Well well, Pokemon has officially reached its fifth generation. After so much reminiscing about Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers, as if I needed something else to remind me of how old I’m getting. Anyway, in the spirit of the event, I wanted to take a look back and revisit the animated series that was based off Nintendo’s highly successful handheld-selling RPG. At its roots, Pokemon was quite a formulaic anime show for kids in which the bigger plot of a young boy’s self-proclaimed journey to be the very best is constantly getting side-tracked by life lessons about protecting nature, solving community problems, getting lost, and being chased by a team of the show’s bad guys that spend entire seasons doing everything in their power to bring their intimidation factor to zero.
Then there were the movies. As of now, there have been no less than ten animated feature films based on Pokemon’s animated series. The main purpose of all these movies were to feature the most powerful and legendary pokemon of each season, as they were far too rare and valuable to just simply put in any given episode of the series. Usually, the plots of the movies had significantly larger stakes, with conflicts that would determine the fate of the entire world (or at least they tried). To my knowledge, only the first three films actually got a theatrical release in the United States. Maybe a few others did, but these are the only three I can remember seeing on the big screen. So, how do these movies hold up? I’m on a road to Viridian Cit-I mean Memory Lane to find out.
WARNING: Following article contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen Ten-year-old Pokemon movies yet, but still intend to, than what the heck’s been keeping you? Seriously.
Pokemon The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back
When the first movie released in theaters during Fall of 1999, it was huge. I remember the press making this big deal about how many kids were skipping school because they HAD to see it early and get the trading cards that came exclusively with the release. I also recall Burger King having this extremely awesome toy line that even featured Pokemon key chains. My brother and I were patient enough to wait for the weekend to see it, but boy was I pumped. The mini movie Pickachu’s Vacation, was an extremely funny short and featured the first appearance of Snubble and Marill, two pokemon we wouldn’t see until Gold and Silver came out in another year. Then the real movie started, and of course, I loved every bit of it. I was 11 at the time.
Now, I’m twice that age, and unfortunately going back and watching this movie has left me with one accusation: Mewtwo Strikes Back is the perfect example of a film that starts off with a great premise, an awesome back story, a pretty decent plot throughout, then proceeds to phone it all in the closer you get to the end.
The plot revolves around Mewtwo, the genetically engineered super clone of Mew, the most powerful pokemon in the world (or at least in the first generation). After being reduced to a lab rat by his creators, and then a servant of battle by Rocket Boss Giovanni, Mewtwo declares vengeance on all of mankind and any pokemon that chooses to defend them. He lures some of the greatest trainers of a nearby village to his fortress on New Island (conveniently including the show’s protagonist, Ash Ketchum) so that he may capture their pokemon and use them to create a clone army that will inherit the world after he wipes it clean with his storm.
That all sounds pretty epic, right? For most of the first act, it is. Mewtwo is one of my all time favorite pokemon (and Chris’, too). All the opening scenes that played out through his perspective and showed the bulk of his origins really made me sympathize with the guy. More so than any Nintendo villain before him. But then after a pretty stellar prologue, it shifts to the same heroes we’ve seen every weekday after school doing the same old shtick, i.e. Brock cooks, Ash whines, and Misty whines about Ashes whining. Yet I’m still interested, because it quickly transitions Ash into a Pokemon match that introduces us to Donphan, one of my favorite Gold and Silver era pokemon before I even knew its name. Meanwhile, a pretty sweet remix of the original pokemon theme is playing in the background.
Then… we get a mail-delivery Dragonite, which I’ll admit was funny, Team Rocket pretending to be Swedish Vikings, which was kind of funny, I guess, at least up until this line…
Brock: “I didn’t know Vikings still existed.”
Ash: “They mostly live in Minnesota.”
(Epic Fail, by 4Kids dubbing.)
Mew pops in now and then for no other reason than to show off how cute he is. The three other supposed “worthy trainers” to gain an audience with Mewtwo are completely pointless and underdeveloped, to the point where you had to read an outside source to even know their names (Fergus, Corey, and Neesha).
Oh yeah, and Team Rocket gets a simple game of “Who’s That Pokemon?” wrong. They call a Sandslash “Sandshrew,” and even more embarrassing, they call a Scyther “Alakazam.” Really? How on earth does someone mistake this for this?
I haven’t even got to the ending, not that it’s that difficult to explain. All the final act really does is jump from character to character as each and every one of them has to express how awful it is to watch this gruesome final battle between the pokemon and their clones. You’d think we’d get it after the first two people, but no. EVERY SINGLE PERSON that showed up in this movie had to give their piece. Then the images we do see of the fighting, it’s in no way true to how Pokemon battles really are. It’s just a freaking bloodbath, minus any blood because 4Kids censored it. I could stomach this when I was 11, but now, I just find it extremely hypocritical that a series that has based itself entirely around fighting is now trying to nail a “fighting is wrong” message into my brain with a freaking sledgehammer. How about showing us what you advertised in your trailers, you know, the epic fight with Mew and Mewtwo, which we only really see flashes of?
And then we top it of with not one, but two of the absolute worst ways to end a movie. A.) Tears that bring our fallen hero back to life, and if that wasn’t enough for you to want to gag yourself with a spoon, B.) Mewtwo wiping everyone’s memory clean so they can all completely forget about that huge life lesson about fighting, rendering EVERYTHING that happened in the final act completely pointless.
Pokemon the Movie 2000: The Power of One
So yeah, Mewtwo Strikes Back was a bit of a disappointment in the long run. And yet, life goes on, and not a year later Ash and friends would find themselves on a whole new frontier in the Orange Islands. There he would confront not only all three legendary birds, but another legend soon to be unveiled. We all knew Ash caught a glimpse of the Golden Bird Ho-oh in Episode One, but what of the Silver Beast of the Sea?
Disturb not the harmony of Fire, Ice, or Lightning,
Lest these Titans wreak destruction upon the world in which they clash.
Though the water’s Great Guardian shall arise to quell the fighting,
Alone its song will fail. Thus the Earth shall turn to ash.
O, Chosen One, into thine hands bring together all three.
Their treasures combined, tame the Beast of the Sea.
From the trio of islands, ancient spheres shall you take,
For between life and death, all the diff’rence you’ll make.
O, Chosen One, climb to the shrine to right what is wrong,
And the world will be healed by the Guardian’s song.
That pretty much sums up the whole plot right there. The three upcoming Gold and Silver pokemon introduced in this film included Elekid, who had an epic scene with Pikachu in the Pikachu’s Rescue short where they fend off an entire thunderstorm together, Slowking, who’s mostly just used for exposition dump (hey, if you need someone to do it, it might as well be a new pokemon no one’s seen before), and Lugia, who is, of course, awesome.
So anyway, there’s this new bad guy in town with no name or origin (Pretty much the opposite of Mewtwo) who decides that he wants to “collect” the legendary birds Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres, to see if it will really flesh out Lugia from under the sea like it says in the prophecy. It does, but causes surmountable damage to the Earth’s climate that could bring the whole planet into chaos, with the Orange Islands right in the middle of it.
Hey, guess where Ash, Misty, and Tracy coincidentally happen to be right this very instant?
Meanwhile, Ash gets caught in the middle of a Shamuti Island festival in which they make him play their “chosen one” to perform this yearly ritual of collecting stones at each of the three elemental islands. Yet as the storms start brewing and all the Pokemon, in-tuned with nature as they are, suddenly seem on edge, Ash’s task quickly becomes far more than just a mere ritual. Ironically enough, Ash finds out that the fourth line of the prophecy, “Thus the Earth shall turn to ash,” is talking about him (Gotta love wordplay) and that he’s the real chosen one, destined to help Lugia quell the harmony between the three avionic titans.
I know what you’re thinking. “Chosen One? Prophecy? Fetch quests? Wo-ho, way to break the mold there.” I will admit, the overarching plot here is indeed something that we’ve seen a billion times over, and it’s just the first time we’ve seen it with Pokemon. But in this case, I think that The Power of One succeeds strictly as a movie for the fans. By that I mean there is a lot of little things that only Pokemon fans would appreciate. Seeing Brock in the background of Professor Ivy’s lab. Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres all fighting amongst themselves at the same time. Team Rocket getting a chance to prove they’re not completely useless. Not to mention about a dozen winks to Ash and Misty’s… um… whatever is going on between them that’s near impossible to word properly. Oh, and this line…
Jessie: “Listen kid. When dealing with the opposite sex, you’re only asking for trouble.”
James: “And that’s the trouble I stay out of.”
Meowth: “You two don’t need the opposite sex because you gots each other.”
I guess there is a moral in this movie about not screwing around with nature, but it doesn’t feel nearly as heavy handled as the first movie. I’m too busy watching awesome action scenes with Ash’s pokemon and Lugia racing through a frozen ocean against all the elements. There were some pretty interesting settings, and the animation overall was really well done for the time.
Plus, can I just say I love this song.
Pokemon 3 The Movie: Spell of the Unknown
A year later, Pokemon Johto finally hits, Ash’s pokemon line-up gets a much needed reboot, Gold and Silver is… well, making gold and silver (cha-ching), and a whole new set of Pokemon Legends have come with it.
This time around, the Pikachu Shorts that precede the films kind of start to loose their charm and the new one, Pikachu and Pichu, wasn’t really that great. Yet as far as the real movie goes, Spell of the Unown, in my humble opinion, was genuinely the best story of the first three.
Professor Spencer Hale is researching this dig site that looks to be a temple of the legendary pokemon, the Unown. Turns out, the Unown are a vast group of dimension-shattering spirits and Professor Hale soon finds himself trapped in said other dimension. The Unown then take advantage of Hale’s young daughter Molly, now all alone in the family mansion in the middle of Greenland, and use their powers of illusion to bring her deepest desires to life, including summoning the legendary cat Entei to be her new father. In the process of granting Molly’s wishes, the Unown are able to spread their own power and influence across the land.
And guess whose job it is to stop them?
Now, to be fair, I feel that Ash getting caught up in the bigger story here is handled much better than the last movie. They briefly establish that the Ketchums and Proffesor Oak have a history with the Hales, which I’m able to buy, and also Ash is NOT charging head first into the Unown fortress because he’s “the chosen one,” or that it’s “his destiny.” No, he’s doing it because Entei, under Molly’s wish to have a mother, came out of nowhere and kidnapped his mom, Delia Ketchum, and frisked her to the mansion to be Molly’s new mom.
This, I thought, was an interesting change of pace. We see father/daughter, father/son, father/everything relationships all the time, but there have not been a million mother/son stories, or at least not in the fantasy/action genre, so, I liked that. Plus, Ash takes a lot of initiative this time around and shows just how resourceful he can be when he needs too. This was the first movie of the Johto era, so they took advantage of all of Ash’s new pokemon and gave them plenty to do when transgressing the mansion. And how can we forget the arrival of Ash’s heavy hitter: bigger, faster, and stronger than ever before.
Apparently, this movie had half the budget that both Mewtwo Strikes Back and The Power of One had. If that really is the case, I’m impressed the animation and effects with the Unown and the crystallized Greenland looked as good as they did. The quality didn’t look any less valuable than the first two. Maybe animation costs just dropped or something.
It ends all right, with Molly having to make the tough decision to let her dreams, and Entei, go so that the Unown can be blasted back into their own dimension. Her real father is brought back and it’s the happy ending we all want. If there is a moral in this movie, I guess it’s “be careful what you wish for,” but that makes it sound too broad. How about “there’s nothing wrong with having hopes and dreams, but using illusions to create them out of thin air is the wrong way to achieve them.” Yeah, I think that fits better.
And that is the first three movies. All of them have both good and bad elements. I like the remixes of all the original themes in each movie. Charizard is in all the movies and has some cool moments in each. I’ll admit the writing and the voice acting is extremely juvenile and may not have aged that well for a lot of you, but hey, it’s for kids. Every other movie after this has pretty much followed the same format of taking whatever Legendary Pokemon are available and making a somewhat cohesive world-threatening plot with them. Pokemon 4Ever was about Celebi and Suicune, Pokemon Heroes was about Latios and Latias, Jirachi the Wish Maker was about Jirachi and Groudon, Destiny Deoxys was Deoxys and Rayquaza’s movie, and so on and so forth. And I can tell you right now that the next movie to come out, in an attempt to capitalize on the Black and White Era, will undoubtedly have something to do with Reshiram and Zekrom.
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