Tuesday, October 16, 2007
CHILL OUT, SCOOBY DOO
Written by Musgo Del Jefe
Scooby-Doo and Mystery Inc. have spanned generations. I grew up in the era in the all-important Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour era. In that mid-‘70s time, Scooby and the gang aired with new mysteries and the classic episodes from the late ‘60s. By the time it reached The Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Puppy Hour in the ‘80s, I had moved on. But that combination of mystery solving and monsters laid the groundwork for my lifelong obsessions with mystery films and books (I went directly into Sherlock Holmes stories and Hitchcock films from those years) and a preternatural obsession with the Universal Monster films.
Once I had kids in the late ‘90s, it was natural to want to duplicate that fun I had solving the mysteries with Fred, Velma, Daphne and Shaggy. But the group hadn't been together since I last left them in the ‘80s. They had taken on many incarnations with variations of cast members and even as young kids. Timing was on my side though. In 1998, Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island was released direct-to-video. The film reunited the original cast and used the format to tell a larger story that incorporated more music (like the first series) and actual supernatural events (not just men in masks!). Since then, there's been a new release just about every year.
Chill Out, Scooby-Doo is the 11th release in the series. Since the first two films, there's been a return to the same plots and structure as the original series. In fact, this film feels like the plot of about three or four of the original episodes thrown together. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. The extra budget and padding of the longer format works well right from the start. The opening credits set the perfect mood. The movie's theme is very James Bond-ish and the snowy settings let us know that this will be an Abominable Snowman villain like in "There's No Creature Like Snow Creature."
Act I sets up our non-Mystery Inc. characters - including Professor Jeffries (Alfred Molina) looking for Shangri-La, Alphonse LaFleur as an explorer looking for "the Creature," Pemba Sherpa, and Minga Sherpa. The problem in a longer format is that we need more than four characters to choose from as the villain. Process of elimination solves this mystery very quickly for those paying attention. The first Act also gets our Mystery Inc. to the scene. Unlike the old days when the group would be driving by on their way home from a dance in the Mystery Machine, this time Daphne, Fred and Velma are in Paris. Scooby and Shaggy think they're on their way to Paris, but it ends up being LaFleur kidnapping them to act as his guides on Mt. Everest. One lost cell phone call later (a sure sign that this isn't my old Scooby series), the group in Paris is loaded up in the Mystery Machine to make the quick 4600 mile jaunt to the Himilayas.
The same benchmarks are still here. The group all wear the same outfits they did in the original series, there's a chase scene set to music almost as quickly as the group arrives. The "Run Just As Fast As You Can" music video includes such classic bits as Scooby and Shaggy dressing up in costumes to fool the monster. A character from a previous "Loch Ness Monster" film makes an appearance here. It's Del Chillman, a totally chilled-out, conspiracy-loving, hippie dude. He's a nice character for the Scooby Gang to play off of and I expect to see him in more future entries.
The plot is slowly furthered with talk of relics and crystals. There's another long chase scene set to music to pad the timing. This second one involves snowboarding down the mountain and through the caves. It's a clever way to animate lots of smaller jokes and not have to illuminate the plot any further. I won't ruin the ultimate ending, but suffice it to say, we've returned to the comfortable days where a character gets to say, "I would've got away with it if it wasn't for you meddling kids." And we end back in Paris with everything as good as when we started.
This return to the "classic" episode format may seem a little dated compared to the Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get A Clue travesty that airs on the CW these days. But it works and I'll tell you that four-year-olds still eat it up. I may have guessed the villain early on, but my boy was totally enthralled and found every turn in the mystery to be fun and the chase scenes brought many smiles. I'll be back in line for next year's installment.