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Summer Rerun: Scooby Doo: The Mystery Begins (2009).

July 7, 2010

It’s summer vacation time here at Desuko World HQ, which means it’s time to revisit some favorite reviews from the past. [Originally posted Nov. 3, 2009.]

The Scoop:
So why waste your time on this? What’s the point of bothering with a made-for-cable, third generation live action adaptation of a hack cartoon, which is squarely aimed at tweens? Really, why bother?

Well, it turns out that this disposable entertainment has a thing or two to recommend it.

A Cartoon Network original, “The Mystery Begins” is the third live action version of “Scooby Doo,” following two big budget big screen stinkers. It’s a prequel, telling the story of how the gang got together at Coolsville High School and solved their first mystery together.

Unadoptable shelter dog Scooby (voiced by Frank Welker) accidentally gets sprung from his cage and runs off in search of someone who’ll take him in. He wanders through a cemetery at night, where he sees two ghosts rising from their graves. In a panic, he runs right through the basement bedroom window of high school burnout Shaggy (Nick Palatas) who naturally takes a liking to him and tries to sneak him into school the next day in human clothes. This winds up causing a free-for-all in the school bus, which eventually lands Shaggy in detention with football team captain Fred (Robbie Amell), drama club diva Daphne (Kate Melton) and brainy geek Velma (Hayley Kiyoko). Of course, the ghosts pick that exact time to disrupt the school pep rally, and the chase is on.

The “mystery” is just as paper-thin as you’d expect, both from a “Scooby Doo” story and a tween movie. But it’s the small, fresh details that keep this from being a complete waste.

Most intriguing is the dynamic between the four kids which — not only because it grows out of detention hall, but also because of the way it develops the relationships between members of four different high school social cliques – owes a big debt to “The Breakfast Club.” It’s actually handled quite well for tween fluff, and the cast nails it with gusto. This is where the real story is, not in the formulaic ghost hunting shenanigans.

The interesting upshot of this is that it makes the title character almost entirely irrelevant in his own movie. Unfortunately, director Brian Levant and writers Daniel Altiere and Steven Altiere try to compensate for this by making Scooby completely obnoxious, thrusting him into all sorts of situations where he isn’t needed, and making him the vehicle of lots of sophomoric, unfunny humor. That’s all bad enough, but to top it all off, the CGI work on Scooby is atrocious.

There are also some obligatory details, like the origins of the Mystery Machine (which is pretty much what you’d expect) and Scooby Snacks (which is actually a nice little twist). And Shaggy’s status as a flat-out stoner is hinted at even more strongly than before (but because this is still ostensibly children’s entertainment, he still can’t be shown for what he really is).

However, some entertaining new wrinkles are added. Like the fact that Shaggy is a few years older than the others and, thanks to being held back in school so much, is basically an adult still attending high school. Or the casting of Velma as an Asian.

However the biggest departure from the “Scooby” mythos is that the ghosts are actual undead spirits, and not mere mechanical tricks. But don’t feel too disoriented – the villain behind those vengeful spirits is straight out of the Hanna-Barbera playbook and even gets to deliver the signature “meddling kids” line after his capture. Because there are some classics you just don’t want to mess with.

Best Bit:
The gang’s ridiculously over-the-top undercover disguises — Daphne as a goth, Fred in hip hop gear (think Brian Austin Green), Velma as a hot chick, and Shaggy and Scooby as trash cans.

Side Note:
Welker is a veteran cartoon voice actor who has been working steadily since the 1960s. His roles include most of the Decepticons in the original “Transformers” series and numerous roles in “Tiny Toon Adventures” and “Animaniacs” — not to mention playing Fred in the original “Scooby Doo” series.

Companion Viewing:
The original Hanna Barbera cartoons from the early 1970s.

Official site.

Take a Look:
The trailer:

Hayley Kiyoko’s video blog, made during production:

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