It is no secret that when it comes to famous cartoon characters, Scooby Doo is by far one of the most prolific. Even with Scoob! coming on VOD this month, there’s already an abundance of movies to go around featuring Shaggy, Scooby, and the rest of the Mystery Inc. gang. From classic favorites like Scooby Doo and the Ghoul School, to the bizarre live-action movies, to the even more bizarre crossovers with wrestling all-stars and superhero giants, there’s no denying that this talking dog and his meddling kids have more movies than the average cartoon star. Yet, one entry sticks out big time to many Scooby-Doo fans, one that took a few more risks and ended up reviving the franchise for a new generation.
Scooby Doo on Zombie Island ignited a new era of fans for Scooby and friends, giving the familiar whodunnit formula a refreshing change of pace and style. With the tagline, “This time, the monsters are real,” one finds it hard to forget Mystery Inc’s most interesting adventure on Zombie Island. The stakes were raised beyond the traditional “it was a guy in a mask all along” plot and the animation was vastly improved compared to the show, with richer colors and starker shadows.
Zombie Island actually serves as a sequel to the original Scooby Doo, Where Are You? series set years later, with the mystery gang having gone their separate ways. Daphne and Fred produce their own talk show, Velma is working at a mystery book store, and Shaggy and Scooby are working airport security. Feeling nostalgic for the good old days of mystery solving, the gang gets back together with the goal to find actual terrors as opposed to the average masquerading crooks. Fortunately a case presents itself when the gang heads to a mysterious island in the middle of a New Orleans bayou, leading them to face off against actual monsters and ghosts in what remains one of their scariest journey yet.
What works about Zombie Island, especially compared to future Scooby-Doo films, is that it manages to mix up the franchise’s traditionally repetitive formula. As mentioned earlier, the monsters they face here aren’t some illusion composed by some greedy corporate jerk, but actual threats that can’t be defeated by your standard unmasking. This creates a lot more tension, making the film much more exciting. The creatures are actually kind of gruesome and towards the latter half of the film they become legit creepy, with designs and situation far more threatening than anything encountered prior.
While mixing up the Scooby-Doo formula does sound refreshing, it’s possible that this could make the film feel alienating to longtime fans. Luckily, Zombie Island actually manages to be a proper update, adding a darker tone without forgetting the fact that this is very much a movie based on a classic Hanna Barbera character. The characters don’t feel out of place to what we’re used to despite the threat being more intimidating. Fred is still the overconfident leader, Daphne is still the eager fashion fanatic, Velma is still the intelligent bookworm, and Shaggy and Scooby are still the endearing food obsessed scaredy-cats we know and love. They still feel like their old selves and while these characters never had a whole lot of depth in the original series, this adventure gives them plenty of opportunities to flesh each other out.
Another thing that works for this movie is the great voice acting. With the exception of Frank Welker returning as Fred, the classic Scooby gang are given new voice actors, but Billy West, Mary Kay Bergman B.J. Ward and Scott Innes all do a great job impersonating the original gang. They all givesus the chance to see these simple characters archetypes actually utilize their skills from previous adventures to greater use. Meanwhile, the likes Jim Cummings, Tara Strong, Cam Clarke, and Mark Hamill voice actors deliver fitting performances for the film’s new characters, many of which are quite creepy.
Possibly the biggest upgrade to Scooby Doo that Zombie Island provides is its animation. While direct to video films are often criticized for being subpar animation-wise compared to theatrical releases, Zombie Island is a rather impressive looking movie. Characters move and react with much of their trademark cartoony expressions, but more distinctly, and with a great use of shadows and backgrounds. The dark lighting helps give the monsters heavily detailed expressions, making them look much more sinister than we’re used to. This all leads to a rather exciting climax that ranks among the best animation this series has ever received, with even some gruesome deaths thrown in the mix too. Even if it’s a kid’s film, the animators weren’t afraid to make their movie look as genuinely creepy to the point it could scare more than just Shaggy and Scooby Doo.
Verdict: 4 Out of 5 Stars
Scooby Doo On Zombie Island remains an enjoyable revival to one of Hanna Barbera’s most iconic characters. It is still ultimately simple, but provided much needed updates to the Scooby Doo franchise with impressive animation and a genuine creep factor, all while remaining being true to Scooby Doo’s light hearted nature. Even with dozens of direct to video films later, there no Scooby Doo movie has manage to produce terror in the same way their adventure on Zombie Island did.