First there was The Flintstones, which was bad enough. This was followed by The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, which was even worse. And then there was The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, a movie so execrable, it had to be screen-tested in a cinema full of troglodytes. They loved it. Can it be long before Hollywood brings us other childhood favourites such as Boss Cat: the movie, Yogi Bear: the movie, or even - just a cotton-pickin' minute there, Musky - Deputy Dawg Rides Again? Thank God we live in England, where film money is, as the song says, too tight to mention. Because at least that means we are likely to be spared feature films based on our own, home-grown childhood animated stories such as Captain Pugwash and the Cabin Boy, Noggin the Nog Goes Noggin and Bleep and Booster Get Higher and Higher.
Turning vintage animated children's favourites into feature films has always seemed like the kind of executive decision that no one outside a movie studio could ever comprehend. Even the best of these cartoons - in my humble opinion, that honour goes to Boss Cat (which was itself based on the excellent Phil Silvers Show) - was never good enough to sustain an 87-minute screenplay. But Top Cat was, and still is, on TV, which in this day and age almost guarantees that, at some stage, a movie will be made.
Sometimes it seems that Hollywood studio executives must be using, as a general principle of film budgeting, H L Mencken's observation that no one ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. And, looking at Scooby-Doo, the latest, $90m, live-action version of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, you could be forgiven for thinking that the execs at Warner Brothers must have had Mencken's words tattooed upside-down on their buttocks so that they might read them every time they stick their heads up their arses.
Sadly, when Warner Brothers was brainstorming a few ideas in its sun- kissed office villas in Burbank, and some executive uttered the words "Scooby Doo" from within the recesses of his own rectum, nobody had the sense to reply: "Scooby don't."
"Ninety million dollars?" I hear you cry. "So where did all the money go?" After all, with the possible exception of Sarah (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) Michelle Gellar - who has to be the smallest-looking kick-ass heroine since Catwoman was Kittengirl - there is no one here whom you could call a star. As for the sets, they look as if they were created for the Seventies TV game show Jeux Sans Frontieres, and the rest of the Scooby cast play caricatures of their cartoon characters, as if the Germans were about to play their joker. Not even Rowan Atkinson, who plays Emile Mondavarious, the villain, can redeem this picture. (Nothing new there, then.)
Clearly, most of the $90m was gobbled up not by Scooby Doo, but by Hollywood's greediest pet, an even uglier mutt called Special Effects. As you might expect of a film in which the leading character is a computer-generated Great Dane, Scooby-Doo is all effects, but none of them very special. Scooby himself has an engaging smile and a way of wagging his tail that reminded me of Tony Blair; as a result, it is hard to dislike him, even when he's engaged in a Blazing Saddles-style fart contest with Shaggy. (And, to be honest, for me, this was the high spot of the film.)
The movie looks like any episode of Scooby-Doo you can see any night on the Cartoon Network, with one notable difference: in the cartoons, the ghost or ghoul always turns out to be an old git of a janitor in a costume who is after a fortune in hidden jewels, and who shakes his fist and says that he would have got away with it, too, if it hadn't been for you meddling kids, and so on; but here, one is left with the inescapable conclusion that there are indeed supernatural forces of the kind that might scare really small children. My six-year-old was bricking it. I'd tell you the whole plot, except that there isn't one, because a plot would imply some kind of design, and not the first crashingly obvious idea that arrived like a Lotto ball in the brain of the muppet who typed out the screenplay. This movie looks like he earned every cent of his $75 fee.
Forget Enron and Xerox. If I was a shareholder in AOL-Time Warner, I'd be on the phone to Steven Case, the chairman, or vice-chairman Ted Turner, demanding to know how $90m could have been spent on a dog such as this. How is it possible that a film that costs 90 times as much as the excellent and Oscar-winning No Man's Land with Simon Callow could be 90 times less good? Somewhere, someone with a mouse in one hand and a joystick in the other is laughing his pixels off. And this is the kind of Scooby-Doo you'll need to scoop up with your hand in a plastic carrier bag.
Scooby-Doo (PG) is on general release