Camp Scare and Abracadabra-Doo: You've Come a Long Way, Scooby

Scooby-Doo Camp ScareImage

The original Scooby-Doo shows were famously repetitive. The basic plot structure was identical for every episode, but besides that, they also would repeat the same (crummy) animation sequences. One particular animation sequence, of the whole gang walking from left-to-right, is usually played at least twice per episode. Every possible trick was employed to keep the number of animation frames to a minimum, like when someone crashes into something, we usually see a reaction shot instead of the crash.

Since then, much has changed. Starting in 1998 with Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, Scooby and the rest of the gang began appearing in a series of direct-to-DVD films. In some cases, the tried-and-true plot formula was followed, but not always. Perhaps more striking, though, was the upgrade in animation quality. The two films made in 2010, Scooby Doo: Camp Scare and Scooby Doo: Abracadabra-Doo, are very well animated. I don't want to oversell this -- don't expect something on par with Disney feature animation. But when you consider where the series started, it's an amazing transformation. In these two films, characters are shadowed and shaded, richly animated, travel freely in three dimensions, and I spot lots of computer-assist, like lens flares on flashlights in the dark. I honestly haven't been this impressed by t.v.-grade animation since the original Batman: The Animated Series. What's also great is that although the quality of the animation is updated, the characters have their classic look and feel. I can imagine the temptation was great to modernize the look, but that's been wisely avoided.

Okay, so the films look great, but what about the rest of it? Both of these films have good stories. I mean, let's face it, in the end we are still talking about Scooby Doo, and it's foolish to expect a plot worthy of G. K. Chesterton. All of the films in this series suffer from a basic problem, namely that some guy wearing a mask scaring people for nefarious ends really isn't enough of a story to fill out a 90 minute film. Some of the films handled this problem badly, namely by adding truly supernatural elements or idiotic subplots. But Camp Scare and Abracadabra-Doo come by their lengths honestly, by letting events unfold gradually, and allowing little character moments to fill in time. My only plot complaint is that the villain of Abracadabra-Doo is apparently motivated by the desire to make a little cash, which is fine, but is employing a scheme that looks like it would cost millions of dollars to implement. It's like a guy trying to transmute gold back to lead or something.

The characters are fun, with more depth than you might expect from the old show. Fred in particular has blossomed from the leader who never missed an opportunity to split the group up, to an over-eager, sweet-hearted goof. In Camp Scare, there's a running gag about Fred wanting to be a great counselor at the camp he attended as a boy, and gosh if I didn't almost start to care a little about Fred before I came to my senses and remembered I was watching a Scooby-Doo movie. And while Shaggy and Scooby are always the most annoying elements of any Scooby-Doo story, there are moments in Abracadabra-Doo where the pair are downright heroic.

Some notes on the casting: Casey Kasem has retired, and Matthew Lilliard, from the live-action Scooby films, has taken over voice duties for Shaggy. Although he has the vocal tics down, he doesn't really sound anything like Kasem. It's just something you have to accept. Also, Velma is now voiced by Mindy Cohn, best known as Natalie from The Facts of Life. It turns out to be a great fit. I was surprised--other than using Velma's trademark vocabulary ("Jinkies!"), she uses her normal voice, and she doesn't really sound like the original Velma. Even so, she sounds very natural for the character.

Rating for both films: 3/4. Bottom line: these two films are about as good as Scooby-Doo can get. They are still too much of a formula children's adventure to be worthy of the fourth star, as I can't imagine sitting through an entire 90 minute Scooby film without my daughter on the couch next to me. But for what they're aiming to be, they hit the mark. Bravo, Scooby! Have yourself a scooby-snack.

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My Neighbor Totoro: How Children See Childhood

Totoro

My Neighbor Totoro (in the film, the last word is pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable, "TOE-tuh-roh") is a wonderful film. What sets it apart from other family fare is its implied viewpoint. This is a film that views childhood from a child's perspective. Seeing it, I realized that most current Hollywood films view childhood from a grown-up perspective. Take the Toy Story trilogy, for example. Looking back, these films are about how we as adults remember childhood, and what it's like for parents to watch their children grow up. My Neighbor Totoro sees childhood from the inside out.

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The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Leave Your Brain at the Door

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse

Before I unload on the sweet, beloved image that is Mickey Mouse, let me establish my background as regards Disney: I'm a big honkin' Disney fan. I especially love Walt Disney World, and have visited more times than I can count, including many trips as an adult without any children in tow, but I also love much of the classic animation from the studio. On top of that, I met my wife while we both worked at the local Disney store. Sixteen years of loving marriage and a wonderful daughter later, you can be sure that I look upon the name "Disney" with a big grin on my face.

This is why it pains me that so much of the programming on the Disney Channel (the corporate types would have me say "Disney Channel," without the "the," but I'm not on the payroll any more) is awful. The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is a prime offender.

Other than seeing recognizable characters that have built up enormous goodwill through decades of appearances in far better entertainment, the show has absolutely nothing to recommend it, besides some pretty catchy music over the opening and closing titles, courtesy of They Might Be Giants. No character ever does or says anything interesting, and indeed, they all seem rather drained of personality.

The show is also mind-numbingly boring, but the real problem is that the show is anti-educational. While the show ostensibly teaches children how to solve problems, it actually does the opposite. It teaches children to be stupid. It's one of the few shows that could actually lower the intelligence of the child watching it.

Let me provide a few examples as evidence:

  • Minnie Mouse is organizing a picnic for the clubhouse members and assorted friends. At the park site, the juice for the picnic is spilled on the ground. The characters wonder how they're going to clean up the juice. Just so we're clear here, the juice has been spilled on the ground. Cleanup will be automatically provided by God. But this doesn't occur to our cartoon friends, so they undertake to somehow remove the juice from the sod. You might think this is impossible, and you would be right, but Goofy and Pete manage to extract the juice through the use of an enormous sponge. If only we'd had these two geniuses working on the Deepwater Horizon spill!
  • Mickey and pals are helping Santa Claus -- never mind why. At some point they need to attach a harness full of reindeer to a sleigh. So you've got these bridle reins, which are, of course, nothing more than leather ropes. How in the world could we attach this to a sleigh? Could we tie them? No, in the wonderful world of Mickey, this is apparently impossible. Instead, they have to call upon "Toodles," who provides a giant ribbon bow. They tie the reins to the sleigh using the bow!
  • The gang goes camping. But they're having some trouble putting up their tents. One of the tents is inflatable, and they're having trouble inflating it. Okay, let's put aside how they inflate the tent, that's not important. But why are we teaching children about inflatable tents? I have to be clear about this. We're not talking about a tent with inflatable sides, like a Bounce House--or for our friends across the pond, a Bouncy Castle. I'm talking about a tent which is essentially one giant balloon. After you inflate such a tent, how exactly do you get inside without letting the air out? And once you're inside, how do you refrain from dying?

I could go on, but each new paragraph saddens me. This is the worst sort of children's programming. It purports to be educational, in a way, but the connection of cause to effect in this fantasy world is so arbitrary that a child watches this to his or her detriment. If the show was also funny, or engaging, perhaps I could overlook this fault, but this show is only slightly more interesting than what the television looks like when the power is off.

Rating: 1/4.

 

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