The film begins with a callback to Scooby and the gang's first adventures. They're chasing a monster in a spooky building with the classic theme song playing in the background. It’s a great start to the film, and for anyone unfamiliar with the series, it provides some great context.
After the villain is unmasked, we learn that the characters all went their separate ways; apparently, catching costumed crooks can become boring after a while. They all have their own jobs, with Velma working in a bookshop, Scooby and Shaggy working in customs (and eating all of the contraband, so they get fired before too long), and Fred and Daphne are filming their own show. Despite their new life directions, they’re all missing the good old days. Daphne launches a show about trying to catch real ghosts and it seems there’s an excuse to get the gang back together.
Once they're all reunited, they head out in search of some real monsters, only to find more of the villains they’d become so tired of chasing in a quick little montage. "The Ghost is Here" - the song playing during this montage - is absolutely incredible, capturing the feelings of exasperation perfectly. It’s in my Halloween playlist, it’s that good.
Eventually, the gang find themselves in Louisiana, and are led to Moonscar Island with the promise of being able to find real ghosts. Th ere they meet Simone, the owner of the island, who says she doesn’t like dogs when she encounters Scooby. Some spooky shenanigans happen, like eerie writing on the walls and the room getting colder. Every time it gets cold all of a sudden, I find myself resisting the urge to yell “Who opened a window!?” the way that Daphne does. Every time.
Later that night, after various teases, the group encounter a horde of zombies. Fred insists that they’re just more crooks in masks, and tries to rip the mask off. He rips a zombie’s head off. In a kids’ film. That terrified me when I was three years old, and cements this as a darker film than your usual Scooby-Doo adventure. The characters are rightfully terrified too. And the music montage that comes after this is even better than the earlier one, it's perfectly placed and the song, "It's Terror Time Again", is phenomenal.
In what makes for a great twist, it turns out that the zombies were actually trying to help Mystery Inc, by warning them to leave the island. The real, worse villains are unveiled, and use voodoo dolls to start melting some of the gang. Again, this is a kids’ film. Scooby and Shaggy somehow stumble their way into saving their friends from melting. There’s always that balance of the dark and comical elements that keeps it just about friendly enough for kids. Just about.
Then comes the classic trope of the villains having to enact their scheme before midnight. Thankfully, that fails (as you’d expect, really), and they shrivel up into bones, then dust. The zombies thank the gang for stopping the cat monsters, and are finally able to rest in peace. Having narrowly escaped their deaths, the gang leave the island. It’s your standard Scooby-Doo ending where everything is alright, except there’s a little cliffhanger where the cats’ eyes start glowing. It’s never addressed, not even in the sequel (and the less said about that film, the better).
One thing I’ve failed to mention so far is the animation. The film was animated by Mook Animation, a Japanese studio. There are some anime-esque influences they use that give this film and the next few a really distinct style whilst maintaining that cartoon charm, and the overall animation is generally darker, matching the tone of the film. As far as direct-to-video animated films go, I’d argue that to this day this is one of the most visually appealing.
If you’re looking for a spooky film that isn’t quite scary, Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island makes for a great Halloween watch, and I'll for sure be watching it again this Halloween.