** (out of four)
By Daniel Kraus

Few cartoons have more recognition across age groups than Hanna Barbera's beloved crime-fighting doggie, Scooby Doo. This popularity ensured Scooby's first feature film would have a large built-in audience base but it also presented a problem. How would the filmmakers create a PG-rated movie loud and noisy enough for today's low-attention-span rugrats while still satisfying the older fans hoping for a pop culture nostalgia trip?

Always bet on the kids. Scooby-Doo is a kids’ movie through and through and caters to a depressingly low common denominator. It almost could have been called something else—say, "Hank the Delightful Talking Dog"—because it has almost nothing to do with the original cartoon. Only the names are the same. Hunky Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.), sexy Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar), nerdy Velma (Linda Cardellini), and hippie burn-out Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) are four teen buddies who ride around in a groovy van with their dog, Scooby, and make a living solving creepy mysteries. The problem is Velma is sick of the moronic Fred taking all the credit for their success. There's a big fight and the team disbands for two years, only to be reunited at Spooky Island—a haunted island theme park in need of their services.

It's amusing to hear Lillard's dead-on Shaggy impression as well as other things we remember, like "Jinkies!" and "Zoinks!" But it's not THAT amusing. The opening scene, in which the team nabs and unmasks a prototypical villain, makes us smile for about one minute before turning into a big, messy pile of confusing junk that these days tries to pass itself off as "madcap." It's a scene typical in today's kids' movies—characters fly through the air, ram into walls, accidentally end up on a runaway skateboard, etc. It feels like it was directed by an evil robot and edited so insanely fast that we laugh only as a defense mechanism.

Gone is every speck of the charming, clunky clumsiness of the crudely animated cartoon. It is replaced by more of this nonsensical computer-animated noise in a story line that rivals Tomb Raider in its senseless complexity. Sadly, the only reason the plot is so involved is to distract us from the fact that it isn't funny.

Most of the laughs come courtesy of Scooby himself. Yeah, he's obviously a computer image, but he's a low-key, likeable computer image. With that embarrassed laugh and cowardly, trusting personality, Scooby is the most human character in the movie. His digital mug conveys more emotion in one shot than Freddie Prinze Jr. has in his entire career. It's only too bad that most of Scooby's time is monopolized by irrelevant, unfunny scenes like an extended farting contest with Shaggy. Ha. Ha.

It's hard to blame these scenes on poor Scooby and Shaggy, whose loving relationship is actually pretty charming. The reason these two characters work is that they're heartfelt, and as two-dimensional as the cartoon was, it always had heart to spare. Unfortunately, Fred has been transformed into a mean, moronic pretty boy (where's the young, intelligent Christopher Reeve when you need him?) and Daphne has been vamped into a vain bitch. Only the neurotic Velma is developed into something more than her cartoon—when she finally sheds her orange sweater for a form-fitting orange halter top and skirt, it feels like a victory. It's hard not to cheer, "We always knew you had it in you, Velma."

All of these characters suffer from the script's failure to acknowledge or disown their pop culture history. At times it appears that Fred and the gang exist in a time-warp and are naively unaware— as in the superior Brady Bunch movies. At other times, this is not the case. Because the actors skirt around this issue constantly, many of the jokes fall flat.

It isn't really possible to hate Scooby-Doo, but it's more than probable you will feel indifferent about it. The movie is at least short (87 minutes), and although it's fast to a fault, it IS at least fast. But there's no joy, no unpredictable fun. You keep hoping one of those meddling kids will rip the rubber mask off this movie and reveal the REAL feature film—something bubbly and intelligent, not made by a gang of evil robots.

Daniel Kraus is a nationally syndicated columnist and filmmaker.  Info on his newest film, Ball of Wax, can be found at