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The 2002 ‘Scooby-Doo’ Movie Is Good, Actually

I don’t give a shit what the ratings say. The live-action Scooby-Doo is a smart play on horror, and it should have made Matthew Lillard a superstar

We may now have a new major motion picture contribution to the Scooby-Doo franchise, but let’s not forget those who came before us — even if, according to Rotten Tomatoes, many of you would like to. Some of you, precious about your beloved mystery-solving gang, have given the 2002 live-action Scooby-Doo: The Movie an abysmal 30 percent rating. Not only do these bad reviews ignore the postmodern reflexivity of the mystery and horror genres presented in the film, but they commit an even greater sin: They forget how to have any goddamn fun. 

No, Scooby-Doo: The Movie isn’t good in the sense that it has depth, complex acting or a believable story arc. But ask yourself: Did any episode of the original Scooby-Doo have these things? Of course not. It’s a TV mystery for kids featuring a talking Great Dane. The original show is clunky, with its scares seemingly based upon some Victorian ideal of ghosts. Each character is based upon a singular trope — hippie, preppy boy, rich girl, nerd — with little expansion beyond that. Considering the lore it had to work with, Scooby-Doo: The Movie does a perfectly adequate job presenting a story that feels fresh and actually, at times, funny. 

The Movie knows it’s dumb. It’s filled with stoner jokes, farts and the obvious comedic opportunities that a large talking dog would present. The casting is absolutely spot-on in depicting the gang at the most basic forms of their stereotypes. Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar are Fred and Daphne: They’re even married in real life. And for her part, Linda Cardellini fulfills the dorky, unaware frumpiness of Velma, while also being stupidly hot. 

The real star, though, is Matthew Lillard as Shaggy. As my colleague Joseph Longo points out, Shaggy, as a character, seems to have some mutant type of Big Dick Energy — he’s cowardly in a way that only a guy with a gigantic dick could live with being. He’s tall, definitely a stoner and seems to only think about food. From personal experience then, I just know he lays pipe. More than any other cast member, Lillard has become synonymous with his role, which makes sense: In Scream, SLC Punk and even Scooby-Doo: The Movie, Lillard’s characters have come to represent late 1990s, early 2000s prototypes of masculinity as the stoner, the punk and even the serial killer. The persistence of Shaggy, in Lillard’s form, demonstrates the continued aesthetic and social strength of the movie as a whole.

Aided by Lillard, Scooby-Doo: The Movie is able to encapsulate a cultural moment without being burdened by frivolous things like plot or decent CGI. Some of the scares are genuinely grotesque but distant from reality: While disembodied souls and overstretched faces provide some true creepiness, the setting of a horror-themed amusement park sets the film in a self-aware land of parody. In the cartoon, the frights are reminiscent of gothic literature, with haunted houses, rural countrysides, creaky floorboards and portraits whose eyes follow you as you pass. Some argue that the original Scooby-Doo cartoon’s horror is set in contrast to contemporary events, particularly the Vietnam War. Considering that the live-action movie came out in 2002, then, it’s easy to interpret its release as a response to 9/11 and the War on Terror. 

In Scooby-Doo, the threats are always tangible, and the mysteries are always solved. In real life, our fears and anxieties are far more opaque. 

I feel suspicious of the new Scoob! movie. As with Jim Carrey’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and the 2018 animated remake The Grinch, it feels like an opportunity to ruin something good. But surely, when both Carrey’s Grinch and the 2002 Scooby-Doo live-action movies came out, people felt a similar suspicion, protectively nostalgic for the original cartoons. Perhaps whatever monsters and mysteries appear in Scoob! are exactly what kids need right now — a fictional, spooky treat where the villain gets caught, while we sit confined in our homes under an invisible threat, with no clear end in sight.