Like Wow, Dawg!

Collect 'em all! The action figures of 'Scooby-Doo'
Warner Bros. Pictures

Five minutes after the Saturday-morning Scooby-Doo screening, a thin, straight-haired "tweenie" leaned into a curbside SUV and exclaimed: "It was really good! I really liked it!" Plant a flag, Warner Bros. Some swath of the coveted 7-to-11-year-old market has been conquered. Again. Two months ago, I was visiting my nieces, ages 6 to 12, and they all had Scooby-Doo accessories: pens, notebooks, whatever. "Do you like the cartoon?"I asked.

The younger ones shook their heads in that aloof way that means Auntie's confused. "I think they're showing it on some cable station," said the oldest, "but we haven't seen it."

I suspect they'll see the movie. Certainly it's made for them--unless you, too, crave a Shaggy and Scooby burping and farting face-off. (My adult companion: "You know a movie's in trouble when the funniest part is the farting scene.") Scooby-Doo begins in the midst of eye-peeling live action (I think I sat too close), and the busyness never flags. The colorful sets are so full of stuff--most of it moving--that they make the original cartoon look almost Zen. The pop music soundtrack--Beyoncé, Lil' Romeo, Sugar Ray-- pumps up nearly every scene. (Note to Outkast: Why?) While the stakes are high (world destruction!), the villain is a puffed-up ankle-biter. The CGI hero and bad guys have the weight of cotton candy. (Ruh-roh! Twenty years from now, these tweenies will feel nostalgic for CGI.)

But what was I expecting? This is a version of a Saturday-morning cartoon! Real-life lovers Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar star as the arrogantly suave Fred and beautiful but dumb Daphne. Goofball Matthew Lillard plays stoner Shaggy, and freak/geek Linda Cardellini plays the smart but ugly Velma. Together they solve a mystery on a spooky island named...Spooky Island! CGI dawg Scooby-Doo and his cohort of human facial contortionists (the humor is broad, yo) are here to entertain us. And that means skating on the surface so lightly that you never need a Zamboni.

I liked Scooby-Doo as a child, although the pot references went over my head. It was fun to see the dog's squad of young mystery investigators stumble and bumble into enlightenment. When I was a little older, Shaggy's slow mojo and constant hunger provided another layer of giggle, and I can kind of understand how certain repetitions--Fred's disappearances with Daphne, Velma's big-breasted butch appeal, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo's fumbling intimacy--might become comfortably titillating. However: Collecting all 310 cartoon episodes on tape, as Prinze has reportedly done, seems a bit excessive--let alone watching every one. How many times do you need to witness a stumble-and-bumble-into-enlightenment with "spooky" accessories? What sort of family trauma is being worked out here?

Of course, as the Scooby-Doo movie acknowledges, TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer has self-consciously updated and, even better, complicated the Scooby gang's routine. In Sunnydale, Daphne is not only beautiful but an ass-kicking leader with a thirst for vampires and no little amount of angst. Fred is a vampire. (True to form, Fred-as-Angel couldn't play second fiddle to a girl; now he's got his own show, and Daphne makes do with flawed Freds.) Buffy's version of smart Velma is a dyke; no blue clues necessary. And Shaggy shags demons, never mind dogs. When it isn't killing off favorite characters, Buffy enacts the youth-family trauma of entering adulthood with few sane mentors, in an often corrupt and nasty world. Intense and savvy, the show embodies what Scooby-Doo only hints at. (And Prinze knows it: He has collected his very own live-action Daphne.)

Director Raja Gosnell's new Scooby-Doo doesn't buy a clue from Buffy so much as wink at it via Gellar. The major theme seems to be girls getting theirs (or being granted theirs), which is so Nineties. Even that pro-girl theme is undermined by the boob quotient. But what's the movie about, Terri? Well, the Mystery Inc. gang has split up, because of professional jealousies. (Tension!) Then they're lured back together by the mysterious owner of Spooky Island (Rowan Atkinson, way underused). A bunch of mostly white college-age spring-breakers are returning from the island all spooky-like: Dull-eyed and violent, they've been robbed of their soul plasma. You can tell that they're demon-possessed by their sudden reliance on Ebonics. (I'm not kidding, yo.)

Farting aside, the movie's giddiest point comes when the Scooby-Doo gang's returning soul plasma gets mixed up between them, Fred's landing in Daphne's body, etc. The humor depends on the perceived absurdity of the premise: Oh, my God--a boy's soul in a girl's body! Prinze and Gellar do it up proud, her peeking up her own skirt, him tossing his head. It's almost funny--but I'm just not feeling that nostalgic.

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