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Scooby Doo 2:
Monsters Unleashed

The great challenge in adapting Scooby Doo has to be in giving the audience something they've never seen before. Really, after watching any three episodes, any two, actually any one, you've pretty much got the gist of what's going on with this talking dog and the mystery-solving youths that investigate every odd occurrence in their town except, apparently, that they have a talking dog.

To give us something new in the first film, director Raja Gosnell and writers Craig Titley (story only) and James Gunn deconstructed the whole thing, breaking the gang apart only to have them discover that they work really well as a team. Minus, of course, Scrappy Doo. Many fans cried foul. (Hypocrites - acting as if they considered Scrappy to be the Jupiter Jones of Mystery, Inc.)

This time around, in Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, it's pretty much the same players behind the scenes and in front of the cameras. (Gunn, admittedly an acquaintance of this reviewer, has solo credit as writer.) Everybody seems more relaxed; certainly Freddie Prinze, Jr. couldn't be bothered to do his hair.

Freed from the constraints of establishing the characters for the screen, everybody can now do what they wanted: just give us an episode of Scooby Doo. But not just any episode; this is the mondo super greatest hits that Hanna-Barbera never dared do, mainly because when the animators were doing this show, they had little idea that anybody would actually remember its continuity.

So Gunn crafts a plot that brings back some of the more famous ghosts from the past. (My personal favorite, the laughing skull astronaut, is missing.) At the opening of a museum exhibit dedicated to the exploits of Mystery, Ink, the infamous Pterodactyl Ghost appears to wreak havoc. Only instead of it being a costume, Velma (Linda Cardellini) surmises that somehow it has become an actual pterodactyl.

Through a series of clues, the meaning of which get repeated over and over in an only slightly more subtle fashion than an episode of Blue's Clues, the gang surmises that someone has discovered a way to bring back their most infamous cases as actual monsters. Sure, the original costumes have to be used, but these things really have supernatural powers now.

But who could be behind such a dastardly plot? Is it Old Man Wickles (a brilliantly cast Peter Boyle)? Perhaps his cellmate, the original, and yet dead, Pterodactyl Ghost, aka Professor Jacobo, played in flashback by Tim Blake Nelson? (If that incomplete sentence seems too complex and unwieldy, well, so does the list of suspects.)

Or could it be …the museum curator? In that role, Seth Green does his best to make sure that the color of his hair matches the color of his herring.

Along the way, Gunn and Gosnell also deliver everything the Scooby Doo fan could possibly want. There's the great running over an empty space before gravity kicks in. When trying to tiptoe through a creepy, sporadically lit space, make sure that each time Shaggy and Scooby and their pursuers appear, they're all in wacky different positions. Once things go to a full-blown chase scene, it had better be a montage with some cheesy pop song over it. Gang, it's all there. Rejoice.

The adult subtext has been pulled back a bit, too, though there are still a couple of references to Shaggy's (Matthew Lillard) obvious predilection for altered states. Shaggy also skirts the edge of swearing a time or two, but nothing particularly harsh.

When Velma, in an effort to appear more sexy to Green's curator, Patrick, pours herself into blue leather, it may underscore how truly hot Cardellini is, but most of the kids should just find it funny, especially once the flatulence jokes kick in.

Purists may argue that such toilet humor has no place in a Scooby Doo film. At least this time around, Scooby's flatulence (and man, big dogs like that do pass gas a lot) serves the action instead of stopping it dead. And when Disney has a boob joke in the trailer for Home On The Range, it's hard to really get outraged.

Put it aside. There's fun to be had in giving the kids safe shivers, and a decent message behind the film as Shaggy and Scooby struggle to find their worth as heroes. Once again, Cardellini and Lillard inhabit their cartoon character roles so well, it's worth a heartfelt "jinkies!" A couple of subplots go nowhere, one so obviously that even kids might notice, but just as quickly they will get distracted by the action and the colors.

And if you think the T.V. show really did anything more than that, you're barking up the wrong tree. Shut up and have another Scooby snack.


Derek McCaw

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