Just my luck. I’ve got a talking dog, and I can’t understand a word he says.

Post-Halloween, we have two more seasonal reviews, but we’re doing them as one. I know that may not be fair, but they share writers, director, cast, concept—and the fact that, despite substantial flaws, they succeed where big-budget versions utterly failed. These films, made in 2009 and 2010 (the second one premiering on Halloween) do a passable job of bringing Scooby-Doo to live action and, along the way, solve two of the franchise’s three biggest mysteries.

Title: Scooby-Doo: The Mystery Begins

And

Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by Brian Levant
Written by Steven Altiere and Daniel Altiere

Cast

Hayley Kiyoko as Velma Dinkley
Robbie Amell as Fred Jones
Kate Melton as Daphne Blake
Nick Palatas as Shaggy Rogers
Frank Welker as Scooby-Doo (voice)
Shawn MacDonald as Principal Deedle (Mystery Begins)
Gary Chalk as VP Grimes (Mystery Begins)
Leah James as Prudence Prufrock (Mystery Begins)
Brian J. Sutton and Al Rodrigo as Ezekial Gallows (Mystery Begins)
Ted McGinlay as Club Owner (Lake Monster)
Marion Ross as Mrs. Trowberg (Lake Monster)

Full Cast and Crew information is available here and here.

Premise:

The first film solves the long-unexplained mystery of how four wildly disparate teenagers (jock, glamour girl, brainiac, and… uh…. Nerdy stoner?) and a dog became best friends and started driving around in a groovy van solving implausible mysteries.

The second helps explain how they afford their lifestyle. Seriously, what teenagers get to drive around the world unsupervised solving mysteries? And when, why, and how did they become a legal corporation? All there.

Only one mystery lingers: why does the dog talk, and how come no one finds this particularly odd?

High Points:

1. The script at least tries to develop the characters beyond their cartoon origins, and actually has some fun with the relationships among the members of Mystery, Inc.—especially in Lake Monster. There, they have some unexpected fun with Velma and Shaggy, while including very subtle nods to popular fan theories.

2. Both films address the major problem of the typical Scooby Hoax: it would attract people, not drive them away. Mystery incorporates that fact, while Lake Monster has the creature wreak (G-rated) dangerous havoc on an elite resort, which would drive away the sort of people such an establishment needs to survive.

Low Points:

1. Limited animation cartoons make for problematic inspiration. The films never quite find their tone. The writers attempt to give Fred, Velma, and Daphne kiddie-show versions of real-world personalities. Shaggy gets developed too—in fact, they focus quite a bit on this in the first film– but he remains more of a cartoon character. Scooby, a talking dog created through low-budget CGI, presents the biggest problem. Uncertain of how to make him work in live action, they keep him very close to his origins; he even uses cartoon physics in several scenes.

2. The original Scooby shows had rational (if cartoonily implausible) explanations for the supernatural mysteries. Many of the later incarnations had the gang encounter actual spooks. These movies try to balance the two sets of expectations, by having (in both) a real-world villain with down-to-earth motives, who makes use of supernatural forces. I rather wish they’d stayed with the franchise’s original premise. The first film, in particular, summons its ghosts to add special effects.

The Scores:

Originality: 1/6 Few products of pop culture have been done, redone, spun off, sequeled, crossed over, reinterpreted, and self-parodied as often this cartoon, which barely made it to air back in 1969. Even then it had unmistakable influences: characters overtly modeled on the cast of Dobie Gillis solve Hound of the Baskervilles-style mysteries.
The Mystery Begins nods pretty openly to The Breakfast Club.

Effects: 3/6 The lower-key effects have a nice cartoony quality, but sometimes, a CGI dog looks exactly like a CGI dog. This might explain why Scooby had such a (comparatively) small role in the second film.

Story: 4/6 The big-budget films were so concerned with Easter Eggs and merchandise that the plots made little or no sense, and certainly required experience of the franchise to appreciate at all. The first plays entirely like an extended commercial for a videogame, interrupted by sporadically amusing fan service. Neither of these films have great stories, but at least they try to tell them in a way that even young, new fans will be able to follow. The first movie conceals its villain’s identity somewhat by making absolutely everyone a plausible suspect, and throwing out so obvious a suspect/red herring that we have no grounds to decide which he is. The solution to the second should be obvious early on to adults, but, hey, at least it provides the clues so the kids can play detective.

We even get kid-friendly moral lessons along the way that aren’t tacked on. They’re an integral part of the scripts (Nothing big here: stand by your friends, don’t support bullies, and don’t let personal drama get in the way of what really matters).

Acting: 4/6 Yeah, Freddy’s a brunette and Velma is Asian. This cast (Hayley Kiyoko in particular) add a second dimension to the old cartoon characters.

Production: 4/6 The second film does slightly better at creating a cartoony version of the real world, one where talking dogs might reasonably exist.

Emotional Response: 4/6 These aren’t classics, but they should do nicely with the kiddie audience, and they have enough shout-outs to the adult fans to make for passable viewing. The first gives the gang what I feel they’ve always needed: an origin story. The second makes for a better viewing experience. If you’re a fan of Scooby-Doo or you have little kids, these make for better viewing than the big-budget movies of some years back.

Overall: 5/6 The closing credits offer fun fan service. The first more-or-less recreates the opening of the original series, in live action, while the second salutes the era of that first show, in psychedelic splendor.

In total, A Couple of Teletoon Live-Action Movies about Scooby-Doo receive 25/42.