Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

RECENT WATCHES: Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004)

Never underestimate the power of a recognizable brand name. 2002's “Scooby-Doo” wasn't a very good movie, with a confused approach that tried to appeal to both kids and grown-ups. Yet the “Scooby-Doo” series is popular and widely recognized enough that the film still did major business at the box office. Naturally, a sequel immediately went into production. Even though his script for the first one was largely re-written, James Gunn still came back to write “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed.” I'm going to guess he was well paid for the assignment. Yet perhaps audiences did notice the lackluster quality of the first film, as the sequel only grossed about half of the original's box office revenue.

Following their successful reunion in the first film, Mystery Inc. is back into the rhythm of unmasking fraudulent ghosts and monsters. In fact, a museum devoted to their exploits is opening up in their native town of Coolsville. However, sinister figures have different plans in mind. A mysterious forces animates the ghost suits in the museum, causing many of Mystery Inc.'s most notorious foes to be reborn in more powerful forms. Scooby-Doo and the gang are discredited soon enough, forcing them to stop the bad guy, save the day, and make the public trust in them again.

While the first “Scooby-Doo” occasionally sneaked in a joke for the grown-ups in the audience, “Monsters Unleashed” focuses its humor exclusively on the kiddies. This is an exceptionally noisy kids' comedy. There's lots of grating slapstick, like in a big down-hill chase scene where skeleton monsters get tossed into the camera. (These guys get tossed towards the viewer so often, you might think the movie was shot in 3-D.) An especially painful sequence has Scooby and Shaggy going undercover in a club for bad guys, which predictably goes poorly. This is followed by a very odd sequence where Scooby and Shaggy's bodies are mutated by various potions, the body shifting gags just making me uncomfortable. And, yes, there are bodily function jokes too. Scooby farts repeatedly, Velma's hot date is ruined by her outfit producing fart noises, and kicks are delivered to crotches several times.

As painfully unfunny as “Scooby-Doo 2” is, I do think it's mildly better than the first one. Unlike part one, which seemed to cynically dismiss the original cartoon, the sequel actively pulls from established “Scooby-Doo” lore. All the monsters in the movie are, indeed, classic cuts from the actual cartoon. And they look pretty neat too. The Knight, Pterodactyl Ghost, and Zombie are all brought to life with large, particular effects. They look fittingly cartoony while still seeming to operate as active threats. My favorite thing about “Scooby-Doo” was always the monsters anyway, so it's neat that at least one of the live action film leaned more into that horror-movie-for-kids vibe. And we get a proper unmasking for the bad guy this time too, which counts for something.

The cast from the first film is utilized in both better and worst ways than last time. Velma gets a romantic subplot all of her own, sharing a crush with Seth Green's Patrick Wisely. While this allows some adorably awkward acting from Linda Cardellini, the subplot is wildly undercooked. Even then, it's more developed than Daphne and Fred finally deciding to pair up. As in the first feature, Matthew Lillard and Linda Cardellini are well-cast while Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. are largely just annoying. Prinze's doofus take on Fred really wares thin here, while Gellar's action hero theatrics seem like an ill-advised attempt to please any “Buffy” fans in the audience. Peter Boyle does get an amusing cameo as Old Man Wickles.

“Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed” grossed 181 million dollars against a 25 million dollar budget, still making it a sizable financial success. Yet that was far less than the first film, qualifying this “Doo” as a disappointment. Thus, the “Scooby-Doo” live action franchise came to a premature end. (Though there have been several direct-to-video follow-ups of sorts.) Not that anyone could be especially sad about that. “Scooby-Doo 2” is a fairly lazy special effects extravaganza for kids, even ending with the stereotypical dance party. However, at least it made me chuckle a few times and re-introduced some neat monsters. It has that over the first one. If a subversive and substantial take on the often wafer-thin “Scooby” formula is what you're after though, I recommend “Scooby-Doo: Mystery Inc.[5/10]

No comments: