Image is Everything
In the sequel no one needs to see, the Scooby Gang grapples with the stress of stardom. At film’s start, the Mystery Inc.-ers are emerging from a limo for a grand exhibit opening at the Coolsonian Criminology Museum. Lit up like movie stars, stepping onto a red carpet, thronged by Pat O’Brien and fans too (a separate, clearly marked type for each member, like they’re in a boy band), they smile for cameras. One reporter, Heather Jasper-Howe (Alicia Silverstone), pushes her way to Fred (Freddie Prinze, Jr.). Asked for a comment, he grins broadly: “The people of Coolsville are the best in the world!”
Right, and they apparently eat up whatever pabulum is handed them, no matter how unimaginative and uninteresting, dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers Fred being number one case in point. As a critique of celebrity culture, this first scene in Raja Gosnell’s Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed is obvious and derivative. While he’s accompanied by his girl in lavender, Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar), brainy chick Velma (Laura Cardellini), Shaggy (Matthew Lillard), and Scooby (voiced by Neil Fanning), Fred is all too happy to be spokesperson.
The movie continues to press this theme—the illusory nature of fame, the treachery of media, the sad truth that, as Daphne observes, “Image is everything”—once the kids get inside the museum, where they are asked more questions and pressed to pose for more pictures. The exhibit at hand is comprised of super-villainish costumes collected by the gang over the course of their exploits, including the Pterodactyl Ghost and Black Knight Ghost. Just as they’re getting used to be adored by their public, disaster strikes: the Evil Masked Figure swoops in and steals a couple of costumes, leaving chaos in his wake. Worse, the entire calamity is caught on camera.
Faster than you can say “10,000 Volt Ghost,” the gang is vilified in the media and Fred’s face is all over tv screens calling the people of Coolsville names (Heather, perversely ambitious and not a little mean, takes a quotation “out of context”). The next time they step outside, a couple of little boys riding bikes pause to call them “losers.” Oh dear oh dear. Fans are so fickle. And so the Scoobies have a double mission this time: solve the theft mystery and salvage their reputations. Aiding them, perhaps, is the Museum’s curator, Patrick (Seth Green, essentially playing Oz, once more), on whom Velma develops a serious crush (but, you might object, she’s obviously gay; then again, he’s a little girly, so maybe that’s how the writers are working this out).
In order to provide enough material for the film’s 91-minute running time, the plot sidetracks long enough for Daphne to dress up Velma for a date with Patrick. As the boys wait below, Velma appears at the top of a stairway, squeezed into a red pleather jumpsuit, with heels and bouffy wig, and without glasses. She looks awful, not to mention desperately uncomfortable (and Cardellini’s cartoon voice is truly painful here). The ensuing ride in the Mystery Machine hardly quells the tension, as the double-daters (not including Scooby and Shaggy) arrive at the Museum to find that every single monster costume has now been stolen. Patrick makes a quick exit (so awkward that you might almost imagine Green was rushing off to appear in another movie, as he’s the only one here with a career beyond the Scooby franchise, even if it is made up of serial supporting parts).
Eventually the group comes to find out that the unknown villain is stealing the costumes to transform into corny, badly CGI-ed Ghostbusters-style monsters, by means of a machine hidden in some “bad part of town,” in a basement. It’s not much of a plot, but to its credit, it doesn’t involve Scrappy Doo. Sidelines involve Daphne playing Buffy (that is, martial-artsing the monsters for a minute that can only make you yearn for Sunnydale) and Scooby and Shaggy worrying that they’re just tagalongs, not carrying their own heroic weight (this even as Shaggy notes, by way of credentials, “Creepy is my middle name”).
Apparently meaning to assert their usefulness, the two go undercover, Scooby in a pimpsuit and Afro wig at a seedy bar, dancing to “We Wanna Thank You (The Things You Do).” Annoying and unoriginal on its own, this bit also recalls the kids becoming hiphop zombies in the first Scooby movie: blackness continues to signify “otherness” in the Scooby world. (In this context, it’s honestly difficult to interpret the appearance of Ruben Studdard during the closing credits, to sing “Shining Star.”)
Eventually, Scooby and Shaggy do discover the villain’s lair (the villain who may or may not be Peter Boyle, Tim Blake Nelson, or someone else; everyone here looks a little bereft of purpose), whereupon they are beset by gizmos and ghosts. None of these appear to exist in the same space as Shaggy, but then again, neither does Scooby: for all the reported money spent on digital effects for the sequel, the results are shoddy. During one traumatic episode, Shaggy and Scooby try on differently gendered bodies: when both are most plainly faking it, they look most compatible.
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