Timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the animated series, this Cartoon Network TV movie/DVD release “Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins” turns out to be a surprisingly effective origin story, going back to chronicle how this unlikely quintet of high school archetypes came together. Although clearly calibrated for young pups who wouldn’t be senior citizens even counting in dog years, the live-action (save for Scooby) pic has a sprightly, unapologetic tone and even weaves in a “The Breakfast Club” riff.
Poor, nerdy, friendless Shaggy (Nick Palatas) is surprisingly chipper despite being mercilessly picked on at school, so he becomes instantly attached to that huge, goofy stray dog he discovers (actually, an adoption candidate who literally falls off a truck) named Scooby-Doo. Yet when the beast causes the bus to ruin the vice principal’s car, Shaggy finds himself in detention with jock Fred (Robbie Amell), drama beauty Daphne (Kate Melton) and brainy Velma (Hayley Kiyoko).
When they each pull out books to kill time, they discover a common interest in mysteries. Lo and behold, the school conveniently has one, what with ghosts shooting out of the ground and a hooded bad guy cackling in a demented voice.
After a pair of theatrical features earlier this decade, this straight-to-DVD prequel can play with some of the same live-action dynamics, like the fact that Fred keeps uncomfortably bumping into Daphne (ruh-roh), or that Velma looks pretty damn good when dolled up as a disguise.
Still, producer-director Brian Levant (working off a script by Daniel and Steven Altiere) keeps the shenanigans above the belt except for one flatulent dog gag, and the cast (though wasn’t Fred a blond?) strikes the right tone as these mismatched teens. The visual effects, moreover, capture the sense of the silly cartoon gh-gh-ghosts transferred to live action.
There’d certainly be nothing wrong at this point with letting Scooby-Doo drift into rerun nirvana, but apparently no franchise with this much built-in equity can be allowed to gracefully fade away. So while it’s no mystery why the mysteries continue, at least they’ve done a credible job in churning out this latest “Scooby” snack.