Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided the writer with a free copy of the DVD reviewed in this article. The opinions shared are his own.
For almost 30 years, Scooby-Doo! TV shows and movies didn't have what you would call continuity. There was a backstory to the characters that was changed slightly to fit the needs of the plot. There was always a hint that the gang had encountered ghosts and villains before but not a continuing story from episode to episode. The changing landscape of animated television series and movies has added to the evolution of the franchise. Now, we've had TV series that tell one long story and some of the films have shown a memory of what has gone on before.
The title of the all-new animated film, Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island (available previously on digital and today on DVD) hints as a sequel of sorts to the 1998 direct-to-video Scooby-Doo! On Zombie Island. That wonderful film started a 22-year run of movies that have at alternate times felt part of a general continuity and others that have come across as promotional spots for other Warner Bros properties. While the TV shows over that same time have leaned towards telling longer stories in the vein of the original series, the films starting with Zombie Island started a trend towards an older team that ironically acknowledged their quirky past. On Zombie Island, the group encountered "real" monsters instead of old men in masks. This new film is the 30th film in the direct-to-video sequence and it follows some of the backstories from more recent films.
The Return to Zombie Island plot is pretty much contained in the title. The action picks up pretty soon after the end of the last film Scooby Doo! and the Curse of the 13th Ghost. That film itself addressed an open story from an earlier series. The gang is officially on hiatus when they win an all-expense paid vacation to a tropical paradise. The island, Moonscar Island, and the resort, Moonscar Island Resort, all feel a little familiar. The dual plots revolve around the group making a film about their previous visit to the island (the real reason they "won" the trip to the island) and a new outbreak of zombie attacks since they've arrived. The movie plays out in an interesting dichotomy of the making of a movie with "fake" characters and our "real" characters trying to decipher if there are real or fake zombies. Along the way, there are many of the usual fake-outs and chases and contraptions. In the end, the story is moved forward less in the relation to Zombie Island and more in relation to getting the gang back into the mode of solving mysteries that they had stopped after the last film.
It's hard to contain my disappointment in what should be a solid entry into the direct-to-video sequence. The title is misleading in the way that "sequel" is defined. Other than another visit to the same island and some vague references to "weren't we here before?", there isn't much need to have seen the previous film to understand what is happening here. The songs aren't as thematically related to the island, the zombies aren't as scary, and even the characters have reverted back to a more innocent version of themselves. The movie is essentially a sequel to 13 Ghosts and if you haven't watched that film, you will be confused about the initial state of the group and especially Fred's depression. This visit serves to set up a continuation of the direct-to-video series and even hints at a trilogy of Zombie Island films.
There are plenty of other films in the series that they could have "revisited" in order to keep the franchise moving forward. A true sequel to Zombie Island should be one that fully acknowledges the first film and allows the Scooby Gang to address some of the interesting issues brought up in that groundbreaking film. If you go into this with the idea that it's a sequel and not just a continuation of the current state of the series, you are going to be disappointed. The series is in flux. The TV shows have lost all of their momentum. The 50th anniversary of the franchise has generated some new interest but this film is just a blip in the 30-film series. I'm glad it's not a "finale" type of film because there's just not enough Scooby or Zombie here.
The voice talent remains including the never-aging Frank Welker as Scooby and Fred, Matthew Lillard owns the Shaggy voice these days, Kate Micucci as Velma really adds to the character, and Grey Griffin as Daphne. The DVD contains a bonus episode of What's New, Scooby-Doo with "Mummy Scares Best" (not the best) and a very disappointing New Scooby-Doo Mysteries episode called "Ghosts of the Ancient Astronauts, Part 1". Those choices just make it more disappointing. The next visit to Zombie Island better be live up to the original and not this "fake" movie.