Cats (1998) has a bit of a reputation on Broadway. Although I was once a theater kid, I never really appreciated one of the longest-running musicals of all time. Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, it seems you either love or hate Cats. The 1998 movie is simply the play put to film with more effects and several returning cast members. I distinctly remember watching a VHS tape of Cats when I was 4.
I only remember being a combination of confused, creeped out, and bored to death. I don’t even remember how vaguely sexual the cats are. In case you’ve never seen the musical, Cats doesn’t really have a straightforward plot. It’s 100% singing, loosely tied together with various Jellicle cats wanting to be reborn in the Heaviside Layer. Don’t try to make sense of it. The stage is a more extravagant moonlit junkyard where each colorful cat is musically introduced. Each of them dressed in wild cat makeup and unitards.
There’s the ballet dancing Victoria the White Cat, storytelling Munkustrap, all-knowing Old Deuteronomy, seemingly lazy gumbie cat Jennyanydots, fun loving Rum Tum Tugger, fancy fat cat Bustopher Jones, cat burgling Mungojerrie & Rumpleteazer, aging theater cat Gus, mischievous Macavity, flirtatious Bombalurina, railway riding Skimbleshanks, magical Mr. Mistoffelees, and sad former glamour cat Grizabella. Between all of those funny names are some genuinely catchy songs. I have a lot of personal favorites, but nothing beats Elaine Paige performing the showstopper “Memory.” Cats is still an acquired taste regardless of medium.
Scoob! has no idea what its identity is. Scooby-Doo has had more animated movies than any other cartoon property. Yet Scoob! is somehow the first theatrical animated movie in the franchise. Or at least it would’ve been if the pandemic didn’t push it to streaming. Although I still haven’t committed myself to the direct-to-video Scooby-Doo movies, Scoob! felt a little more necessary. It was computer animated and seemed to be made with fans in mind. Then everything changed when the Hanna-Barbera universe was announced. Turning Scoob! into yet another desperate attempt at an MCU style cinematic crossover. Half the time it feels like Mystery, Inc. is only used for their name recognition. What 10 year old child is gonna know who Dynomutt, Captain Caveman, or Dick Dastardly is? They don’t have half the staying power of Scooby-Doo, yet every obscure Hanna-Barbera character is given a computer animated update.
What’s worse is the over reliance on cringey modern slang and references to Netflix, Ikea, or the Hemsworths. It’s like the movie has no target demographic. The all-celebrity cast is a much larger issue that continues Hollywood’s lack of faith in voice actors. Will Forte is a surprisingly unenthusiastic Shaggy. Zac Efron sounds right on paper, but his Fred is way too full of himself. Gina Rodriguez is another non-white Velma, but her brains almost make her boring. Amanda Seyfried is also off, but I felt like she was a lot closer to capturing Daphne. Frank Welker is the only returning cast member who only voices Scooby. Maybe it’s his age, but even his voice felt off. Scoob! seems to be an origin story about how a child Shaggy met a pup named Scooby-Doo. That, along with his meeting with Fred, Daphne, and Velma all feels very underwhelming. You know mysteries aren’t important when a revision of the Where Are You! opening is the only thing that feels remotely mysterious.
A very out of nowhere (and creepily rendered) Simon Cowell sereraptes Shaggy & Scooby from the gang. Leaving Fred, Daphne, and Velma to look for them when they’re abducted by the Falcon Fury. Everyone has some Scooby-Doo knowledge, but I know next to nothing about the Blue Falcon. Mark Wahlberg voices the son of Blue Falcon with a gritty new costume. Ken Jeong voices Dynomutt and Kiersey Clemons is given top-billing as the only black Hanna-Barbera character Dee Dee Skyes. Shaggy really doesn’t feel like the fanboy type, yet that’s given more attention than anything else. Jason Isaacs is trying a lot harder than he needs to as the villain Dick Dastardly. His plan involves finding his dog Muttley and opening the underworld to release Cerberus or something. Tracy Morgan eventually shows up as Captain Caveman, but it’s just as tact on as everything else. Although it tries to make friendship the heart of the movie, Scoob! is more incorporated character branding than mystery solving.
Mystery, Inc. solve mysteries
Daphne & Velma is not the girl power flick it desperately wants to be. The best thing about the Scooby-Doo franchise is just how well the mismatched Mystery, Inc. work together. For whatever reason, Ashley Tisdale and her sister Jennifer thought Daphne Blake and Velma Dinkley should solve a mystery on their own. So they produced the movie themselves and it went straight to DVD. Without Fred, Shaggy, or Scooby-Doo, only Daphne & Velma have a noticeable live-action casting decline.
Both actresses are named Sarah, but neither feel right in their iconic roles. The mixed race Sarah Jeffery of Descendants fame is given red hair to play Daphne. Apart from wearing purple, nothing about her screams accident prone or fashionable. Not even when they lean into those tendencies out of nowhere. Sarah Gilman’s Velma looks and feels like a Ghost World reject. Once again, it’s not enough to wear orange or say “Jinkies.”
Without the rest of the gang, I really don’t buy Velma being best friends with Daphne. Yet that’s what happens when a mystery comes around at their high school. Despite the entire franchise being horror themed, Daphne & Velma feels more like science fiction. Their school is obnoxiously high tech with borderline futuristic technology and kids becoming zombies because of their cell phones. Insert dated modern slang and that’s literally the entire movie. Complete with a less than surprising twist villain. Daphne & Velma is proof that all future mysteries require a talking dog.
Daphne and Velma
Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster is just another Scooby-Doo mystery in a live-action package. Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins had the intrigue of being a made-for-TV prequel with a new cast. Curse of the Lake Monster sounds like something that could’ve been a random direct-to-video animated movie. Not that my brother and I didn’t once again watch the premiere on Cartoon Network. The prequel-sequel follows Mystery, Inc. as they get summer jobs and attempt to become incorporated.
The entire cast obviously returns since it was only a year after the previous movie. Nick Palatas is given more attention as Shaggy, but I constantly asked “Scooby-Doo! Where are you?” I get that his CGI is expensive for a TV budget, but he’s barely relevant to the mystery. As the title suggests, the mystery is who’s behind the Lake Monster that haunts the beach. The humanoid toad monster is controlled by a witch with an obvious identity.
Honestly it’s not as memorable as the movie’s summer love subplots. Robbie Amell and Kate Melton are unsurprisingly paired up as Fred & Daphne. They even get a cute joke of them wearing their cartoon accurate outfits. More surprising is Shaggy being paired up with the brainy Velma when he literally falls for her. Hayley Kiyoko is also given more screen time as Velma that makes it obvious she’s the brainwashed villain. Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster is a mostly serviceable kids movie that probably won’t leave an impression.
Mystery, Inc. at a country club
Preceded by: Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins
Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins isn’t that bad considering its TV budget. After the failure of Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, a third live-action movie was cancelled. It was eventually replaced by a sort of prequel that’s both contemporary and has a completely different cast. My brother and I actually watched The Mystery Begins when it first aired on Cartoon Network. Although it lacks the so bad it’s good crudity of the theatrical films, I can’t really refer to it in the same way. Most faults are understandable for a made-for-TV kids movie.
Not counting shows like A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, it is kind of fun to see how many unique personalities became lifelong friends and detectives. Nick Palatas does an admirable job with Shaggy as an awkward high school slaker. The rest of the iconic characters are off, but mostly excusable. Robbie Amell nails the dumb jock with a heart side of Fred, but he isn’t blonde. Kate Melton is a mostly plain looking Daphne with a love for theater. Hayley Kiyoko is the first non-white actress to play Velma, but her braininess and silly walk are very much in tact.
Although voiced by Frank Welker, Scooby-Doo is given rough CGI that makes him look more like a cartoon. Scooby finds a home with Shaggy and the rest of the gang become friends Breakfast Club style. The mystery itself is a very ametur Coolsville High mystery with obvious fakeouts and a more obvious villain. Meanwhile, ghosts are the usual pesky poltergeists. The Mystery Machine ends up being Daphne’s old family van and Scooby Snacks are the homemade treats Shaggy makes. Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins is barely a mystery worth discovering, but it’s a harmless addition to the franchise.
Mystery, Inc. in the Mystery Machine
Followed by: Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster
Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed feels like the movie they should’ve led with. Although Raja Gosnell is still the director and James Gunn is surprisingly still the writer, Monsters Unleashed feels more like a love letter to Scooby-Doo. Albeit one that retains the immature humor of the first movie. There are still innuendos, but it’s more clear that this was always meant to be a kids movie. Although I was 8 and enjoyed the live-action Scooby-Doo, I still didn’t see the sequel in theaters. Monsters Unleashed isn’t a guilty pleasure like the first movie, but it has its moments. Scooby-Doo 2 brings back the entire cast with slightly updated hair and/or outfits. Mystery, Inc. arrives in a Mystery Machine limo to a Coolsville museum dedicated to their many cartoon accurate ghosts.
It is fun to see them acknowledge the Pterodactyl Ghost, Black Knight Ghost, Tar Monster, and Skeleton Men. At first they’re just costumes, but scientific mumbo jumbo turns them into real monsters with the usual terrible CGI. The mystery this time is who the masked figure behind everything is. Each Mystery, Inc. member is once again given equal importance. At this point Matthew Lillard fully transforms into Shaggy. He and Scooby-Doo try to prove they aren’t screw ups by doing serious detective work. With the usual fart jokes and childish antics along the way. The most memorable scene is Shaggy & Scooby taking potions that turn them into various things. Since Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar were married at this point, some attention is given to Fred & Daphne’s relationship.
Really it’s Linda Cardellini who’s given the most attention with Velma receiving a love interest. “Jinkies!” she’s even put in a sexy skintight outfit just to impress Seth Green as the museum curator. He’s one of several suspects including Peter Boyle and Tim Blake Nelson as former masked ghosts. Although the real culprit is more obviously Alicia Silverstone as a reporter trying to discredit Mystery, Inc. Other memorable moments involve the gang together. Like when they explore a spooky mansion or remember being teenagers. In the end it’s Scooby-Doo who gets his big hero moment. The villain is unmasked and an obligatory dance number plays. Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed has enough respect for the show to distract from the usual forgivable problems.
Mystery, Inc. at an abandoned warehouse
Preceded by: Scooby-Doo
Scooby-Doo is a live-action adaptation that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Scooby-Doo is without a doubt, Hanna-Barbera’s most successful media franchise of all time. It’s impossible to ignore the dozens of animated iterations, direct-to-video movies, crossovers, etc. Something about four meddling kids and their talking dog solving mysteries together has serious staying power. So a live-action movie was inevitable. I’ve always considered myself to be more of a casual Scooby-Doo fan. I saw the first animated movie at a young age, but not much else. I didn’t see Scooby-Doo in theaters even though I was 7 at the time. It eventually became a guilty pleasure of mine that’s unlike any other live-action cartoon adaptations. Since Scooby-Doo was originally intended to be an adult oriented satire similar to The Brady Bunch Movie. Raja Gosnell is an understandable director, but I had no idea James Gunn wrote the screenplay. Shaggy being a pothead, Daphne kissing Velma, and other darker themes were eventually dropped to make it kid friendly, but Scooby-Doo is still packed with less than subtle innuendos.
The cast, soundtrack, cameos, and CGI scream early 2000’s. Regardless of what anyone says, I think Scooby-Doo himself strikes the right balance between real Great Dane and cartoon character. Matthew Lillard is like “Zoinks!” scary good at playing Shaggy Rogers. He’s so good at portraying his hunger and slacker mannerisms that Lillard continues to voice Shaggy to this day. Freddie Prinze Jr. plays into Fred Jones poor leadership skills and self-importance. Buffy herself Sarah Michelle Gellar ironically joins the original Scooby gang as Daphne Blake. This is the first time Fred & Daphne become romantic considering their co-stars were dating. Linda Cardellini is just nerdy enough to play Velma Dinkley, but Daphne & Velma are still put in increasingly revealing outfits. Really it’s the opening scene that gives Mystery, Inc. their cartoon accurate outfits. Even the Mystery Machine is spot on. The movie sort of begins arbitrarily with the Lunar Ghost kidnapping Daphne and being unmasked as Old Man Smithers.
More sudden is the entire team parting ways for over 2 years. They’re brought back due to a mystery on Spooky Island. The haunted amusement park is run by Rowan Atkinson and several other colorful characters. Fred, Daphne, and Velma are more determined to solve the mystery themselves. Fred eventually learns to be less full of himself. Daphne desperately tries to shed her damsel in distress image by learning to fight. Velma proves her intelligence to be valuable and has a sort of love interest. Shaggy & Scooby spend most of their time eating Scooby Snacks and farting for several minutes, but a girl does come between them. Shaggy falls for Mary Jane (subtle) played by before she was famous Isla Fisher. The spooky atmosphere would’ve been enough, but now there are actual monsters on the run. It’s really their CGI that’s horrendous. The mystery is complicated by soul extraction, cult rituals, and Scooby-Doo being sacrificed. Until a random twist that makes the much hated Scrappy-Doo the villain behind everything. Scooby-Doo has a strange approach to its iconic characters, but that’s what makes it so fun. “Scooby-Dooby-Doo!”
Mystery, Inc. on Spooky Island
Followed by: Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed
Pet Sematary (2019) is a remake with so much potential. Potential that was thrown away for something almost completely unfaithful to the book. After the success of It, Stephen King adaptations were all the rage. So Pet Sematary went the Carrie route of following up the original and its unnecessary sequel with a remake. The trailer definitely made it seem scarier and more moody than the 1989 film. Although I don’t often see horror movies in theaters, my brother and I figured Pet Sematary (2019) would be a big deal. I certainly regret that decision a little bit. Since the remake is so serious and reliant on jump scares.
Pet Sematary (2019) still follows the Creed family as they move to Maine, but now they’re from Boston and have more problems. Since Dr. Louis Creed gradually becomes more unlikable, it made sense to cast Jason Clarke. Amy Seimetz plays Rachel and newcomers play Ellie and Gage. John Lithgow delivers the iconic “Sometimes, dead is better” line, but he’s no Fred Gwynne. Jud Crandall is widowed like the original, but he develops a friendship with Ellie. So that it makes more sense to suggest bringing back Church when he dies. The cat is somewhat creepier, but it’s still difficult to pull off. The titular cemetery leans more into its tribal history with animal masks and a book accurate Wendigo connection.
The undead Victor Pascow is now black, deadly serious, and very graphically mutilated. Rachel’s sister Zelda is also more grotesque with her spinal disease. The horror atmosphere is so right that I felt betrayed when they went off book. I’d say SPOILER ALERT!, but trailers already gave away that Ellie is the one killed by a truck instead of Gage. I had a feeling when Ellie was given so much attention, but it really defeats the purpose of the original. Leading to a series of intentional subversions that end with several bloody deaths and the entire family being reanimated except for Gage. Pet Sematary (2019) chose shock factor over authenticity.
Remake of: Pet Sematary (1989)
Pet Sematary Two is another unnecessary sequel with no involvement from Stephen King. The director surprisingly returned, but this is far from the original. A movie that I was never a big fan of to begin with. Pet Sematary Two starts like an ordinary pointless sequel, but it quickly becomes very over-the-top and gory. Rather than follow the sole surviving Ellie Creed, they ditch her storyline to focus on a teenage boy. Edward Furlong’s immediate follow up to Terminator 2 ended up being a far less successful sequel.
The Creed burials have become an urban legend when Jeff and his veterinarian father move to Maine after the death of his mother. She was an actress who died in a freak on-set accident. Jeff isn’t nearly as interesting as his new friend Drew. His white dog Zowie obviously ends up buried near the pet cemetery where he comes back as a much more convincing monster. King had nothing to do with the movie, but it does feel like his work at times. Especially with its overly sadistic bullies and cruel stepfather.
Although Clancy Brown is really the only actor trying to have fun. He plays Drew’s police officer stepfather Gus who shoots Zowie before being killed by his undead body. Despite being a jerk, Jeff and Drew for some reason bring Gus back as an almost comedic zombie dad. Until he becomes sadistic and helps Jeff get his mother back. The sequel gets really disgusting with much more gruesome deaths involving people as well as animals. Pet Sematary Two should’ve been buried, because “Sometimes, dead is better.”
Preceded by: Pet Sematary
Pet Sematary is the final Stephen King adaptation released in the 80’s. It was buried for so long since King has called it the scariest book he’s ever written. Although the themes are creepy and saddening, the movie can only go so far. The misspelled Pet Sematary centers on a pet cemetery that mysteriously brings animals back to life. It’s a personal story that King based on similar life experiences. So much so that King wrote the movie himself. Pet Sematary follows the Creed family as they move to a traditional Maine town. The only thing off about their new home are trucks that speed down the street and the titular cemetery down the road.
Dale Midkiff doesn’t stand out as Dr. Louis Creed, but Fred Gwynne is a major presence as their heavily accented neighbor Jud Crandall. Denise Crosby plays Louis’ wife Rachel a year after quitting The Next Generation. Their children are the ambiguously supernatural Ellie and adorable toddler Gage. There’s the usual uncomfortable talk about religion, but their cat Church is actually named after Winston Churchill. When Church dies, Jud tells Louis how to bring him back to life. A soft grey cat can only look so intimidating, but Church coming back wrong is unsettling. “Sometimes, dead is better.”
Other creepy happenings are an undead patient named Victor Pascow warning characters not to use the cemetery and Rachel remembering her sister Zelda who died of a spinal disease. Neither compare to Gage being tragically struck by an oncoming truck. It’s part of the reason why I avoided watching the movie, but it is offscreen. What isn’t offscreen is Louis bringing Gage back to life as a murderous child. 3 year old Miko Hughes is still cute, but surprisingly terrifying. SPOILER ALERT! Jud dies an unexpectedly graphic death and Rachel returns only to die as well. A detatched Louis puts down his cat and son before bringing his wife back. Pet Sematary isn’t the instant Stephen King classic I thought it would be, but it’s lively enough.
Followed by: Pet Sematary Two