda Cardellini, the actress who plays Velma (surely either Thora Birch or Christina Ricci would be better), is a breathtaking, petite brunette, as swoon-inducing as Sarah Michelle Gellar's Daphne. She is not by any stretch of the imagination ugly. In presenting a beautiful woman as plain and then saying it's OK to be plain (read: beautiful), the film sends mixed messages and steals away a role model away from short, stubby and/or ambiguously lesbian children.

These objections are surely the qualms of an adult, not a child. But the kids at the matinee I saw didn't seem particularly impressed. They tittered at the fart jokes, but were only nominally rapt during the ghost-busting and character development sequences.

Better to get your popcorn in a doggy bag and stick to reruns on TeleToon: that's where Scooby-Doo really is.
[The beginning of this blog entry, by the way, was the original ending to this review. I think my editor was wise to advise me to leave my toilet-training experiences out of it...]

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