Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island—Movie Review

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by Zakary McGaha

2019 has been, and will continue to be, a pretty good year for horror movies. Like always, installments in already-established franchises are stealing most of the conversation, but there have been some notable new releases as well. So much so that it’s difficult to stay on top of things.

Today’s review, however, is about a sequel in a franchise that will never die; a franchise that adult horror fans the world over love, despite it being for kids; a franchise that has won the hearts of countless generations past and countless generations to come: Scooby-Doo! My love for this franchise is intense. My childhood bedroom was decked out with Scooby bed sheets, Scooby curtains…and I even had a pair of Scooby-Doo underwear.

This franchise, it seems, is never NOT doing well for itself. There have been so many separate animated TV series, standalone animated films, related-to-each-other-but-still-standalone animated films, live-action/star-studded films, low-budget/made-for-tv live-action films, made-for-tv-animated films…oh shit, I just had a nosebleed. Anyway, there’s been a lot of stuff, and I haven’t even mentioned the gist of everything!

There really isn’t an overarching timeline for Scooby-Doo, though there are some links that run through certain things. I think of the franchise as a multiverse in which certain parallels stay the same, and some don’t. For instance: different shows and movies that can’t possibly exist in the same universe make references to the same Mystery Inc. cases. Another example: one purported prequel, as well as its sequel, supposedly take place before the live-action movie, yet, technology and culture-wise, clearly take place after. Yeah, go figure.

I find all these things fascinating. The Scoob-tific universe is a fun one to get lost in. If you ask different people which show or movie is their favorite, you’re likely to get different answers. In fact, I’ve found the standard response you’d expect of, “The original; duh,” doesn’t apply here. There are simply too many great incarnations/timelines, and, given that the franchise is so old, people of different generations likely grew up watching different incarnations.

I was born in 1998, and, consequently, have always been partial to the first string of four direct-to-video animated movies that started in 1998 with Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island. Of course, there have been WAAAAAY more than four direct-to-video animated Scoob movies, but the first four that kicked the trend off were direct sequels to one another in the sense that they were made by the same animation studio with the same voice-cast/art direction/etc.

The movies that would follow would change as the franchise as a whole changed…as in, their art styles began mimicking whichever new tv-show was running on the networks…which, in turn, left the first four movies…Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost, Scoooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders, and Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase…alone on their own, proverbial island. (NOTE: despite being the first direct-to-video animated Scoob, movie, Zombie Island was pre-dated by three made-for-tv animated movies in the 80s and another one in the 90s).

Despite these four, original direct-to-video animated movies being on their own island, references to them are made throughout many other movies (and maybe even one of the shows, if my memory serves). My sentiments of absolutely adoring these four movies and putting them on a pedestal above the other incarnations are echoed quite frequently. The main thing people like about them is that, in contrast with most other Scoob stories, the monsters and whatnot in these movies were real. Plus, the animation was striking.

These movies were realistic, bad-ass, and, strangely, sort of gritty and emotional. Overall, though, they were creative and fun, and didn’t follow the simple formula to a tee; their stories played around way more, while still staying recognizable.

With the current trend in horror franchises being sequels that ignore other sequels, and, instead, act as “the real” sequels to the original films, it seemed inevitable that Scooby and the gang would drop what they were doing and return to Zombie Island.

Fuck the current trend in horror franchises.

Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island may be the most pointless sequel I’ve ever seen. It’s surprising that it doesn’t even try to add onto the narrative set forth in the original.

Spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen these films and are interested, I suggest you go watch them…

Anyway, the original Zombie Island is notorious for its all-out, awesome ending. Not only were there real-life zombies and pirate-ghosts on Moonscar Island…there were also werecats. Naturally, Scooby and the gang managed to barely escape the werecats, which in turn brought about the furry fiends’ expiration considering that they couldn’t steal the gang’s souls before the moonlight ran out or something. The death of the werecats resulted in the freeing of the zombies’ souls, because the zombies only served as a warning to hapless people wandering onto the island.

The ending didn’t leave a single thing unexplained. Every “i” was dotted and every “t” was crossed.

Flash-forward twenty-one years, as well as several shows and tons of movies…most of which took place in their own universes…and we find that, for some reason, fucking Velma doesn’t think the business on Moonscar Island is finished. Something “doesn’t sit right with her” or whatever…and she even blogged about it. Yeah, I know: desperate.

The gang doesn’t wind back up on the island because of Velma’s uneasiness, however. They wind up there because Shaggy won vacation-tickets off a television show; said vacation destination happens to be Moonscar Island, which has been turned into a resort. Yeah, I know: desperate.

From there, stupidity and bad humor ensues. It turns out the whole thing is an elaborate setup because some nutty movie-director read Velma’s blog and thought it’d be a good idea to film a “real-life” movie, wherein actors dressed up as zombies terrorize the Mystery Inc. gang. Yeah, I know: desperate.

And that’s not all: there are also more werecats! However, these werecats aren’t real. They’re just copycats…heh-heh…who apparently also read her blog, and they’re conveniently looking for the pirate treasure during the time Mystery Inc. is there. Yeah, I know: desperate.

The one thing I feared going into the movie was that, since the “case” was being reopened, it was going to turn out that the supernatural aspects of the first Zombie Island had been fake all along. Luckily, that didn’t happen, and that’s about the only positive thing I can say for the movie.

In addition to the copycat boogies running around the resort, there is an actual werecat running around trying to get at the gang, but this aspect is never explained. In fact, you’re supposed to believe said werecat was one of the fake ones, even though it looked 100% different and performed inhuman feats, such as ripping the top off a car.

The big reveal at the end happens when they remove the masks of the fake werecats and realize that the other one…again, the one that looked 100% different and performed inhuman feats of aggression…had been real all along. Yeah, I know: desperate.

My main gripe about all this is that NOTHING NEW HAPPENS. I would’ve been fine if we learned something more about the werecats. I would’ve been more than fine if it turned out there were other werecats who had been planning revenge all these years. Instead, we got several fake werecats and fake zombies, which was, I guess, supposed to make us think that the supernatural aspects of the original had been fake as well, but then we get reassured that what we already knew was right all along because there’s another, real werecat still alive. Like…the overall plot ends up exactly where it was before (except for one new werecat that doesn’t do much)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In a nutshell, Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island isn’t a sequel. Instead, it’s another movie that happens to take place in the same setting. Scoob and the gang go back to the island of the original movie, do some stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with the original movie’s plot, find out there’s another werecat at the very end, and then leave.

It’d be like if they made a movie called Tommy Jarvis: Return to Crystal Lake, wherein Tommy returns to Crystal Lake, gets tickled by a bunch of rodeo clowns, and then sees Jason in his rearview mirror as he’s driving back home whilst laughing due to said clown-tickling.

This movie was fucking pointless. It also had Elvira in it. Yeah, I know: desperate.

2/5 stars.

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