A direct-to-video movie hit the market a couple of weeks ago that shows exactly why Hollywood has been trying to get away from putting numbers on sequels (see: The Dark Knight, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps): Scooby-Doo: Abracadabra-Doo, which is about the 4,000th Scooby-Doo adventure and probably at least the 300th to be a direct-to-video, feature-length animated movie.
That it’s actually pretty good is preposterously impressive.
This movie has shunned a few of the trappings of the franchise; it’s got a style of animation that reminds the viewer of the Scooby Gang’s better days, in that it’s very stylized and seems…simpler, but at the same time less “clean” than the more recent iterations of the characters, which have kind of lost a lot of the fun that’s inherent to the notion of a gang of teenagers and their dog solving mysteries that almost always follow the “It seems haunted, but it’s not” formula. This movie is, in that case, not much different—except that it’s set in a world where magic, while it might not be the bad guy, is at least marginally accepted as reality.
Another element of the classic Scooby formula that’s been shaken up a bit is Casey Casem, who presumably retired when he realized that at around 80 years old, he can’t convincingly sound like a teenager forever, no matter how talented he might be. Matthew Lillard’s great in the role as Shaggy, but I miss Casem and wish that the first full-length movie without him would have seen him make a guest appearance somewhere. Especially in a story where there were a handful of adults who weren’t inherently “bad guys,” and didn’t get much screentime.
The music is, to me, the movie’s weak spot, from the irritating credits song (which runs over an opening credits that looks like a low-rent version of what Pixar did with something recently—I’ll be darned if I can remember what) to the arbitrary musical montage in the middle. Really—the unnecessary musical training montage of “Magic in the Air” feels like something out of an ‘80s movie. It’s fun, but it’s just another couple of minutes where you get no plot and placeholder, generic animation.
Industrial espionage seems to be the name of the game in this film—the capture we see briefly at the beginning is doing it, and it’s the subplot of the central story, with the Tim Gunn-looking next-door neighbor and the groundskeeper at the Hogwarts-like School of Stage Magic that Velma’s sister attends. The problem in the film is that the School of Stage Magic is being invaded by a gryphon, and Velma’s mother seeks her out to help her sister—basically just Velma’s head on Daphne’s body, but with a crush on Shaggy. It’s a fun little plot, and not as predictable as it seems at first, because there are multiple people who want to take over the school for multiple reasons, and they aren’t all working in tandem.
When did Fred’s ascot become such a thing? I remember it being a running joke in the movies, and obviously they brought Lillard over from that franchise; is this just one of those things that they’ve decided to carry over since kids have to start wondering at one point why he’s always wearing a badly-fitting tie?
I also don’t remember the romantic tension being so explicit between Fred and Daphne the last time the characters looked like this; the good-natured ribbing that Velma gives Daphne seems a bit out of place, although this is a pretty reasonable interpretation of the old episodes and probably a good evolution for them. When Daphne finds herself jealous of the magician’s “lovely assistant,” an assistant who obviously has no interest in Fred, the fix is easy, obvious…and a little fun. Which, I guess, is the best way to describe any Scooby-Doo story.
Scooby-Doo: Abracadabra-Doo was released on DVD on February 16 and is available now through Warner Brothers’ home page or just about any retailer who carries DVD.