BY John Carter JR
When originally conceived over half a century ago it probably wasn’t anticipated the Scooby Doo franchise would produce so many sequels and spin-off projects and certainly, no one could predict the bizarre plotline of the 1998 direct to video film Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island.
The film, released more than 20 years ago, features zombies, werecats, Louisiana bayous, Cajun cooking, and ghost pirates, is what many fans believe to be the gold standard for the direct to video Scooby-Doo series. In analyzing what makes the film great, it is apparent that the beloved characters were taken to a new level in Zombie Island.
Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is the first of four direct-to-video films by Mook Animation. These four films are considered by fans as being some of the best Scooby-Doo installments in the franchise.
The film begins in a typical Scooby-Doo haunted castle. After an opening sequence of chasing and music, the typical Scooby-Doo reveal occurs revealing not only a man in a mask, but moreover, the major theme and pushing factor in the film. The first part of the film focuses on the breakup of Mystery Inc. Due to the gang’s lack of discovering real ghost mysteries. Daphne, in particular, is losing excitement concerning their adventures together.
This leads to the various members of Mystery Inc. to focus on their own individual jobs and lives; however, with nostalgia in the air and Daphne’s new TV series on the rise, the gang gets back together in the hopes of finding a real ghost mystery.
Being led to a Civil War-era pepper plantation on the island of Moonscar by a young worker named Lena, the gang is promised the experience of a real haunted house. They are certainly not disappointed. As soon as they arrive and begin exploring, paranormal things begin to happen on the island. From the appearance of a ghost on Fred’s camera, to levitating Velma in the kitchen, and even the appearance of a zombie on the island, it appears to the team that something is indeed going on.
Soon enough, the gang discovers a pair of spell-casting cat-people responsible for stealing the life-force of tourists who were lured to the island. In the end however, the gang is able to defeat the cat-people and Daphne finds a way to get her story for her television series.
Now what might seem like a crazy premise for a film, even by Scooby-Doo standards, the film is actually formulated quite well in terms of the execution of its supernatural themes and its dramatic or horrific elements. While the film is definitely for younger audiences, the tone of the film is much darker than the regular Scooby-Doo adventure and allows adult viewers to get significantly more invested in the story at play.
This is where the film excels, in its tone and mood. The instances of breaking apart and coming back together as Mystery Inc. allow for the growth the characters must go through in this film. Take for instance the banter between Daphne and Fred concerning the attractive workers on the island, both getting jealous when another of the opposite sex takes an interest in them or when they make a comment about one of the workers being cute either the gardener (undercover cop) Beau or Lena. This is a major point of development for both characters they both show how they deal with their jealousy and how it affects their work.
Another factor that makes this film stand out is not just the development and characters, but the wide array of side characters outside of Mystery Inc. This includes both the gardener and his brief encounter with Velma, as he is under suspicion while simultaneously saving her life. This led to some interesting scenes for Velma, allowing her to have the nearest thing to a potential romantic interest while also maintaining her entire personality and how she would respond which had previously not been established in the Scooby-Doo franchise.
Finally, a major factor that allows this film to be considered the gold standard for direct-to-video Scooby-Doo films is one that is found in following Mook Animation direct-to-video films, the atmosphere.
The atmosphere evoked in Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is in the design of Moonscar Island itself, the design of the pepper plantation and interior house, the Bayou, and the ferry that brings them to the island. These different locations are the stage for this one-of-a-kind crazy Scooby-Doo hodgepodge of ideas.
A specific drawing and animation style of these locales not only represented the standard of creative locale inspired stories that Scooby-Doo was known for, but brought something completely different to the table.
I give this film 8 out of 10 Moonscar Island Peppers for its expansion upon the previously established decades-old characters, the fun blend of extremely different ideas, and the impressive design of the settings throughout the film. Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island can currently be viewed on Netflix.