Scoob! (2020)

Scoob! (2020)

Directed by: Tony Cervone. Starring: Will Forte, Mark Wahlberg, Jason Isaacs. Runtime: 1h 34 min. Released: May 15, 2020.

In Scoob!, we see how Shaggy (Will Forte) and Scooby (Frank Welker) meet when they’re kids. Then they meet the rest of the gang – Fred (Zac Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried) and Velma (Gina Rodriguez). It’s not much of a prequel story as this happens for about 10 minutes, but they investigate a local haunted house and this is when it feels like classic Scooby-Doo. Enjoy this while it lasts, as 10 years pass and Shaggy and Scooby find themselves in a generic superhero story to stop the evil Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs) from unleashing a dogpocalypse onto the world.

Usually, the Mystery Gang will simply help local townsfolk with a mystery, solve their spooky problem and then get called meddling kids. Here, as the plot shows it won’t please long-time Scooby fans, the Mystery Gang join forces with superheroes, not even solve a mystery and instead try to save the world, and then get called meddling kids.

This film is intended to be the first in a shared Hanna Barbera universe as Warner Bros. shoves lesser known HB characters into a Scooby-Doo film, as they join forces with Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg) and Dynomutt (Ken Jeong) from the Hanna Barbera show Dynomutt, Dog Wonder. The villain of this film is also Dick Dastardly of Wacky Races fame. I’m a ‘90s kid so I’m only vaguely familiar with Dastardly, and I don’t care about them. The voice acting is strong as these characters, though, and it could intrigue long-time Hanna Barbera fans to see these smaller characters on the supposed-to-be-big-screen.

However, this all makes Scoob! feel like a product more than something truly creative, as this shares the same mistake with 2017’s The Mummy as Warner Bros. puts a focus on jumping straight into a cinematic universe instead of first making a strong Scooby-Doo film. As a film for kids who might be seeing Scooby for the first time, this would be fine, but it would be a shame to make them think that this captures any of the spirit of Scooby-Doo because it does not. It’s just a film with colourful (and great) animation with non-stop action so their attention span never wanders.

It’s also strange that Fred, Daphne and Velma are turned into side characters. They get little to do and Fred never once tells anyone to split up, and Velma never says “jinkies” and she never loses her glasses. Okay, that’s false, she loses them in an image during the credits as director Tony Cervone and writers tease a real Scooby-Doo mystery, but we don’t get to enjoy it. To tease us like that after the nonsense of this film is honestly a cruel joke.

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Frank Welker and Will Forte as Scooby and Shaggy in Scoob!

As for the voice casting, Frank Welker reprises the role of Scooby-Doo and he’s great, but it’s strange that Scooby talks in complete sentences and is able to have conversations with Shaggy. Will Forte is fine as Shaggy and I like him as an actor, but he isn’t Shaggy. Matthew Lillard is my Shaggy. He started playing the character in the 2002 live-action film Scooby-Doo and has been voicing Shaggy in the television shows and films since 2010, so hearing Forte give it the old college try is kind-of a bummer.

The rest of the core cast is good in their own right in other films, but Zac Efron feels flat as Fred as he’s just playing himself and he’s such a big star that it kind-of distracts. Amanda Seyfried, though, feels like she actually fits Daphne but she has little to do. My biggest issue is Gina Rodriguez as Velma and that’s because she doesn’t even make an effort to make Velma sound like Velma. She doesn’t sound nerdy and she just showed up, did her regular voice and it just does not fit the character at all. This trio also barely has any laughs, but most of the humour in the film doesn’t work.

It feels so dated to the mid-2000’s, strange since Shaggy and Scooby sing a rendition of “Shallow” from A Star is Born to Simon Cowell (yep) that shows this is at least 2018. The music choices are kind-of odd as the film opens to Tupac’s “California Love” and then Shaggy shuffles through five songs about loneliness to show he needs a friend. That loneliness bit feels forced, but Shaggy and Scooby’s friendship is the core of this film and that’s played okay.

However, since this does not feel like my Shaggy and Scooby (the only time I really had fun with them is when they pretend to be restaurant workers at the bowling alley), I couldn’t love their friendship. I cared more about Dastardly’s super cute robots (reminiscent of the minions from Despicable Me and just for the merchandise) who have replaced Dastardly’s usual sidekick Muttley.

While this film surely ups the ante of a normal Scooby-Doo story to make it feel cinematic, it totally forgets that the Mystery Gang is simply a group of twenty-somethings who solve goofy and creepy mysteries that have no implications on the fate of the world. I’ve highlighted the good parts but this film is more frustrating when it flashes its clever side because there’s so much here that is uninspired.

Score: 38/100

29 Days of Romance: Review #4, Dear John (2010)

Dear John poster
IMDb

Directed by: Lasse Hallström. Starring: Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Richard Jenkins. Runtime: 1h 48 min. Released: February 5, 2010.

I don’t consider myself a fan of Nicholas Sparks adaptations, but there have been 11 big-screen adaptations of his novels and I’ve seen eight of them. That number includes today’s review, Dear John, as it wouldn’t be a “29 Days of Romance” marathon without a review of a Nicholas Sparks movie.

The film is set in 2001 where John Tyree (Channing Tatum) is on leave from the Army in Charleston, North Carolina, where he meets the kind-hearted college student Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) and sparks (Nicholas Sparks?) fly.

The part of the film that works best for me is Richard Jenkins as John’s father, simply called Mr. Tyree, and it would be nice if he had a real character name. He has Asperger’s Syndrome and the character doesn’t have much depth, but his hobby of coin collecting is charming. He specifically collects “mules,” imperfect coins that were minted improperly. The writing uses it to say something about the film’s imperfect characters, too, and the best scene of the film for me is the story of Mr. Tyree’s favourite coin.

It tells how he and his son John shared a love for coins, but John’s passion for it went away. This aspect is sort-of heartbreaking because it’s such a big passion for his father and then they had nothing to talk about. It’s not explained why John stopped liking coins, but perhaps it’s because it was all they talked about.

Savannah’s developed as a compassionate girl who wants to work with autistic children. A conflict in the film is that John’s offended when Savannah notices that his father is on the spectrum, and he seems offended because Mr. Tyree was never diagnosed. The film’s use of the R-word to describe the situation also didn’t sit right with me because it feels like such an outdated word and someone who wants to work with autistic people wouldn’t use that word, even if the film is set in 2001.

It doesn’t take away so much from the character, but the Savannah’s compassion seems to be the extent of her as a person, and the compassion’s limited in that word. Anyway, I think Seyfried plays her well for the most part. Rounding out the “core” cast is Henry Thomas as Savannah’s next-door neighbor Tim. Tim has a kid named Alan, who has autism, so that’s another reason Savannah wants to work with autistic children. Tim’s used as a way to develop John as a character, as well. At one point, John advises Tim to tell Alan that his mom isn’t ever coming back, since John’s mom left and he spent too much time waiting for her to come back.

Other than that and John’s relationship with his father, that’s the bulk of his development. There’s little to him other than also simply wanting to fight for his country. John seems like a brick wall with an anger problem. I legitimately like Channing Tatum but the character is just so boring to me.

Dear John, ARTICLE
Amanda Seyfried in Dear John. (IMDb)

The couple’s chemistry is never amazing but it’s passable. Their initial two-week love affair is boring, but I liked the letter exchange portion of the film, and there’s a period of about 20 minutes during this where I thought the film was charming. Though, the passage of time during this letter correspondence is handled poorly.

I think these scenes are well-directed by Lasse Hallström as sort-of montage scenes showing their everyday life. Obviously, John’s at war and the only interesting thing Savannah does is visit Mr. Tyree. I think that’s when that’s when the film is at its most charming, when John, Mr. Tyree and Savannah are together. Jenkins is the glue that held this film together for me and the character is perhaps the glue for their relationship, as well.

The story is run-of-the-mill so there’s little holding it together in that respect, as all Nicholas Sparks films feel the same. The writing by Jamie Linden for this film is dull but if the source material isn’t that strong in the first place, it’s hard to make a strong film. Still, there’s one key emotional moment in this film where the order of the scenes and vagueness makes it lose emotional impact.

As for Hallström’s direction, there are many awkward directorial choices here. This is most notable at an airport where John and Savannah reunite. John lifts her up and they’re making out and we see a pervy-looking guy in the background taking off his belt, staring at them. It’s off-putting until I remembered they’re in an airport and he’s taking his belt off to go through security, not for other reasons… And that seemed to be the implication for a second there. I can’t tell if that’s on bad directing or bad editing that it made it to the final cut.

The film also falls apart in the third act, from story to direction. I don’t think the conflict in the film is ever strong but the third act has a story direction that I don’t think is completely necessary. It made me lose interest in the characters, even though I was never particularly invested in the first place. The chemistry just becomes worse, as does the drama, acting and direction.

This is the point of Dear John where it truly does not feel “directed” as there’s a scene here where Hallstrom would have gotten another take if he still cared about the project. In the scene, Amanda Seyfried does a “surprise face” that is some of the weakest acting I’ve seen from her. Tatum isn’t much better in this scene and it’s like no one wanted to actually act on this day of shooting. It didn’t seem like anyone cared and they just wanted to finish the film. As an audience member, I didn’t care, either.

Score: 40/100

Epic (2013)

Epic

Release Date: May 24, 2013

Director: Chris Wedge

Stars (voices): Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson, Colin Farrell

Runtime: 102 min

Blue Sky Studios is best known for their Ice Age movies. Chris Wedge, co-director of that franchise, goes solo with Epic, the third animated movie of 2013 (after Escape from Planet Earth and The Croods). It follows the female protoganist, M.K. (voiced by Amanda Seyfried), who is forced to re-locate to the home of her estranged father, Professor Bomba (voiced by Jason Sudeikis), after her mother’s death. Her father is an eccentric character, as he is convinced there are tiny people living out in the woods.

It turns out, there is. But it’s a little more complex than that. It’s a challenge of good and evil of the Leaf Men, who, by protecting the queen (voiced by Beyoncé Knowles), preserve the life of the forest; but the evil Boggans threaten them with powers of decay. Today is the day Queen Tara must pick the pod to be the heir to her throne. M.K. is mixed up with this world when she is turned from a stomper (the Leaf Men term of big humans) to a little miniature human. She must team up with a crew to help keep the pod away from the malevolent leader of the Boggans, Mandrake (voiced by Christoph Waltz), in order to save their world, and ours.

It must be expected that a movie called Epic really won’t be so damn epic. It turns out to be a good, light-hearted animated flick that teaches kids about teamwork and that, even if you feel alone, you truly aren’t. It’s a nice message, and the way the filmmakers portray it is imaginative and admirable. The animation has a great, human look and feel to it. It might as well be an animated version of The Borrowers, just with very mild action sequences, in a very fun, but forgettable story.

It’s an old-fashioned, good vs. the forces of evil, predictable and formulaic ride. The imaginative action sequences are fun and have intensity present. There’s a lot of room for imagination at play, but there are only a few notable characters. The main Boggan, Mandrake, is often psychotic and threatening for a children’s movie, but nothing that will have kiddies waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares. He has some memorable lines, but he’s more underwhelming than anyone could believe a character portrayed by Christoph Waltz could ever be.

Nod (Josh Hutcherson) is a misfit Leaf Man who needs to learn about teamwork, and the primary Leaf Man, Ronin (Colin Farrell), is precisely the man to teach it to him. He’s a no-nonsense character, and Queen Tara desperately wants to see his smiling face. She requests this in a truly dull fashion. I don’t have much praise to hand out to Knowles, Hutchison, Seyfried or really even Farrell, but I don’t have anything to fault them for, either. They just don’t stand out so well. Many of the characters have good lines, but you’ll forget their names (most notably Bomba, Bufo, and M.K.) as soon as you walk out of the theatre.

There are four characters whose names and presences no one will forget anytime soon. Nim Guluu is the “rock-star” information keeper of the miniature world, appropriately voiced by rock star Steven Tyler. There’s also a silly, three-legged dog who mostly just runs in circles. The laid-back slug called Mub (Aziz Ansari) and his uptight snail associate, Grub (Chris O’Dowd), are the true scene-stealers of the movie. They’re hilarious in the way Mub thinks he has a chance with M.K., and how Grub is an aspiring Leaf Man. (Let that irony sink in for a second.) They’re never annoying, always funny, and the movie is at its most lively when they’re on-screen. Who thought slimy little things could be so appealing?

Epic isn’t quite, y’know, epic, but it’s a predictable and funny ride that is a blast once it really gets going. For the most part, it’s about as memorable as its generic title. The great animation and hilarious and slimy scene-stealers make this memorable, and something worth watching twice. Christoph Waltz, to his best ability, rocks his role and he shines when Mandrake is at his most psychotic. You care for the protagonists, because no one wants to see a forest rot to the ground, right?

74/100