Written by Musgo Del Jefe
Halloween is perfect time for a little scare. And it's the perfect time for a little mystery. So, Musgo was pleasantly surprised to find the latest Scooby-Doo direct-to-video movie coming out just in time for the Halloween season. The newest film Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare is the fifteenth film in this series of releases and it's the second one for 2010. After the 2008 release of the lackluster Scooby-Doo! and the Goblin King at the Halloween season, Warner Home Video released the next two films as spring releases. As the market for direct-to-video releases disappears, I'm always interested to see how they plan on capturing an audience. The holiday tie-in is certainly a key factor that only happens this time of year.
This film marks the fifth time in a row that I've dropped into the Scooby-verse for a review. Some of my own reactions to the films have been gauged by the way my littlest Musgo has watched them. The four-year-old that laughed through the excellent Chill Out, Scooby-Doo! is now a more pop culture savvy seven-year-old. This film has to match up against some all the other Scooby episodes and series that we've watched since then.
The movie starts with a traditional campfire story. None of our Mystery Inc. heroes are present as the camp counselor tells the legend of a ghoul named The Woodsman that haunts the area. The animation is computerized but clean. It's in the same style as the current Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated series that's airing on Toon Network. I'm not a huge fan of this style but it certainly isn't as distracting as some of the cheaper styles that plagued these films in the 2000 - 2003 era. Of course, The Woodsman turns out to be real and scares everyone away and leads us into the opening credits.
Like the previous two films, the opening credits are quite a departure from the artistic and music style of the film. Like Scooby-Doo! and the Goblin King, the credits have an upbeat very summer-themed song with bright colors and tiny, almost anime versions of our heroes. I think I'm getting used to this style for the credits but I missed the more orchestral theme of the previous film. The summer song helps set this in more of the traditional summer-camp film genre.
The plot is quickly established after the opening credits. Our Mystery Inc. gang is headed to Fred's old summer camp, Camp Little Moose. Approaching the camp, we see that Camp Little Moose is overshadowed by Camp Big Moose that is much fancier and has all the amenities. This sets up to be quite the traditional summer-camp film - with the privileged camp and the misfits camp (recently played out also in TV's Huge). At Fred's old camp, the recent hauntings are forcing the camp to close. His old counselor recognizes Freddy ("I'd know that ascot anywhere.") and as three misfit kids arrive on a bus, Fred has volunteered our gang to become the camp counselors. In a nice twist, the Park Ranger is attracted to Velma - causing Daphne consternation at every compliment not aimed at her.
There are some nice techniques being used in the beginning third of the film that is possible because most viewers are so familiar with the flow of a Scooby-Doo! mystery. The 72-minute format has the advantage over the 22-minute format of letting the viewer settle into the setting before the plot takes over. The next time we see The Woodsman looking over our heroes, you would expect the typical Scooby musical montage chase to start but it doesn't. The first montage with music is actually a set piece for Big Moose Lake. Another summertime-themed song plays and the animation is all bright colors as opposed to the darker hues used for Little Moose Lake. It makes for nice thematic variation.
Almost like clockwork, the movie starts to hit the same beats that the viewer is expecting based on previous films. At the 27-minute mark we are introduced to a second monster - The Fishman Monster, another legend that is based on a campfire story. After meeting Jessica, a counselor from Big Moose Lake, the group is chased by The Woodsman. I loved the departure from the traditional musical chase song at this point. Going for more of a nod to the camp based horror films, the chase scene has a classical horror film score underneath it. That little change creates more tension and for the little ones, quite a bit more suspense.
After the chase, there's the legend of a third monster, the Spectre Of Shadow Canyon that's told. The group - Mystery Inc., Jessica and two of the three kids, splits up to find clues. At this point, the movie becomes more of a traditional mystery than these movies have been in a few years. Each group is chased by a separate ghost of the three - eventually sending all the characters back together to compare their clues. The plot isn't complex but it also isn't connected to magic and the supernatural like many recent films. The mystery here is right out of the original TV series. There's the needed suspense of having a time element - the mystery needs to be solved by sunrise on the solstice.
The mystery is solved just in time and all the clues are explained. The movie wouldn't be complete without the "meddling kids" line and it doesn't disappoint. The movie bookends the start with a campfire story. These touches all gave the film a very comfortable, classic feel. The plot is probably not exactly in need of 72-minutes to tell the story but it's also not just a 22-minute plot with chase-scene fillers. The nod to both summer-camp films and horror films set in summer camps make this enjoyable for the adults in the viewing audience. It's a great direction for the series to take - sticking to the mysteries will keep this show relevant.
The DVD contains the pilot episode of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated - it's a brilliant additon to get the audience back into the TV show format. The episode flows right along with the feel of this film and makes me want to search it out. The other extras include trailers and a lame "Scooby-Doo! Scary Camp Stories" feature that's aimed at a much younger audience than would probably watch this. But Musgo and family are getting older and find that Scooby is aging well with us.