Scooby Doo is different things to different people, embracing a large overall audience, and that is one of the reasons that the myriad versions of the cartoon have been so successful. A young audience can be amused by the surface level jokes and the ridiculous mystery, while an older one can laugh at the recycled plots and the potential hidden meanings in the dialogue.
The two big screen, live-action, adaptations of Scooby Doo – Scooby Doo (2002) and Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004) – definitely opt for the more self-aware, self-referential, potentially older crowd, version. There is certainly a lot for youngsters to like, and they still won’t get many of the unquestionably intended double-meanings, but they are more obvious and purposeful here than they have ever seemed in the cartoon.
Both films feature the same actors portraying the main characters, with Freddie Prinze Jr. as Fred, Sarah Michelle Gellar as Velma, Linda Cardellini as Daphne, Matthew Lillard as Shaggy, and Neil Fanning voicing a CGI Scooby. Both films are also directed by Raja Gosnell and have all the mystery-loving, goofy hijinks we have come to expect from those meddling kids of Mystery, Inc. Essentially, for better or worse, both movies are everything that one would expect from a Scooby Doo film.
In the original, the gang breaks up to go their separate ways only to be brought together again by the rich owner of Spooky Island, an amusement park of sorts for college students, Mondavarious (Rowan Atkinson). Mondavarious is concerned that the rowdy college students who arrive on the island leave incredibly well-behaved, seemingly well-rested, and with preternatural strength. Certainly that is not what one would expect from college students at a spring break-like location. The gang ends up working together, solving the case, and everyone, except the evildoer, goes home happy.
Monsters Unleashed finds the gang back home in Coolsville, where a museum is opening an exhibit in their honor. On display are a multitude of costumes worn by the villains Mystery Inc. has unmasked. The entire event is a happy one until one of the monster suits comes to life. Coolsville soon turns on Mystery Inc., the other costumes come to life, and the gang has to figure out just what is going on and thereby save their reputation.
While the first film may be more amusing overall, Monsters Unleashed brings to live action a ton of classic Scooby Doo cartoon villains. Fans of the franchise might actually prefer this second film in the two-pack for that nostalgia factor, and they won’t necessarily be wrong. It is cool to see Miner Forty-Niner, the 10,000 Volt Ghost, and Captain Cutler come to life. The second film also features a larger supporting cast, with Seth Green, Alicia Silverstone, and Peter Boyle all co-starring. It is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a “bigger is better” sequel, and in this case it works wonderfully. Monsters Unleashed is like a “greatest hits” Scooby Doo episode as opposed to the first film which is simply the introduction of a new villain and a new case for the gang to work on.
The other place the second film succeeds far more than the first is with this particular Blu-ray release. Both films, as you would imagine, are effects heavy affairs, and in the first title, many of those effects come off looking unintentionally poor. Additionally, dark scenes feature incredible amounts of noise and the definition simply isn’t what it ought to be. The second film cuts down noticeably on the noise, the effects look far better, and the definition levels are higher as well. Both films sport very colorful comic-come-to-life visuals, but they are much more vivid in the second film. The sound is also a far larger affair on the blu-ray for Monsters Unleashed. The surrounds are better used, the range of sounds is larger, and it is far more immersive. The first doesn’t sound bad, but the second sounds very good. The first film only has a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack whereas the second has a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, and if you ever wanted to show your friends the difference between the two types of audio track this would be a great way to do it. The discrepancy is most likely due to the fact that this is the first time that Monsters Unleashed has been available on Blu-ray, whereas the original film came out in the format in 2007. This is probably the issue with the difference in video quality as well.
In fact, the older-style also carries over to the menu system. The second film features a regular looking menu, with the usual choice of feature film, bonus features, options, etc. The first film immediately boots to the movie not a menu, and when the menu is accessed there is no pretty front-end picture, it is simply a single-screen array of choices. The first film comes with commentary tracks, one by the main stars and another by Gosnell, Charles Roven (producer), and Richard Suckle (producer). It also has several featurettes – one on the Mystery Machine, another on Daphne fighting, a third on the production design, and one on a rain storm that occurred during filming. There are also trailers with the first movie. Oddly, the second movie comes with no commentary track on the main feature and no trailers. It does however have its share of featurettes, including one on how they got a CGI Scooby to dance, one general behind the scenes piece, and a third piece which is actually a mockumentary about some of the villains. Both films contain music videos and deleted scenes (both sets of deleted scenes contain a Gosnell commentary track).
The live-action, big screen adaptations of Scooby Doo may not work as well for people at the younger end of the cartoon version’s viewing audience due to its increased realism. However, when considered as live-action expanded episodes, they fit perfectly within the franchise’s mold. We are clearly not talking Shakespeare here and there is minimal (if any) character growth, but would you really want that from Shaggy, Scooby, and the gang? If the cartoon is your cup of tea, you’re going to enjoy the movies (especially now that they’re in a two-pack). If you think the cartoon is juvenile and foolish, you will only find the movies more so. Whether you like them or not, whether you enjoy them or not, they are exactly what you expect them to be.