Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998) and Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island (2019) Blu-ray Review: Wallow in the Warmth of a 20-Year Story Arc

Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island starts with the gang (Scooby-Doo/Scott Innes, Shaggy Rogers/Billy West, Daphne Blake/Mary Kay Bergman, Fred Jones/Frank Welker, and Velma Dinkley/B. J. Ward) having gone mostly separate ways because every time they have investigated a mystery there is always some disgruntled townsfolk hiding under a mask and ready to blame those meddling kids. Fred, Daphne, and Velma want nothing more than to see a real ghost.

Buy Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island / Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island Blu-ray

Fred is a good-looking, intelligent leader, who likes to set traps to catch his prey. Daphne is a beautiful investigative reporter who knows how to use her endless charm. Velma is the super-intelligent investigator who always gets her man (or woman). Scooby and Shaggy are like the id of the group: they want to be as far away as possible from anything scary, they want to eat, they want to sleep, and they are great at accidentally catching bad guys.

In the beginning of Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, Daphne is the host and Fred is the cameraman for a television show in which they try to catch “real” ghosts without any luck. Eventually, Fred contacts the rest of the crew to go on a “haunted” vacation to celebrate Daphne’s birthday. They are still frustrated that every supernatural event can be explained away by people in masks. In New Orleans, they meet Lena Dupree (Tara Charendoff) who asks the crew to spend the night on Moonscar Island, also known as Zombie Island.

During the first night on the island, Shaggy and Scooby are chased by zombies, and Fred and Daphne are able to catch one. Trying to take off the mask from one of the zombies, Fred tears off its head (in the cutest, cartoonish way possible) to discover the creature is real! Few of the Scooby-Doo stories, up to the point of Zombie Island (1998), have any actual supernatural elements to them. There was a three-year stint in the early ’80s when Scooby and Shaggy were on their own and they ran into real monsters in many episodes. 

For the most part, though, this was the theme of Scooby-Doo: investigation and science take precedence over a presumption of the supernatural. Unfortunately, Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island completely breaks the mold. Up until now, when there were real monsters, they were not very “evil.” But on Zombie Island, the zombies are actual zombies, and the were-cats are actual were-cats.

Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island (2019) serves as a good retrofit for the different path of the previous film 21 years earlier. In the opening, we learn that Fred (Fred Welker, who also voices Scooby-Doo) has sold the group’s van, The Mystery Machine, and gone into retirement. This won’t last, though, as Fred sees an interesting news story and asks the gang (Shaggy Rogers/Matthew Lillard, Daphne Blake/Grey Griffin, and Velma Dinkley/Kate Micucci) to get back together and solve one more mystery.

Shaggy and Scooby refuse to get back together unless Fred, Daphne, and Velma promise to give up ghost hunting. The trio agrees and decides to go on a vacation together. Suspiciously, while the group watch an episode of Elvira, she announces a contest and the winner gets an all-expenses paid vacation to Moonstar Island for themselves, three friends, and a dog. When she pulls a name out of the box, Elvira announces that Shaggy Rogers is the winner. The gang are excited to start their vacation. It takes a bit to realize that MoonSTAR Island is an awful lot like that old island, MoonSCAR Island.

There are zombies and were-cats again, but, very quickly, they are uncovered to be people wearing masks for a movie directed by Alan Smithee (John Michael Higgins). Smithee is an avid follower of Velma’s blog and believes he can film a horror movie by secretly following the gang around the island and filming their reactions to the “supernatural” surprises he has planned for them. But the jig is up. Smithee keeps filming because there is no explanation for the were-cats and because he has a really strapping actor to play Fred who drives a monster truck version of The Mystery Machine.

Scooby and Shaggy are convinced to release the rest of the gang from their promise not to investigate. And this time, science and investigation reign supreme and lead to explanations for all, well, almost all the mysteries without needing to introduce the supernatural. It just took two decades to get solidly back on track. These films are fun, funny, and light entertainment. Both movies are for fans of Scooby-Doo and for future fans, too.

Bonus Features: Theatrical Trailers

Greg Hammond

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