By ANTHONY BREZNICAN, AP Entertainment Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) - In the new film "Scooby-Doo," a psychedelically painted van marked "The Mystery Machine" sits beside a beach while smoke wafts through the sunhatch and voices from inside groan, "Primo!" and "Talk about toasted!"
That may seem suspicious, but the next shot reveals it's just the talking dog Scooby-Doo and Shaggy, his beatnik human pal, grilling burgers.
Never mind that the song from the soundtrack is the pot-smoking reggae anthem "Pass the Dutchie."
"Subtle, right?" laughed director Raja Gosnell, whose film is an adaptation of the long-running 1969 cartoon show "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?"
The van scene is one of the film's few references to what many adult fans of the Hanna-Barbera series consider a wink-and-nod subtext to Scooby and Shaggy, whose gangly walk, relentless munchies and dazed manner seem to suggest a marijuana high.
"I don't know if Hanna-Barbera ever intended it to be so, but maybe the animators did," said Charles Roven, co-producer of the movie.
As for the other members of the "Scooby-Doo" gang of cartoon sleuths, fans have long speculated that Velma -- the no-nonsense brains of the operation -- is a lesbian, and that Fred and Daphne, the respective beefcake and cheesecake of the team, frequently searched for clues together to partake in carnal exploits.
The cast and filmmakers said they filmed many joking allusions to those inferences but ultimately decided to keep "Scooby-Doo" an innocent children's film rather than aim for older audiences.
The comedy's story features the gang assembling at the fictional "Spooky Island" theme park, which is plagued by strange disappearances, apparent brainwashing and monsters.
The film parodies some of the cartoon's more innocent conventions -- the cliched unmasking of the villain, the superfluous celebrity cameos -- but practically all of the mature double entendres were purged from the final edit.
"We played on all those things," said actor Matthew Lillard, who portrays creaky-voiced Shaggy. "Is Velma gay? Is Shaggy high? Are (Fred and Daphne) hooking up? All those jokes were in there, but we found at the end of the day it was more important to go the other way ... and that was to be more family oriented."
Gosnell believes the few adult references that remain will go well over children's heads.
"Some of that stuff is in there," he said. "If you look for it, you'll find it. If you don't, you won't."
"We touch on it now," Lillard added. "But we used to punch it in the mouth."
The original "Scooby-Doo" program borrowed some of the iconography of the 1960s hippie movement, but never overtly featured drug use, free love or homosexuality.
That inconclusiveness is part of what tickles people.
"If it becomes overt, then it sort of ruins what was always fun about the show: You thought you were the only one who figured it out," Gosnell said.
"In fact, to this day," Lillard said, "if you ask me if Shaggy is a stoner, I'll say no. ... That's what's funny about him: He just seems like that. He acts a little goofy and high, he's lovable and scared -- and just happens to have the munchies."
Real-life couple Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar play Fred and Daphne, with Linda Cardellini, who had a small role in last year's "Legally Blonde," co-starring as bespectacled Velma.
The original script featured a scene in which Fred gazed lustfully at Daphne while she leaned over him to load luggage into an airplane's overhead bin. The camera then panned to Velma, who was ogling her too.
Later, Velma and Daphne shared a comic kiss, Gosnell said. The filmmakers say they believe those jokes would have hampered the story and could have imperiled the PG rating that the studio wanted and got.
When it comes to Velma's backstory, even Cardellini isn't sure how to characterize it.
"There were a few scenes where Velma comes out of her shell. I wouldn't say she comes out of the closet," the actress said. "I thought more along the lines that maybe her sexuality is a little ambiguous."
Screenwriter James Gunn, though, said he's "pretty sure she's gay. So we had a couple little nods to that in the movie and in the end, again, they were things that kind of (detracted from) the scenes."
Another deleted scene featured Fred attempting to talk his way into Daphne's hotel room under the pretense of protecting her, Roven said. The ratings board took issue with the fact that he was bringing his toothbrush, which implied plans to spend the night.
Those deleted scenes are unlikely to turn up even on the "Scooby-Doo" DVD, a format that frequently showcases unused footage. Warner Bros. would have to alert parents to the presence of PG-13 scenes on a PG home-video release, Roven said, something that could frighten away some family consumers.
Lillard acknowledged that older fans may be disappointed by the more wholesome approach.
"People out there, fans of the cartoons, teen-agers, young men -- it's not going to be for everyone," the actor said. "But our movie is for families."(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)