Yes, that title is 100% correct, because of all the movies that have attempted to reinvent a childhood franchise, none, and I mean none, have done so with the grace, the dignity, the excellence of Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island. And it was direct to video!
Considering the show has existed in some form or another since 1969, I’m going to assume that everyone knows the premise of Scooby-Doo: meddling teenagers, talking dog, villains with very good drama and stage production skills, and Scrappy-Doo is the worst. Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is not the first Scooby-Doo movie, not the only good one (Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School), but it is probably the step-by-step example of how to update a series for a modern audience.
Premise: after being burnt out after chasing so many deranged former drama students pretending to be ghosts/monsters, the Mystery, Inc. gang is ready to reclaim their time. Scooby and Shaggy decide to be the kind of can’t-hold-down-a-job free-loaders parents always fear, Velma opens a mystery bookstore to really put her M.F.A to good use, and Daphne follows her truth to become a popular travel talk show host with Fred continuing to not fully commit to their relationship, but still try and be friends, by be being her cameraman.
Daphne decides that she wants to do a show ghost hunting and the gang gets back together. Within 15-minutes. That’s giving the audience what they want. No fuss, no muss, no let’s drag this shit out, adventure time in less than 20 minutes.
Of course back on the road, the gang re-discovers an old problem—all the ghosts and monsters are drama majors once more. Until of course they go to New Orleans home of jazz, voodoo stereotypes, and vampires. A mysterious Tara Strong-voiced woman named Lena meets the gang and offers to take them to Moonscar island that really is supposedly truly haunted.
Moonscar Island is haunted by the ghost of the pirate Morgan Moonscar and is now inhabited by Simone Lenoir (voiced by BTAS‘s Catwoman, Adrienne Barbeau), the ferryman Jacques and a gardner named Beau, who is really an undercover officer. (There also is a mean fisherman named Snakebite Scruggs voiced by Mark Hamill.)
Mysterious shenanigans ensue on the island with people floating randomly, losing control of their bodies, all while Fred decides to pull a Scully and pretend there is a secret explanation for everything (typical Fred). In prime heterosexuality, both Fred and Daphne flirt with the first age-appropriately hot person of the opposite gender they see (Lena and Beau), Scooby and Shaggy eat food and bother cats, while Velma is the only one doing any actual investigation.
I will say this about Zombie Island and the sequel Witch’s Ghost: the movies really understand that Velma is the unsung hero of Scooby-Doo.
Halfway through, it is revealed that the zombies that come at night and stalk the island are 100% real. Take that Fred! However, that isn’t the most impressive twist. The zombies aren’t the real bad guys, at least not anymore.
Simone and Lena are pagan settlers who lived on the island 200 years ago with their followers as part of a cat-worshiping religion. Then one day Morgan Moonscar and his pirates came to the island, pillage everything, and forced the settlers into running the bayou, where they got eaten by gators.
Simone and Lena escaped and prayed to their cat god for revenge (way to go helping after the fact, cat god). The result was that they got turned into cat creatures. If it had just ended there, I would say good job ladies. However, In order to maintain their immortality, every harvest moon the women have to drain the life force from victims. Which at first were plantations owners and stuff so yay, but then turned into just tourists, which is not a good look.
Eventually, Scooby and Shaggy help save the day, because never ever count those screw-ups out, and the curse is lifted, allowing all the zombies to rest in peace.
All right, so yeah it’s a good movie, but why am I calling it the perfect franchise movie? Because when you are updating a franchise it is important to find a way to keep true to what was good about the series and fixing what didn’t work—and subverting expectations.
One of the things you’ll notice is the upgrades done to Velma and Daphne. Daphne was infamous for being “Danger-prone Daphne” in the original series, so Zombie Island incorporates Daphne learning martial arts skills and being a fighter. She’s also more hands-on and is a career woman. Velma is also a career woman, but her personal arc is more about how being an investigator is her true calling. The movie really makes her the leader of the group. Not to mention she’s the one who ends up “getting the guy” with Beau.
Fred, Shaggy, and Scoob are played straight. There is a great scene of Fred trying on an ascot in the mirror before taking it off, but they don’t get that much to do. Which, honestly, is fine—they were never the most interesting and work better in small doses. However, no one changes so much they are now unrecognizable.
Plus, Zombie Island stays true to one of the defining principles of Scooby-Doo—don’t ever count out Scooby and Shaggy. Lena and Simone created magical wax dolls in order to control the rest of the gang, but left out the true dynamic duo because they are “idiots.” Little did they know that idiocy is their greatest superpower.
All in all, Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island doesn’t confuse modernizing or updating with grimdark and gritty or changing characters completely. It builds up the universe in a constructive way by telling a good story about a group of friends who solve mysteries and this time, the monsters were real. For anyone looking to update a nostalgic children’s series for a new generation (looking at you Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Teen Titans, Thundercats, and Gargoyles) this is how it’s done.
(image: Warner Bros.)
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