After two live action failures in as many tries, I was left with a simple, somewhat ironic question: "Scooby-Doo, where are you?" The warmth, humor, and brilliance of the cartoon that reached viewers regardless of age group, were nowhere to be found, replaced instead with constant bickering and the complete shunning of younger audiences. How could newer generations truly get into the characters and stories when these films were the examples set for them?
Cue: 'Scooby Doo! The Mystery Begins.' Normally, I have my reservations about prequels, especially those that recast the entire film, let alone direct-to-video features, so it's safe to say that I dreaded viewing this title. All the elements were in place for disaster. Strangely, disaster didn't happen at all.
The film takes on the story much like an origin film. We get to meet the sleuths before they were sleuths, attending Coolsville High, though not succeeding when it comes to inter-personal relationships. When the friendless Shaggy (Nick Palatas) happens across Scooby-Doo (voiced by Frank Welker), a dog no one wants to adopt, the kindred spirits form an unbreakable bond. A bus mishap involving Scooby lands Shaggy, Daphne (Kate Melton), Velma (Hayley Kiyoko), and Fred (Robbie Amell) in an extended detention stay at the library ('Breakfast Club,' anyone?), where they realize how alike they are, despite appearances. When a ghoul and a pair of ghosts begin to haunt their school, however, the group of newfound friends are blamed for the incident, and must use the skills they've learned from reading detective novels to uncover the true culprit.
Straight to cable movies should never be this good. The film debuted on Cartoon Network, setting all time highs in viewership for the channel, and it's easy to see why it drew such interest.
'Scooby Doo! The Mystery Begins' doesn't rely on knowledge of the classic series, creating a tale that's an enjoyable introduction to younger audiences, while throwing in numerous homages and references to the source material, including a montage heavily drawing from the famous opening credits. The Coolsville shown is more modern, complete with texting, mac laptops, and some Google doodad.
The cast is a veritable ragtag assembly of no-names, but that works in the film's favor. The first two live action films relied on star power, and resemblance to the characters rather than how well the actors would fit their respective roles, creating a disaster (ascot, anyone?). This re-imagining doesn't force the iconic garb on the characters (while Shaggy does occasionally wear the landmark green V-neck and Velma the orange sweater), and gives them room to breathe and grow, even if we know exactly where every twist and turn will be.
'The Mystery Begins' is a family film, much more so than the previous entries, aiming at a younger audience, so the laughs are a bit less adult (including Scooby marking and farting), and a bit more accessible. Still, there are some veiled references to the legendary assumptions (especially the theory of Shaggy being into a particular plant) that pass by so fast, a parent won't have to worry why Shaggy and Scooby have red eyes and the munchies after being in a smoke filled van. The film also has a much more positive outlook and purpose, teaching lessons in responsibility, friendship, and sticking up for others, whether they're friends or not.
A part of me wants to cry foul over the continuity between this film and the longstanding cartoons, particularly the underrated 'A Pup Named Scooby-Doo,' which is made completely obsolete by having the group meet as high schoolers rather than elementary classmates, but in order to make a film that could be enjoyed by all ages, I suppose I can understand this change, although begrudgingly. While effects may be cheesy beyond belief (plastic spiders? Ghosts that do nothing but fly around?), and continuity seems to be ignored (cloudy shots turn into bright sunny exteriors, and back again), there is no denying the fact that I enjoyed 'Scooby Doo! The Mystery Begins,' and that I can see entire families having a similar reaction.
'Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins' arrives on Blu-ray just weeks after debuting on the Cartoon Network, with a VC-1 encode at 1080p, and framed at 1.78:1. The film isn't exactly the result of a big budget, and it's hard to judge its qualities as such.
Skin tones are accurate, with a bold color scheme lighting the place up to help bridge the gap from cartoon to live action, and to draw the interest of a child's eye. Detail fluctuates, with some very drab and dull shots followed by gorgeously defined ones with every blade of grass on screen popping. Picture depth is the same way, with infinitely deep shots mixed in with those that are very two dimensional, and obviously against a screen or backdrop.
CG effects are probably the biggest issue with the video on this release. Naturally, a character comprised solely of CG will stand out, but that doesn't mean cheap and/or lazy and/or outdated effects are justified. It's like a tail of two Doos, with a nicely defined down to his last hair Scooby, and his dull stunt double. Bottom line, though, the effects of hair movement look far inferior to those found in 'Monsters, Inc.,' despite having years worth of technology advancements to work with. Scooby himself looks great when standing still, or hardly moving, but shots with him moving around frantically are flat ugly.
Black levels are a bit weak, while grain spikes dramatically in darker sequences. There is the most massive green edge enhancement I've ever wit.....oops, that's a "spectral effect" that all ghosts have, to let us know they're ghosts. The whole flying thing didn't give that away. Really, though, edges are clean, but facial details are clumpy, blurred, and often lacking definition, all signs that DNR may be in play here. For a DTV release, 'Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins' isn't that bad. For a Blu-ray release compared to the rest of the fold, though, it's average at best.
There's much less to talk about on the audio end of 'Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins.' With an assortment of lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks (and a stereo dub, to boot), the film fails to ever soar. It does sour quite a bit, though.
Dialogue is clear for the most part, and is always prioritized, but a few words slipped through that required a rewind or two to discern. The film is very dialogue heavy, so the fact that it comes from the front channels for the entire film, with no localized bits, and a general flat feeling to many lines is a bit of a concern. The lines by the ghastly ghostly duo all sound absolutely awful, have terrible placement (see: the lack of rear use in dialogue), and sound utterly hollow. There was a constant level of ambiance that I found quite pleasing, as it didn't feel forced or out of place.
There is no bass to speak of, while the film treads heavily in the front channels for the first two acts. The final parts come alive, with the first bits of real speaker movement and localized effects, and some solid echoing effects from a mic. The English track on this release is not a good example of strong dynamic range, or proper surround sound utilization.
Family films are probably my least favorite genre. That said, I found myself enjoying 'Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins.' Sure, the film has its flaws, and is more than predictable, but it only damaged my memories of one of the previous cartoon series, rather than all of them, as previous incarnations have done. With average audio and video, and a fairly light extras package (the highlight of which is a DVD copy, so the kids in the house won't get fingerprints all over the Blu-ray disc), this release is hard to fully recommend, but it does deserve a look, by fans of the show, and families alike.