Written by Musgo Del Jefe
The latest direct-to-video Scooby-Doo movie, Scooby-Doo! Abracadabra-Doo marks the fourth film in a row of the series that Musgo has had a chance to review. This movie is the fourteenth in the series that started off so strongly with the 1998 Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island. Previously, Musgo was highly entertained with the storytelling and self-deprecating humor of the 2007 release of Chill Out, Scooby-Doo. In 2008, Scooby-Doo and the Goblin King failed to live up to the horror film themes promised in the trailer. The magic based story wasn't a mystery, and even worse, it wasn't funny. The Spring 2009 release of Scooby-Doo and the Samurai Sword looked on the surface like a real upgrade to the quality of the animation and overall production. Hopes were dashed with a razor-thin plot and a "mystery" that relied more on chase scenes than actual clues being solved. Musgo left that film knowing that the franchise would survive but imploring a return to more classic mystery stories.
Since the last release, Scooby-Doo has only made one new appearance. In September 2009, the new live-action film, Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins aired on Cartoon Network and had a decent reception. Enough so that the cast is being reunited for another film in the near future. The new animated series, Scooby-Doo - Mystery, Inc. was to air in 2009 but will now start some time in 2010. The series will feature the voice actors from the films and return to the half-hour storytelling of the original series.
The first scene of Abracadabra-Doo sets the tone that this is another departure from the last film. Whereas, we've started the previous films establishing geographic setting, this one tries to establish tone. And that tone is classic horror. In a scene that could be pulled out of a horror film of the '50s (or Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video), two teenagers are alone in a forest where they encounter a huge scary monster.
The title sequence is a return to the crazy, very busy credits of films previous to the last one. The animation style is very different for this series. There's a feel here that Warner Bros. is announcing that this is their property now and they needed to distance themselves from the Hanna-Barbera style. There are computer-generated and colored backgrounds and the characters appear much younger. The song over the titles has a very generic '60s Flower Power sound that fits the wacky color scheme. It was most shocking here to see all the bright pastels. Luckily, that color scheme was mostly lost once the real film began.
The movie starts with a cheap but effective plot device - the chase scene of the opening credits dissolves into the solving of a mystery at the Karloff Chemical Corporation. The device allows the writers to wink at the viewer by using the traditional lines that are usually the viewers clue that the show is over. The writers are faced with this dilemma in every film. There are catchphrases that they feel that viewers would be disappointed if they didn't hear. So, they need to work them in whenever they can. Hitchcock started appearing earlier and earlier in his films so it wouldn't be a distraction to the viewers waiting for him. In that same tradition, the writers seemed to pack all the expected lines into the first 20 minutes of the film so they could move on and tell their own story.
The plot is paper thin again. Any good mystery writer knows that exposition and set-up is 90% of what moves the story along. We're introduced to Velma's sister, Madelyn (voiced by Danica McKellar who still sounds like Winnie from The Wonder Years). Madelyn is attending Whirlen Merlin Magic Academy where she's studying to become a Magician's Assistant. In lieu of actual plot, the story is predicated on the viewer relating everything back to the Harry Potter books and movies. The names and broad characters are generically close enough to be more than just a simple nod to the series. Madelyn, Scooby and Shaggy form the perfect Hermione, Harry and Ron trio. And with Madelyn being infatuated with Shaggy, it's not hard to make the leap. There's also a large, mysterious groundskeeper, Amos.
We're first reintroduced to this version of Mystery Inc. on their trip to visit the Academy. First impressions are good - the gang has thrown off all of their "modern" costumes and returned to their original clothes from the late '60s version of the show. It's the classic look and it's comfortable. It's my first time hearing the animated Shaggy with someone not Casey Kasem. Matthew Lillard, from the live-action films, has taken over the animated voice and it took about 10 minutes to get into his groove. In all, he gives the character that younger feel that's been missing over the past few films. We're also introduced to Fred's crazy new GPS in the Mystery Machine voiced by Dave Attell. This crazy device is actually kinda funny but it seems so out of place and a real time waster for the film.
The team enters the Grand Hall (designs courtesy of J.K. Rowling's books) to a theme that recalls the John Williams scores to the Harry Potter films. At this point, the Warner Bros. synergy between the two franchises was a little too much to handle. If it's going to be Harry Potter - then it just needs to be Harry Potter with the characters actually playing the parts. If it's going to be Scooby-Doo!, then it can feel free to stand on 40 years of tradition.
On cue, like the past few films, at exactly the 20-minute mark, we are introduced to our villain during our first "music video" chase scene. The villain in this case is a Griffin (half lion/half bird) (get it - Griffindor) that is terrorizing the school. The movies have recently set up a pattern - there's one full chase scene and one that ends just as it's getting started. In this film, the short one comes first. It's not hard to establish that this huge bird/lion is scaring away students from the school. We also meet the brothers who run the school - Whirlen Merlin (the true charismatic leader) and his brainy opposite, Marlon Whirlen (voiced perfectly by Brian Posehn).
A mature viewer might think that you can't build a 74-minute plot just on a Griffin terrorizing a school. You can if you use lots of filler. One such plot bridge is the montage. There's a long montage with the gang taking different classes at the Academy. Not that the films have to have tight continuity, but it is weird that in the previous film, Daphne was a world-class martial artist and here they play up her lack of coordination and make her generally klutzy the whole film. When another appearance of the Griffin seems repetitive, there's the random appearance of a Banshee that generally serves the same role as the Griffin.
By the time we reach the second of the two required chase scenes at 40 minutes, the lack of depth to the new characters and the story can't be saved. There's an attempt to put some suspense and danger into the plot - something that was needed 30 minutes before. Madelyn has been kidnapped and there's just an hour to solve the mystery or Whirlen will sell the castle to his rival. Normally, that kind of deadline would at least lend itself to some nail-biting scenes. But the plot point of Madelyn's kidnapping seems out of place when all the bird/lion has been doing is scaring people.
Not content with just referencing the Harry Potter franchise, there's a scene right out of Lord Of The Rings that includes a big, bad villain on one side of a rock bridge and a wizard with a beard and a staff on the other side saying "You shall not pass." It's just another "out of left field" moment that doesn't feel like a homage - just a lazy writer's moment that's supposed to be clever.
The mystery tries to reach back to the more realistic ones that launched and then relaunched the series. But that's hard when you've built up the previous hour that this is a movie about magic and magicians. It's not the robot ninjas of the previous film but it's still a bad mixture. When these films work best is when they're about characters - even the most stock characters - not characters that are ghosts, robots or mythical animals. I'm hoping the new series finds that fun because the fun here is all forced. The next film due in 2011 doesn't promise to follow that advice - at least from it's title - Scooby-Doo and the Wild West Boogeyman.
There's a "Special Feature" on this DVD. Based on the last two Special Features, they seem to be aimed at a preschool crowd. The features have little to do with the movie and the information on them is so basic that it's hard to imagine that it's entertaining for either young or old. This disc includes "Scooby-Doo And Puppets Too!" with instructions on making paper bag and sock puppets as if looking at a picture of one wouldn't tell you all you need to know.