By the time Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island was released on the home video market in the fall of 1998, an entire generation had watched the Great Dane mutt who could talk and his gang of youngsters solve mysteries for almost 30 years.
It all started off with Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and went through several different phases and spin-offs. Celebrities guest starred as themselves at one point. They even added new characters, side-eye to that little bastard Scrappy-Doo. And at one point, Hanna-Barbara made the monsters real. Even Vincent Price let his voice and likeness to The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo. But for the most part, it was always someone in a mask or costume trying to find some hidden treasure or something.
There’s been several fan theories over the years. The gang of Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby was reportedly inspired by The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. And some have theorize the Mystery Incorporated gang represent stereotypes of famous colleges. People have theorized Velma was a lesbian or bisexual as was Daphne. In recent years, Velma has become the popular one with cosplay, mostly thanks to Linda Cardinelli’s performance in the live-action Scooby-Doo movies.
But before a young writer named James Gunn wrote those movies, Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island was bringing up memories of the olden days for the fans of the shows. Updating the show to contemporary times could’ve been a big risk, but it’s pulled out very well here.
Daphne Blake (voiced by the late Mary Kay Bergman) is now an investigative TV reporter. Fred Jones (voiced by Frank Welker, who else) is her producer. There’s a hint that Fred and Daphne might be closer. Velma Dinkley (voiced by B.J. Ward) has her own bookstore. And Scooby (voiced by Scott Innes) and Shaggy Rogers (voiced by Billy West, replacing Casey Kasem) are airport security guards who are fired for eating contraband food.
They go on a tour across America to uncover haunted mysteries but find it’s more of the same. People are wearing masks and costumes, using wires and holograms. But when they stop in the bayou near New Orleans, they meet a young woman, Lena Dupree (voiced by Tara Strong) who tells them about Moonscar Island, where she lives and its haunted history. Intrigued after Velma does some internet search, they head off.
At first, Fred thinks it’s the same story as other places. He becomes more cozier with Lena much to Daphne’s chagrin. Velma begins to suspect it might have something to do with the handyman, Beau Neville (voiced by Cam Clarke). Simone Lenoir (voiced by Adrienne Barbeau) is the owner of the old time pepper farm plantation home on the island, which has an abundance of cats which Scooby fights with.
It doesn’t take long for them to see that something else is going on and it’s not a crooked human in a costume. Not to give much away for those who haven’t seen it, but there are real-life undead running around the island. Some of them are pirates and others look like they’re from the Civil War era.
Soon they learn the history of the island and it takes a darker tone than the cartoons, which was both a surprise as well as fitting. It’s handled quite well given the subject matter. I think the filmmakers behind this knew most of those watching would be older audiences more interested in the nostalgia.
This was the first Scooby-Doo movie in a decade. And in that decade, Scrappy had become universally hated by critics and fans. Rumor has it that Tim Curry was approached to appear in the 2002 live-action but once he heard Scrappy was going to be in it, he flat out refused. Kasem had stepped aside from voice Shaggy over disagreements with Hanna-Barbara and Warner Bros., as he had been a vegetarian for years and felt Shaggy and Scooby always eating wasn’t setting a good example.
And while the show almost has a meta-references to its past shows, this had become more common in the 1990s especially with the Scream movies and other pop culture shows and movies. But this movie doesn’t wink enough about it which helps.
Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island would set the stage for a string of animated movies airing on TV and on DVD/video over the next two decades and up to our present time. One of those, Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase would reference more of the past popular episodes. In 2019, Return to Zombie Island was released even though I haven’t see it yet. Following the live-action Scooby-Doo movies, Matthew Lillard, who played Shaggy on the big screen, has voiced him in the cartoon movies.
Looking back, Zombie Island is a nice ode to the legion of fans who have watched over the years. Mark Hamill even voices a few supporting roles in the movie. Adding real ghosts and other things was a risky move but it works out well with a nice twist that I won’t reveal here.
If you’re a Scooby-Doo fan and you haven’t seen it, what’s wrong with you? Go see it. And if you’re just discovering the long-running franchise, it’s definitely worth your time.