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Wayback Wednesday: Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998)

Justice for Velma and Beau.

I am without a doubt one of the biggest Scooby-Doo fans in the world. As a kid I owned all of the movies, watched all of the TV series, and even saw the stage show. I collected action figures, stuffed animals, and video games. I even had the lunchbox with matching thermos. It’s safe to say that Scooby-Doo isn’t just an interest of mine. It’s a part of who I am. And so, with an Autumn wind in the air and the season of spookiness upon us, I thought I’d dust off an undisputed Halloween staple in my house: Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998). Although full disclosure, I could watch this movie multiple times a year and not grow tired of it. You guys! I’m so excited to write my first Scooby-Doo review!

Screen Shot 2019-09-16 at 11.02.33 PM
Credit: / Warner Home Video

In Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, the gang reunites after a few years of separation to accompany Daphne as she travels the country in search of real live ghost stories. Encountering countless frauds, they eventually find themselves on Moonscar Island, an infamous New Orleans bayou with a mysterious history. When a horde of zombies begins to terrorize the gang and their hosts, they face threats considerably more frightening than costumed criminals.

Not only did I watch the shit out of this movie growing up, but like I said, I continue to watch the shit out of it. It’s just so good! There have been many well done and entertaining Scooby-Doo movies both direct-to-video and theatrical, but Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is hands down the best. Part of its excellence and charm is thanks to the movie’s animation style. I firmly believe that the 90s was the peak of animation in terms of artistry. 3D animation and CGI are certainly amazing and visually stunning, but there’s something magical and comforting about the traditional hand-drawn style. The use of colours are so vibrant and enchanting that ironically, it adds a sense of realism to this animated adventure. You get drawn into this haunted bayou and lose yourself in the beautiful backdrops the artists create. Really, for a low-budget, late 90s project that was released direct-to-video, the animation is truly fantastic. The beignets, gumbo, sky-high sandwiches… I always thought they made the food in this movie look sensational!

Speaking of old-fashioned methods of making animated movies, you know what was surprisingly refreshing about watching this movie? The absence of celebrity voices. Granted, having a celebrity voice a character doesn’t make a movie automatically bad, but there’s something unique about listening to a movie absent of famous voices. As you watch you’re not distracted trying to figure out whose voicing which character. Instead you become more absorbed in the story and are able to focus on these animated characters and see them as true people. Voice acting is an art form all its own and the cast, which includes veteran talent like Tara Strong, Frank Welker and Mark Hamill himself, prove that. Each actor treats their performance as if it were for a real monster movie. Which is pretty spot on because as far as animated horror comedies go, Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island has all the markings of a classic.

In many ways, Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island dared to be different from past iterations of the franchise. The cool dynamic of having the gang be disbanded then regroup for a new adventure, Velma getting a love interest (I would have loved to see Beau pop up in future movies BTW), and a surprising twist on who the true monsters of the story are. Hell, Daphne even gets to drive the Mystery Machine! I’ve only ever seen Fred behind the wheel! Of all the new things Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island did though, it was its use of a darker tone that was by far the most successful and acclaimed.

While the 80s saw a handful of movies and specials that featured the gang encountering real monsters, it was always played for laughs. There’s nothing wrong with that of course and honestly, Scooby-Doo! and the Reluctant Werewolf (1988) is one of the most lovably silly movies in the franchise. But Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is the first to embrace a more serious, horrific tone and it only adds to the overall enjoyment of the movie. Practically dripping with dread, its inherent sinister nature is on par with the tone of countless horror novels. Seriously, couldn’t you imagine picking up “Zombie Island” in an occult bookstore? Kind of like the one Velma owns? By the way, owning and operating a quaint mystery bookstore is now officially my plan for retirement.

A tight hour and 18 minutes, Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is quite mature for a cartoon. I love how it delves into its supernatural source material and creates a straightforward and spooky story. I’m just saying, “cat creatures” doesn’t sound very scary on paper, but is down right terrifying when this movie brings them to life. At the same time, it never sacrifices the comedy, slapstick, or silly cartoon fun that we love about Scooby-Doo. It makes sure that as much as the movie plays with horror, it never loses the heart and humour of the franchise. Honestly, will we ever get tired of watching he gang run through haunted houses, split up and look for clues or Shaggy and Scooby get into all kinds of mischief? I don’t think so. Much like Charlie’s Angels (2000 – present) or James Bond (1962 – present), Scooby-Doo is one of those rare franchises that we will happily accept sequels and reboots of. Why? Because just like angels and MI6 agents, we’ll always be happy to see a new adventure with those meddling kids.

Apparently, last Friday was the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969 – 1978), the beginning to what would become one of the most beloved franchises of all time. That alone is reason enough to give this underrated Scooby classic a rewatch. Although, if you’re still looking for a reason to check out Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, here’s the definitive one: There are not one, but two, montages set to eerie, ghost-themed songs that are certified BOPS! Forget love songs, play “The Ghost Is Here” and “It’s Terror Time Again” at my wedding.

Are you a Scooby-Doo fan? What are you favourite Scooby-Doo movies?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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