In my grand tradition of rewatching old Scooby-Doo movies for this column, I sat down this week with yet another Saika family fave: Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase. It’s been ages since I’d watched the movie, so much so that it’s possible that I’ve played the PS1 game based on it more recently than I’ve seen it.
So it was with almost fresh eyes that I turned back to this particular title in my teensy VHS collection. I have to say, upon rewatching, I found myself both amused and bemused, but never quite engaged enough to make this a fave like Zombie Island.
Cyber Chase starts with the gang heading to visit an old college buddy who’s now a game designer. Because this is the most 2000s movie ever, game devs wear lab coats, work in experimental university labs, and use magical Dalek-shaped machines to break the law of conservation of mass by transporting real-world objects into their game world. Of course, just in time for Mystery, Inc. to arrive, the game is sabotaged by a mysterious hacker who sets loose a sentient, humanoid computer virus (because again, this is the most 2000s movie ever). This Phantom Virus threatens their ability to launch the game and win a prize for breaking physics, so Scoob and the gang get down to business figuring out what happened.
Of course, it can’t be easy. Using the magical transmogrifier, the Virus manages to zap the whole team into the game. To escape, they have to beat all ten levels and defeat the Virus, or be doomed to be stuck in the game forever. As it turns out, their game dev friend based part of the game on Mystery, Inc.’s adventures, and they end up facing some of their most classic villains before they are able to overcome the Virus, find out who programmed it, and save the day.
Aside from being immediately boggled by just how 2000s this movie is—it came out in 2001, fyi—the somewhat related thing that astonished me was how wacky the science is. While all Scooby-Doo movies have some element of nonsense to them, something that forces you to suspend disbelief, it’s usually something from the realm of fantasy. You know, werewolves, zombies, ghosts, the Loch Ness monster. Taking this tack with a science-y premise instead feels weird, and especially so because of how plot-hole-ridden the setup is. While the duo programming the game does actually do some programming, it seems that a large part of their schtick is their Tron-ifying ability. Do you need to program a game around it if you have that ability, first of all? I think being able to convert matter from physical to virtual reality with a laser beam is worth a Nobel in and of itself, without building a corny platformer as a medium for it. On the flip side of that, why on Earth can’t they just program a box of Scooby Snax into the game instead of converting a real life box into a game item?
On top of this oddness, the two programmers and their advisor seem to be from the same school of “science” as Carlos from Night Vale. They wear lab coats for reasons unknown, they work in a lab, and they do not appear to have any idea that “science” at the college level is a vague catch-all term for a dozen or more different disciplines. Within their lab, we see chemistry beakers and vials, a tomato plant growing in irradiated soil, and a poster of the planets, in addition to their computers. Either all three of them are polymaths, or the storyboarders had a very confused idea of what the science side of a college campus looks like.
The movie does have some definite nostalgia quality, especially in the use of some of the old monsters. Cameos from characters like the Creeper and Jaguaro from the original cartoon, and especially the Tar Monster, of which I was terrified as a kid, definitely add something to an otherwise deeply confused story.
Another upside is that it is occasionally a bit meta. A noteworthy example that both made me laugh and surprised me with its self-awareness comes when Fred inevitably decides the gang needs to split up. Scooby and Shaggy immediately head in the other direction, and when Fred calls out to them to see why they didn’t wait to see how the five of them should split up, Shaggy points out that they never do it any other way.
However, aside from all its plot holes and science confusion, the movie has some deep set representation issues that were a bummer to rediscover as an adult. For one thing, there are no new female characters in the whole movie. Both game devs and their professor/advisor are guys, the security guard who is briefly a suspect is a guy, and even the Phantom Virus is coded male. Added to this are mixed messages about female empowerment from Daphne—for example, in one scene in game she expertly menaces a level boss with a broom that she wields like a quarterstaff. In another scene, she confronts herself (the gang meets the playable character versions of themselves in the final level), and immediately both Daphnes have something catty to say about the other’s clothing. Later, while the Daphnes are fleeing a monster in a funhouse, the game!Daphne gets distracted not once but twice by her figure in a funhouse mirror.
I wish that they had either leaned into the more badass femme mentality of the first example or at least leaned away from the fatphobic, girls competing with each other mentality of the latter. I was also bummed that, much like Zombie Island, the movie did not introduce any characters of color. All of those dudes that I mentioned earlier are white, which is pretty frustrating. Even when introducing original characters who will never be seen again outside of this movie, the story still chose to prioritize white characters in their storytelling.
All in all, I wish that I had a better time revisiting this movie. The musical numbers aren’t as catchy as other Scooby movies, the villain’s backstory is super hard to follow, and the story premise pushes the boundaries of believability beyond what even I am willing to swallow. At least I have my happy memories of the Playstation game to fall back on.
Hear more from Lady Saika on Character Reveal, the podcast she cohosts with BrothaDom!