The first impression one gets of “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed” is that of a gigantic wave of silliness. It skips madly from one wacky development to the next (you don’t want to lose the little ones’ attention) but still, there a few genuine moments that cut through the CGI clutter so that not all is lost for the more mature viewers.
From the very first shots, where a swooping camera takes us, in full sensory overload roller-coaster mode, through the streets of Coolsville, we know this movie is not going to be the cinematic equivalent of a gentle stroll in the park. We soon arrive at the Coolsonian Museum for the grand opening of an exhibit dedicated to the various monster costumes captured by Mystery Inc. over the years. All hell breaks loose, however, when the Pterodactyl ghost (whose viewpoint we had in the opening just mentioned) comes alive, wreaks considerable havoc (in no small part thanks to perennial liabilities Scooby and Shaggy), steals a few costumes and escapes with an evil masked figure who looks like a distant and repudiated cousin of Darth Vader. “This is only the first rung in the ladder of your demise”, the evil figure warns with a booming, theatrical voice. And so the stage is set for a test of the gang’s mettle.
The master of the ghosts, if you will, later demands of Mystery Inc. that they simply abandon their crime-solving ways or else further chaos will be unleashed on the city. More drama is added when an ill-disposed TV reporter (Alicia Silverstone) turns the town against the gang by broadcasting a couple of way out of context Fred quotes.
Screenwriter James Gunn, as well as director Raja Gosnell, returns in this second Scooby effort. The cast is back as well as Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.), Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Velma (Linda Cardellini, who has more to work with this time) still have to coexist with expert bunglers Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) and his faithful sidekick Scooby-Doo. Gellar still gives purple a great name and gets to go Buffy-crazy in a few battles while Lillard deserves credit for portraying Shaggy with such abandon, especially given that his canine companion existed only in a virtual way while shooting.
There are brief respites here from the endless parade of monsters (some of which are admittedly quite cool like Captain Cutler, the Black Knight and Miner Forty-Niner) where the filmmakers try to inject the characters with some heartfelt emotion and some measure of introspection.
Now, that can only go so far in what is primarily an action romp for kids, but there’s a charm to this bunch that is enjoyable and a few quiet moments that work. Fred confronts self-doubt, although quite briefly, and Velma learns that less is more, and more truthful, as she deals with her emotions towards the museum’s curator (Seth Green). Shaggy and Scooby, who scored high on the laugh factor with the kids in the audience, are lovable goofballs whose antics create mounds of trouble but also reinforce their already unwavering friendship. If all of this sounds terribly corny, it is to an extent but it doesn’t make it any less relevant to point out, and there’s also a nice sequence where the gang reconvenes at their old high school clubhouse to reconnect with what made them successful in the first place.
This is not to say the film is entirely smooth sailing. Musical bits are thrown in at random with annoying regularity, and there’s just too much happening too quickly to maintain coherence even by Scooby standards. “Monsters Unleashed” also relies a little too much on computer-generated wizardry, but it doesn’t pretend to be anything else than a fun time at the movies, and to that end it succeeds.
Review by Jean-François Tremblay