Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is a 1998 direct-to-video animated comedy horror film based on Hanna-Barbera's Scooby-Doo Saturday-morning cartoons. In the film, Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Velma, Daphne, and Fred reunite after a year-long hiatus from Mystery, Inc. to investigate a bayou island said to be haunted by the ghost of the pirate Morgan Moonscar. However, the five find a deeper mystery on the island and their first encounter with a genuine, deadly supernatural threat.
It is the first in a long-running series of direct-to-video Scooby-Doo films, succeeded by Scooby-Doo! and the Witch's Ghost (1999). Production started at Hanna-Barbera but was then completed by its then-new parent company, Warner Bros. Animation (which would produce all subsequent Scooby-Doo films). It was also the first of four Scooby-Doo direct-to-video films to be animated overseas by Japanese animation studio Mook Animation.
The film was released direct-to-video on September 22, 1998, and premiered on Cartoon Network on October 31, 1998. The film received acclaim from critics who praised the animation, voices, and writing. The film also has a much darker tone than the original series. Unlike in the original series, promotional commercials for the movie announced that "This time, the monsters are real!"
The movie was dedicated to the memory of Don Messick, the original voice of Scooby-Doo, who died nearly a year before the film's release. The movie is also one of Ed Gilbert's final roles.
The film opens with the Mystery, Inc. gang solving the case of the Moat Monster. Becoming bored with solving mysteries, the gang goes their separate ways. Daphne Blake and Fred Jones start running a successful television series called Coast to Coast With Daphne Blake; Velma Dinkley becomes the proprietor of a mystery bookstore; Shaggy Rogers and his dog Scooby-Doo are fired from their job at an airport after eating all of the confiscated foods. Fred decides to get the gang back together for a road trip while Daphne is filming her show for Daphne's birthday.
After encountering a lot of fake monsters, the gang finally arrives in New Orleans. They are soon invited by a young woman named Lena Dupree to visit her employer's home on Moonscar Island, which is allegedly haunted by the ghost of the pirate Morgan Moonscar. Though the gang is skeptical, they go with Lena, to whom Fred has taken a fancy.
On the island, the gang meets Lena's employer Simone Lenoir, the ferryman Jacques, and Simone's gardener Beau, to whom Daphne takes a fancy. They also meet Snakebite Scruggs, an ill-natured fisherman, and his hunting pig, Mojo. The gang sets out to prove that the "ghost" is a fake. Shaggy and Scooby are chased by Mojo and end up falling into a big hole, where they encounter the zombie of Morgan Moonscar. By the time the rest of the gang comes to investigate, Moonscar isn't around.
Simone invites the gang to her house to stay for the night. As the gang is dressing up for dinner, Shaggy sees the ghost of a Confederate colonel in the mirror; Simone explains that the island was a temporary headquarters for a Confederate regiment during the American Civil War. Due to Simone's cats, Shaggy and Scooby, eat in the Mystery Machine but find the food spicy and get some water from the lake, where zombies emerge. Shaggy's bad driving gets the Mystery Machine stuck in the mud, forcing him and Scooby to flee on foot.
Fred and Daphne find the Mystery Machine, but no sign of Shaggy and Scooby. They argue about each other's supposed love interests and come across Shaggy and Scooby. They manage to capture a zombie, which is revealed to be real. As the zombies swarm around them, the gang splits in panic. Elsewhere, Shaggy and Scooby discover wax dolls that look like Fred, Velma, and Daphne, and they play with them, causing their friends to undertake a series of involuntary actions for a short time until they leave after disturbing a nest of bats.
Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Beau return to Simone's house and discover a secret passage under the staircase. They find Lena, who tells them that the zombies took Simone away. They find a secret chamber for voodoo rituals, where Velma finds footprints of Simone's heels and interrogates Lena about the story. Simone then appears, and she and Lena use voodoo dolls to trap the gang in the chamber before revealing themselves to be evil cat creatures as Velma criticized Simone for stealing Morgan Moonscar's treasure. Simone explains that centuries ago, they were part of a group of settlers devoted to a cat god. When Moonscar and his pirates chased the settlers into a bayou filled with alligators, the vengeful Simone and Lena asked their cat god to curse Moonscar. Their wish was granted, and they killed Moonscar and his crew, but the curse caused them to become cat creatures permanently, requiring that they drain life forces to preserve their immortality. Jacques joined them later on, agreeing to bring them more victims in exchange for immortality. The repentant zombies' intent was to warn the gang to leave to escape their fate.
Finding Shaggy and Scooby, Jacques transforms into a cat creature and chases them to drain their lives. Thanks to the zombies, Shaggy and Scooby escape and accidentally tumble into the cave, interrupting the draining ceremony and distracting the cat creatures. Velma quickly unties herself and creates voodoo dolls of Simone and Lena to interrupt their ritual. When they are finally cornered, the cat creatures' curse expires, causing them to disintegrate, freeing the zombies' souls and allowing them to rest in peace. Beau is revealed to be an undercover police officer sent to investigate the disappearances on the island. Daphne offers Beau a chance to guest-star on her show and discuss the adventure. The next morning, everyone leaves the island via ferry to head back to town. Scooby feeds the cats some milk in a post-credits scene before howling out his name to the viewers.
Scott Innes as Scooby-Doo
Billy West as Shaggy Rogers
Mary Kay Bergman as Daphne Blake
Frank Welker as Fred Jones
B.J. Ward as Velma Dinkley
Adrienne Barbeau as Simone Lenoir
Tara Charendoff as Lena Dupree
Cameron Clarke as Detective Beau Neville
Jim Cummings as Jacques
Mark Hamill as Snakebite Scruggs
Jennifer Leigh Warren as Chris
Ed Gilbert as Mr. Beeman
The film's screenplay was written by Glenn Leopold, of Nickelodeon's Doug and writer for the 1980's Scooby series; Davis Doi, then a writer for Hanna-Barbera's production Dexter's Laboratory, also contributed to the final script. When drafting the film, Doi would occasionally go to Iwao Takamoto — the original designer of Scooby-Doo, still working at Hanna-Barbera — for advising on scenes. Takamoto called the film "a good solid mystery" and storyboarded several sequences of the interplay between Shaggy and Scooby for him. After Don Messick's death, Scott Innes replaced Messick as the voice of Scooby-Doo. Casey Kasem did not reprise his role as Shaggy Rogers as he wished to only voice Shaggy if the character became a vegetarian, like himself. Instead, Billy West provided the voice for Shaggy. Mary Kay Bergman was cast as Daphne when the character was taken in a new direction. B.J. Ward, who played Velma in the Johnny Bravo crossover episode, reprised her role in this film. Frank Welker is the only actor from the original series to reprise his role.
The film was directed by Jim Stenstrum, who worked as a character designer on numerous previous Scooby-Doo productions, beginning in 1983 with The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show. Hiroshi Aoyama and Kazumi Fukushima directed the film as well but are not credited to the picture. The film was dedicated to the memory of Don Messick. Production started at Hanna-Barbera, the company that originally created Scooby-Doo, but was finished at Warner Bros. Animation (Hanna-Barbera's operations had moved to the Warner Bros. Television Animation building in 1998), whom would then go on to produce all subsequent Scooby-Doo direct-to-video movies (though still copyrighted to Hanna-Barbera).
This and the following three films had a darker tone than the original animated series (Scooby-Doo, Where are You! and several spinoffs), and the marketing emphasized: "This time, the monsters are real." However, it's worth noting that Scooby writers had introduced real supernatural elements into the franchise back in 1980 with the second season of Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo, possibly to avoid some of the show's formulaic trappings. In the first segment, "A Close Encounter with a Strange Kind," the series takes its first delve into science fiction when Shaggy is abducted by real aliens. In the second segment, "A Fit Night Out for Bats," Shaggy, Scooby, and Scrappy spend the night in a castle with a real vampire and eventually escape from him. No attempt is made at an unmasking, and the characters don't comment on how unusual it is for them to meet a real monster. (Notably, though, in the third and final segment of the episode, "The Chinese Food Factory," the monster turns out to be a criminal in disguise again.)
Supernatural elements would continue to be incorporated through the remaining Scrappy series and TV movies until Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf (1988). However, there are several notable differences between this production and earlier ones to feature real monsters:
Fred, Daphne, and Velma are all present; they were frequently absent during the earlier adventures.
Scrappy is absent from this story, as he has been in all productions since 1988 (except for comical cameos).
This was the first storyline to focus on the gang's surprise at the monsters not being fake.
So Zombie Island does at least feature some breaks with tradition.
Composer Steven Bramson, who is known for Tiny Toon Adventures, JAG, and the Lost in Space film, wrote all the music for the feature. The soundtrack for the film features three songs composed specifically for the film. "The Ghost Is Here" and "It's Terror Time Again", both written by Glenn Leopold, were performed by Skycycle. The title track, "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!" was performed by Third Eye Blind. The film was animated and is presented in standard 1.33:1 full-frame format.
The film was released on VHS on September 22, 1998. Sales for the film exceeded the studio's expectations, according to a 1999 Billboard article. It was released on DVD on March 6, 2001.
The film was aided by a reportedly $50 million promotional push, with tie-ins including the Campbell Soup Company, SpaghettiOs, 1-800-COLLECT, Wendy's, LEGO, and Cartoon Network, who debuted the film on television on October 31, 1998, after a month themed after the series. It was also promoted as part of the network's "Wacky Racing" sponsorship deal with Melling Racing in 1998, as the third of four paint schemes featured on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series #9 Ford Taurus driven by then-rookie Jerry Nadeau. The paint scheme debuted at Richmond International Raceway in the Exide NASCAR Select Batteries 400 on September 12, 1998, and was featured on the car through the Dura Lube Kmart 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on October 25, 1998, for a total of seven races out of the thirty-three race schedule.
The film received positive reviews and currently holds a rating of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes. Donald Liebenson of the Chicago Tribune described the film as “ambitious” and calls it “a nostalgic hoot [that] resurrects all the touchstones of the original cartoons.” Entertainment Weekly’s Joe Neumaier praised the film as “Fast, fun, and filled with knowing winks, the mystery honors the show’s beloved structure, but writ large. “A 1998 New York Times article by Peter M. Nichols complimented the film as “well-made.”
The film has received a following of fans who credit it for resurrecting the Scooby-Doo franchise and for being significantly darker than the original series.
A sequel, titled Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island, is in development.
Scooby-Doo! and the Witch's Ghost was released on October 5, 1999.