Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 April 2004 at AMC Fenway #5 (first-run)

I don't believe in "guilty pleasures". I enjoyed the first live-action Scooby Doo movie because the filmmakers managed to walk a pretty thin line between recreating what I had liked about the cartoon as a kid and spoofing it, which could be enjoyed by both nostalgic (and more-sophisticated) adults and the kids seeing the characters for the first time on the Cartoon Network. And as much as the franchise is given some much-deserved ribbing for its primitive animation and formulaic plots, it has survived 35 years while a great many of its contemporaries and later cartoons have vanished with nary a trace. There's no shame in that.

I enjoyed Monsters Unleashed for pretty much the same reasons as the first one, and noticed pretty much the same weaknesses. Matthew Lillard and Linda Cardellini dive right in and become their cartoon characters, getting much more screen time than Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar because, quite frankly, Fred and Daphne never had a whole lot of personality. There just isn't as much to do with them, especially in a movie where a little character development is necessary. Not much, but enough to make it clear there's not much character to develop. Gellar is at least able to do early Buffy, a girl who can kick butt even though she'd rather be doing more ladylike things; Prinze is lost. Neither is able to just disappear into the roles in quite the way their cohorts do (their off-model costumes don't help).

The story, such as it is, is similar to that of the first movie - a group of young amateur detectives whose adventures generally end with them ripping a mask off someone disguised as a monster find themselves sucked into a situation with real supernatural elements, while at the same time having doubts about the team. This time it's their self-confidence that's been undermined as opposed to their trust in each other. This leads to Shaggy and Scooby striking out on their own to solve the mystery rather than running scared (well, they try), which of course leads them more directly into trouble. Able assistance is provided by "guest stars" Alicia Silverstone, as a reporter who makes them look like fools, Peter Boyle as a perfectly caricatured former foe recently released from prison, and Seth Green as a crime museum curator with eyes for Velma.

This is, for the most part, a kids' movie. It's about 85 minutes of bright colors, simple plot, and humor that is occasionally obvious and juvenile. People who dismiss a movie with fart jokes out of hand should stay away, although at least one is fairly clever. There were also at least two bits that my brother and I found quote-worthy on the way out of the theater, which isn't bad for a movie aimed at kids less than half my age. I think this movie benefits by writer James Gunn and director Raja Gosnell, who both return from the first, knowing what they're trying to do. The first sometimes didn't quite seem to know how far to take the more adult bits, and probably had to sort its tone out in editing, which is less than ideal. This, though, isa fun movie; I'm open to a third one (supposedly Prinze and Gellar aren't signed, but would anyone be terribly upset if they were replaced with, say, Casper van Dien and Alicia Witt?).

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