Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island Review: A sequel and a mystery that’s not worth returning to
When I think back to where my interest in horror and mystery began, one of the first shows that I think back to has to be Scooby-Doo! Where are You? Sure, I was just watching re-runs, but there were very few shows that I would actively watch and re-watch as much as the original series. Scoob and the gang even had me wear out my VHS copy of Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island and my fondness of the film has wavered since. From the maturity it had to the dark imagery of the zombies, Zombie Island was a strong introduction to the horror genre for me as a kid and why the news of sequel made me nervous. Frankly, the story ended pretty conclusively and let’s just say that Scooby-Doo movies have gone the more celebrity cameos and crossover route as of late – so there’s plenty to be worried about.
Unfortunately, a return to the classic material ultimately proves that it should’ve never been touched again as Return to Zombie Island is an absolute mess and probably one of the most Scooby-Doo movies I’ve ever seen. The biggest problem comes from how they tackle the story as they can’t decide whether they want to be a soft reboot or a straight-forward sequel to the original.
In a similar fashion to the original, we find Fred (voiced by Frank Weller), Daphne (voiced by Grey Griffin), Velma (voiced by Kate Micuccu), Shaggy (voiced by Matthew Lillard), and Scooby (also voiced by Weller) wanting to take a break from solving mysteries. So, after Shaggy and Scooby suspiciously win a trip to a tropical resort, the gang decides to head on a trip, but quickly notices that things aren’t as they appear. The mansion they are staying at looks very familiar and with zombies and other mysterious creatures taking over their vacation, it looks like Mystery Inc. has another mystery on their hands.
The film is legitimately frustrating at times in how it completely misses the mark in capturing the style, tone, atmosphere, maturity, and pretty much anything else in what made Zombie Island a classic. Its story is completely pointless and doesn’t attempt to strike anything distinct about it. Really, throughout its entire runtime, it just comes off as an unintelligible cash grab that only understands Scooby- Doo on the most basic level. Seriously, when I was watching this, I actually said that Return to Zombie Island feels like it was made my someone who has heard of Scooby-Doo and understand the basics of what happens but has never seen a single episode or movie.
From the way they forcibly jam in chase sequences, notable villains, and references to the original film to the cheap and generic animation, Return to Zombie Island just becomes a painful watch as it constantly tries to shove flavorless nostalgia down viewers throats. The entire sequence of them lazily recapping the other film legitimately made me mad and every time they ham-fisted a reference to the other film – it came across like a swift slap across the face. Even the idea of Velma considering the original film an unsolved mystery seemed out of character and came off like a lazy way to justify the film’s existence – and it never succeeds. There’s even a cameo by horror icon Elvira (voiced by Cassandra Peterson) that, while nice to see, is incredibly random and is just empty nostalgia.
The film’s humor is also completely off, and you can count all of the laughs you’ll have on one hand. Other than Fred’s unflinching love for the Mystery Machine and a solid Reluctant Werewolf reference, the meta humor the film shoves in because of a late plot twist and the gang wanting, but not wanting to solve a mystery gets incredibly tiring really quick. Honestly, the film has a negative tone for the most part and, after a while, you stop caring about the gang’s urge to solve the mystery. Not to mention, there isn’t really one to solve, or at least never seems like one, as the plot is just loosely slapped together.
Honestly, the story constantly tries to remind viewers of Zombie Island but has no idea what made it special. What made that film so special was how it offered a different kind of Scooby-Doo story with the gang reuniting after spending time away from one another and dealing with an actual threat rather than just a guy in a mask. It had great zombie design, an interesting mythos surrounding its seemingly likable residents, and some kick-ass music. Return to Zombie Island contains absolutely none of this and is even less than a hollow shell of what the original film was.
In short, Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island is a mystery not even worth delving into and actually makes the celebrity tie-in and crossover movies made in recent years seem like admirable attempts. Frankly, the franchise really needs a return to form and it’s sad to say that not even a return to a classic story can get the job done. If Return to Zombie Island proves anything, it’s that this old dog is in desperate need of some new tricks.