Scooby-Doo has had an…interesting lifespan. It started out strong in 1969 with “Scooby Doo, Where are you?” and continued onward with other good kid’s shows, such as “The Scooby Doo Show” and, my personal favorite, “The New Scooby Movies”. Then the 80’s happened. Or, more specifically, Scrappy Doo happened. That little f***er ruined everything. Even the likes of Vincent Price (“The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo”) couldn’t save the Scooby franchise. The 90’s weren’t much better, with the only notable show being “a Pup Named Scooby Doo” which would end-up practically ushering in the extinction of Scooby Doo.
Then, in 1998, “Scooby Doo on Zombie Island” came along. And now, thanks to it being absolutely awesome, Scooby Doo is riding high once again.
It’s been several years, and the Mytery Inc. gang have gone their separate ways. Now a popular TV show host, Daphne, and her cameraman, Fred, are suddenly feeling nostalgic. They gether their scattered pals, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby Doo, and set forth on a roadtrip for a new segment in Daphne’s show. They’re out to find real ghosts. Their journey eventually leads them to New Orleans, where they learn of a mysterious haunted house on secluded Moon Scar Island. The gang investigates the island and discover many strange happenings. Then zombies burst out of the ground and HOLY CRAP!
“Scooby Doo on Zombie Island” takes the franchise in a noticeably darker direction than previous Scooby fiction, which was basically a silly kid’s show. Indeed, this movie seems to have aged with the audience, if you can believe that. The zombies are gruesome and, well, actually kind of scary for something supposedly aimed at little kids. The origin behind the zombies is particularly dark and violent, involving lots of brutal deaths (all shown off-screen, of course). Unfortunately, future Scooby Doo animated movies would “lighten up”, and as such, this remains the darkest and most violent story in Scooby Doo history. And, in my personal opinion, the greatest piece of Scooby Doo animation ever produced.
This also acts as the big “reunion” special. Shortly after the introduction of the loathsome Scrappy Doo, the Mystery Inc gang began to thin out, as they were proving to be less popular. Fred and Velma were the first to bite the dust, with Daphne eventually vanishing after managing to hang on for quite a while. As much as I like Scooby and Shaggy, they just can’t hold a story all by themselves. Well, there were a few 1-episode reunion specials during the 80’s and 90’s, like in “the New Scooby Doo Mysteries”, “A Nutcracker Scoob” or that crossover they did with Johnny Bravo. However, this acts as “the big one”. And it really does feel great to see them all back together again.
Unfortunately, not all the voice actors could reprise their roles. Don Messick, the original voice of Scooby Doo, had passed away from old age in 1997. This movie was dedicated to his memory, and let me just say, he was one of the greatest voice actors in history. Filling in for Scooby is Scott Innes, who does a rather good job at impersonating Messick. Casey Kasem also declined to return as Shaggy, though he would later make a come-back for the TV series “What’s New, Scooby Doo”. Replacing Kasem is Billy West, another talented voice actor, who does a great Shaggy. Mary Kay Bergman provided the voice of Daphne for the first and only time in her career. Tragically, she took her life in 1999. The only original Scooby Doo voice actors to return for this film are Frank Welker, as Fred, and B.J. Ward, as Velma. And, being as talented as they are, they haven’t lost an inch on the characters.
There are a few other notable voice actors in this movie, providing supporting characters. Adrienne Barbeau (“Swamp Thing”) plays Simone, the owner of the haunted mansion on Moon Scar Island. Tara Strong (Raven from “Teen Titans”) plays Lena, Simone’s friend who can’t stop flirting with Fred, much to Daphne’s chagrin. There’s also Jim Cummings, one of the most high-profile voice actors in the cartoon industry, as Jacques, the ferryman. Cam Clarke plays the groundskeeper, Beau. You may remember him as Leonardo from the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” cartoon or as Kaneda in the original English dub of “Akira”. And, finally, there’s Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker from “Star Wars” and the Joker from “Batman: the Animated Series”, as this creepy fisherman-guy.
The animation for “Scooby Doo on Zombie Island” is down-right gorgeous. Provided by a Japanese studio, Mook Animation, I believe, the level of detail and fluidity is amazing. Having only ever been acquainted with the stiff, 2-dimensional Hanna Barbara animation for the characters, seeing them brought to life so vividly was a real treat.
And, of course, it just wouldn’t be Scooby Doo without the cheesy fake rock music and chase montages. Much to my surprise, the fake rock songs were actually pretty good. I mean, I wouldn’t buy the soundtrack or anything, but the songs didn’t make me cringe even once. The cover of the classic “Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” theme song was provided by none-other than Third Eye Blind, and they honestly do a great job.
Even if you never liked Scooby Doo, I think you’d be pretty pleased with this movie. It’s very different than most Scooby animation before and after it, and for Scooby Doo it’s really pretty dark and violent. As dark and violent as Scooby Doo’s ever going to get, anyway. The only thing that might have improved it would have been more classic voice actors reprising their parts; or at least Casey Kasem.