The latest animated adventure with the Mystery Inc. gang arrives Saturday when Scooby-Doo! Legend of the Phantosaur airs on Cartoon Network before coming to DVD and Blu-ray Sept. 6.
It’s good timing to keep mystery hounds happy: Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated — a more story-driven take on the property — recently wrapped up a zoinks-provoking season on Cartoon Network, and it’s been a year since Warner Bros. released the last animated feature, the fun Camp Scare (the only Scooby title currently streaming on Netflix … which I know because my son watches is at least once a week).
My family and I got to watch a sneak preview of Phantosaur a few months back when Warner Bros. briefly posted the whole movie on YouTube for public viewing. For longtime fans, it’s not to be missed: There’s a lot of action, fun monsters, clever puzzles and a fun sub-plot about Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) becoming more assertive after he gets spooked one time too many.
What begins as a relaxing spa getaway for Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Fred, Velma and Daphne somehow takes a very strange turn when the gang uncovers a frightening Phantosaur, a ghostly dinosaur that’s come to life to protect hidden treasures buried in secret desert caves. The Phantosaur appears to be on a mission to keep a group of paleontologists from digging for fossils. The gang sets out to investigate the prehistoric haunting and in the process uncover all sorts of colorful suspects including a free-wheeling motorcycle gang, greedy corporate investors and over-zealous scientists. Will it be prehistoric panic or will our teenage sleuths put all the pieces together and solve this strange mystery?
Lillard, who played our Bohemian bon vivant in the two live-action feature films of 2002 and 2004 and took up the animated mantle when Casey Kasem retired, has been doing the voice since the 2009 animated feature Abracadabra-Doo! and also plays the Mystery Incorporated version (as all the current voice actors do). He’s really made the role his own, emulating Kasem when necessary but definitely putting his own stamp on the character.
Of course the canine sleuth himself gets some fun scenes, but as always he’s more the glue that holds the gang together; no one character is the driving force in Phantosaur.
Purists will be happy to know that Phantosaur isn’t “one of those” Scooby movies — meaning that the monsters aren’t real and of course there’s a logical explanation. But there’s a twist that even the most diehard skeptic should be able to accept. These direct-to-TV and -video Scooby outings for the most part have met with success by sticking to the original 40-year-old formula and visual style, even as the Mystery Incorporated series gets experimental by turning up the self-referential humor and character development. Phantosaur, however, begins converging a bit with the characterizations of the newest TV series, embracing the more exaggerated trap-obsessed version of Fred (Frank Welker) and toying with romance for Velma (Mindy Cohn) — though it’s not with Shaggy as it is in the weekly series!
It’s going to be a while before we see another feature-length toon as well as new episodes of Mystery Incorporated, but Cartoon Network also has been following in the footsteps of the live-action Scooby movies, producing the prequels The Mystery Begins and Curse of the Lake Monster, and they’re working on a third prequel that has yet to get a release date.
[Jayson Peters is a newspaper designer and copy editor who created the pop culture blog Nerdvana (http://blogs.evtrib.com/nerdvana) for the East Valley Tribune. He also teaches online media at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He lives in Phoenix with his wife Kim and their two sons, William and Trevor.]