The Series Project: Pokémon

The Series Project: Pokémon

Film article by: Witney Seibold

Pokemon Splash

This is kind of an attempt to put into adult language something only children understand.

I was going to start this essay with a battery of excuses as to why I, an adult male, have information on the universe of “Pokémon.” Why do I, someone in their early 30s, have intimate knowledge of the construction of “Pokémon” video games, opinions of the dramatic throughline of the “Pokémon” television series, or video copies of 9 of the 11 “Pokémon” movies? I will make no excuses other than to say my ex-girlfriend got me into it. If you want more, you’ll have to ask me personally.

The Pokémon universe is a vast and complicated one. Let’s see if I can sum it up succinctly.

There are no animals in this world, just Pokémon. Pokémon are a species of superpowered animals that wander the landscape, waiting to be captured by Pokémon trainers. At age 10, a young child may leave home and take to the road with no money and no phone, attempting to capture these superpowered animals for use in Pokémon battles, which are little more than high-octane cockfights. When one Pokémon knocks out another in a Pokémon battle, the trainer of the Pokémon left standing is considered the winner. If a trainer defeats a number of Pokémon Gym Leaders in battle, they are considered a Pokémon Master.

There are different “types” of Pokémon in this universe, including Pokémon that are mere bird, Pokémon that can spit gallons of water, Pokémon that can breathe fire, Pokémon with psychic powers like Carrie, and even an cute little electrical mouse named Pikachu (voiced by Ikue Ootani), the series’ spokesPokémon. Certain “types” have advatndages over others.

Pokémon are stored in Pokéballs, which are high-tech spheroid  thingamabobs that convert the Pokémon into energy, allowing them to be stored in one’s pocket. The word “Pokémon” is a portmanteu of “pocket monster.”

If the story sounds like a video game, it’s because it is. The “Pokémon” video games hit the market (first in Japan, then the U.S.), followed by a card game, and then a television program. Each one of these was immensely popular, which meant that, inevitably, feature films were also in the works. There are 11 movies to date. The first five were released theatrically.

Here, then, is a rundown on the movies:

Pokémon: The First Movie (1999)

Pokemon 1

N.B. Almost each of the “Pokémon” films is preceded by a short film. I will not review the short films, suffice to say they focus only on Pokémon and not on any of the human characters. Since the Pokémon don’t speak, other than their own names, these shorts get really annoying really fast. They’re all watchable, though, as most of the Pokémon are so damn cute.

The Story: The lead human of the Pokémon universe, Ash (voiced by Veronica Taylor in the American version), joined by his two friends Misty and Brock (Rachael Lillis and Eric Stuart), is invited to a mysterious Pokémon tournament on a mysterious island surrounded by a wicked storm.

Unbeknownst to our heroes, the island is ruled by a psychic Pokémon named Mewtwo (Philip Bartlett), who has been cloned from a fossil of a Pokémon thought to be extinct, named, what else?, Mew. Mewtwo has already killed his creators, and has now invited brave Pokémon trainers to his island so he may best them in battle and steal their Pokémon for cloning purposes.

…It makes more sense when you’re a kid.

Ash and his lot are being perpetually followed by the evil-but-incompetent comic villains known as Team Rocket. The team is represented by Jesse and James (Lillis and Stuart), and their talking Pokémon Meowth (Madeleine Blaustein), who sounds like a Brooklyn wiseguy. Team Rocket is trying to constantly steal Pokémon, and report back to their boss for praise. Yes, they have low ambitions.

It’s never really made clear how old these kids are, but I’d put them somewhere between 10 and 16. Brock is depicted as girlcrazy, so he’s at least pubescent.

Anyway, Ash, Misty and Brock manage to brave the storm and make it to Mewtwo’s island. Team Rocket tries to help them, disguised as Vikings (?), but fail. Team Rocket also, somehow makes it to the island. There, Ash meets several other Pokémon trainers, and Mewtwo reveals himself. Mewtwo’s cloned Pokémon battle the trainers’ uncloned ones, and the clones seem to easily best them. Mewtwo then steals all the Pokémon on the island and clones them. Ash then frees the captured Pokémon, and there’s a huge multi-Pokémon battle royale, with the new clones fighting their uncloned counterparts. The Pokémon fight so fiercely, that they wear one another down. No death, but a lot of abuse. There’s a hilarious scene of Pikachu’s clone bitchslapping the original.

Witnessing all this, the humans all come to the conclusion that fighting and violence is wrong, and peace and cooperation is better way to live. I’m certainly not being too astute in pointing out that a kids’ film franchise that banks on animal battles is trying to preach that animal battles are wrong.

During this mess, the original Mew, which turns out to still be alive, appears. Mew giggles and is very kitten-like, but still fights with Mewtwo when challenged. During the Mew/Mewtwo battle, Ash is accidentally turned to stone. Perhaps he’s killed. Either way, his sacrifice so moves the Pokémon that they weep for him. And, get this, their tears float through the air and bring Ash back to life.

Yeah. I know. It’s an over-obvious, inappropriately Christ-like, jaw-dropping, teeth-gritting moment. Stop swearing at me.

Mewtwo sees that humans and Pokémon can get along after all, and takes his clones away to another place where they’ll never be found and can live in harmony with one another. He also uses his psychic powers to erase everyone’s memories so they’ll not know about him.

We just spent 90 minutes of film learning the lesson that fighting is wrong. Doesn’t it strike you as counterintuitive to erase the characters’ memories, and hence the lesson they learned? Sigh. Well, the film is called “The First Movie.” Guess they have to give a let-in for the inevitable sequels.

I can’t say people who know nothing about “Pokémon” would enjoy this film or even understand it. It’s fast-paced, noisy mayhem which seems to play by rules that only little kids would either care to learn, or would already know from the games and television series. This is not a film for the uninitiated.

However, there is something enjoyably hallucinatory about this film. Perhaps it’s the bizarre Japanese images paired with the horrible American kid-friendly pop hits on the soundtrack. Perhaps it’s the wide, wide variety of magical creatures floating, without rhyme or reason, past your eyeballs. Perhaps it’s the sight of cutesy li’l monsters committing acts of violence. Perhaps it’s the odd logic of a superpowered animal repeatedly speaking its own name. Whatever it is, an uninitiated adult with an open mind, a love of Japanese film, and well-tuned irony knob may actually be able to go with the flow.

There will, however, be better films.

Pokémon: The Movie 2000 (2000)

Pokemon 2

Yes, that is the title.

I guess everyone had to cash in on millennial crazes while the going was good. Michael Haigney, the mastermind behind the American versions of Pokémon was no exception.

Anyway, I managed to see this one on theaters, and audiences were rewarded with a collectable Pokémon trading card for their troubles. The card handed out at the door was actually featured in the film. That’s quite possibly the best marketing tie-in I’ve ever seen. The only one better would be to give away limited-edition Optimus Prime toys with the new “Transformers” movies.

A brief word on the marketing of the Pokémon empire: The slogan for the Pokémon TV series is “Gotta Catch ‘Em All!” They even say “Gotta Catch ‘Em All!” in the series’ theme song. There were, as of this film’s release, 151 different varieties of Pokémon. That’s a lot of game to play, a lot of figurines to collect, and a lot of wrapped cards to buy. The “Pokémon” series often seems less like legit entertainment, and more like the modern version of what Hasbro did back in the 1980s with “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe.” i.e. use a cartoon show merely to advertise things outside of the cartoon show.

That said, one can look at the entire “Pokémon” film series as a way to introduce new generations of toys and video games into the world. I must say, as an advertising tool, the “Pokémon” movies start out working well, but then become autonomous of the Pokémon video game empire that they start to take on a life of their own. That happens around #3 or #4.

As for this second one, well, let’s take a look.

The Story: In this film, Brock has been replaced by a character named Tracey (Ted Lewis). Ash, Pikachu and his crew find that the weather has been acting strangely lately, and hoards (flocks/sleuths/pods?) of wild Pokémon have been going about a mass migration to the sea. It’s not made clear the ecology of mass Pokémon migration, but the haunted tones in which the characters speak imply that this is not a good thing. Despite whatcould be a natura disaster, our heroes manage to make their way to an island resort to take part in an obscure local festival. There are a lot of obscure local festivals in the Pokémon universe.

It turns out the weather disturbances have been caused by the capture of three gigantic bird Pokémon whose mere presence somehow modulates the weather and keeps the oceans calm. The three birds are called Zapdos, Articuno and Moltres, and they have been captured by an ambitious Pokémon collector without a name (played by Neil Stewart).  He plans to upset the oceans enough that an even rarer Pokémon named Lugia will emerge, and he’ll be able to catch that one as well. If he does, the oceans will explode or something. Lugia does emerge, but the three big birds get so pissed off that they escape, and start fighting one another. Why? Um… Because big superpowered birds like to fight, I guess.

Again, there is an irony in using a slogan like “Gotta Catch ‘Em All!” and then showing how evil it is when you try to do said thing.

Ash must make his way to three local islands and replace three sacred orbs back to their nesting places, and that will somehow calm the three big birds and restore harmony to nature. It works. The evil collector has his giant airship ruined (did I mentioned he had a giant airship? Sorry ‘bout that. Yeah. The bad guy has a giant airship), and all is well. There’s a lot of talk that Ash has fulfilled an ancient prophecy. That’s a lot for a kid his age to handle, but he seems pretty unaffected by this place in an ancient prophecy.

O there are a lot of ancient prophecies in the Pokémon universe.

This film is larger and grander and has a stronger narrative force than the first movie, but is still little more than what it sounds like. There’s not a lot of character conflict or growth, other than a brief period when Team Rocket decides to help the heroes because they want to be good for a change. By the end of the film, there have been no lessons that can be blanked from their memories.

I do have to point out that the idea of our personal actions having unknown destructive repercussions… that’s very Japanese.

On a curious note, the film’s soundtrack features original songs by no one less than The B-52’s, and “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Pokémon 3: The Movie (2001)

Pokemon 3

Sigh. Yes, again, that is the title.

This film features the second generation of Pokémon, which means 100 new creatures to memorize. And, I have to say, the story to this one is actually a bit clever.

An old archeologist has discovered a cave of eerie Pokémon called Unown, which have psychic powers. When the Unown accidentally (?) imprison the archeologist in another dimension, they feel so bad about it that they take up shop under his old house where his 5-year-old daughter Molly (Amy Birnbaum) lives. They use their psychic powers to grant her every wish. Since she’s scared, and only five years old, the Unown coat the entire neighborhood in crystal, and bring into being an extinct Pokémon named Entei, who can talk and serves as Molly’s replacement father.

Ash and his crew (Brock has returned) must venture into Molly’s crystal castle, battling figments of her imagination, in order to convince her that her greatest wishes are hurting others. The Unown are so powerful, and so hellbent on serving the little girl, that they would be capable to destroying the world, or something.

The battles are strange, and the swirling crystal formations are impressively hypnotic. The climaxes tend to pile upon one another, but this will be familiar to anyone comfortable with Japanese cartoons of any stripe. Eventually, all is well.

While the world of Pokémon is still as baffling as ever, and the characters still as flat as ever, and the Pokémon themselves still as obnoxious as ever, I cannot fault this one on its story. I’ve seen adolescent sci-fi/fantasy films with comparable stories, so “Pokémon 3: The Movie” is up to snuff. There’s even a subplot about a reporter choosing to help those in peril rather than just reporting the peril. That’s kind of mature of a kids’ flick.

Oh yeah, Team Rocket are in this one as well, but I don’t think they did anything of consequence.

Pokémon 4Ever (2002)

Pokemon 4

It’s kind of odd that they would choose to declare that Pokémon were going to live 4Ever just as the series began to contract in popularity.

The Story: Ash and his crew have wandered into a lovely wooded area. He runs into a young boy named Sammy (Tara Jayne) who has recently befriended a wood sprite named Celebi (rhymes with celery). An evil Pokémon collector (yes there are many in this world) wants to capture Celebi in something he invented called a Dark Ball. Evidently a Dark Ball can turn a mild-mannered Pokémon into an evil Pokémon, while at the same time making them stronger. Sounds like standard comic book stuff to me.

Sammy and Ash play together, and learn that Pokémon live in peace with nature, and their presence really does effect the environment. I like the ecological messages of bio-diversity that run through the “Pokémon” films. Our heroes also learn that Sammy was perhaps transported in time from the past, which is why he was lost in the woods in the present (?). Celebi seems to have the power to travel through time, and that it why it is sought by the evil collector and his Dark Balls. Oh, and Team Rocket is there to help him; they admire him.

The evil collector does eventually capture Celebi in a Dark Ball, and forces it to build a stories-high monster made of trees and branches. The Celebi monster takes out a lot of the forest, and Ash and Sammy must work together to convince Celebi that friendship is better than evil. They are aided by another nature Pokémon called Suicune who exists for no discernible reason in this film.

Celebi does call off its attack, but is injured. Other Celebi from all different times appear in a big time rift and heal it. Sammy is returned to his own time in the past, where we learn that his full name is Samuel Oak, and he will grow up to be a Pokémon expert, and, get this, a mentor to Ash. Twist! Zing! Wow! Irrelevant!

This is the shortest of the Pokémon films at only 79 minutes. The beauty of the forest painting are offset by the weirdness of the monsters running around in it. However, the series’ overall message of ecology has been firmly laid. We’ll see it again.

If you get this film on video, watch it with the commentary track on. It’s fascinating to hear adults talk about Pokémon in an interested and intelligent way.

Pokémon Heroes (2003)

Pokemon 5

Haigney has left the building, and this film was taken over by Jim Malone.

Can you believe that the “Pokémon” films are only getting better?

The Story: Ash, Misty and Brock are now in a city that resembles Venice, complete with canals. While the Pokémon franchise has been withering, the production values of the films seem to be increasing. By the fifth film, we now have a rich and atmospheric enterprise, with believable cities and halcyon gardens.

The story is, however, still weird as hell. Evidently there are two invisible Pokémon flying about Venice, who only appear for moments at a time. Ash manages to follow them to a secret garden, where he meets a young lady who is their protector. The Pokémon are Latias and Latios, and… well, as you can predict, they have a special power and are coveted by an evil Pokémon collector. Their power? They can far-see like in “Beastmaster.” The evil collector? An evil pair of Team Rocket named Annie and Oakley.

Jesse and James? Annie and Oakley? Butch and Cassidy?

The machine that Annie and Oakley use to track down the invisible Pokémon is actually an ancient Da Vinci-like device, and it looks pretty cool. They take over the Pokémon’s minds for a short while, but are quickly foiled.

Despite the over use of pop-hit-scored montages, I like “Pokémon Heroes.” Once again, the characters don’t really grow, and there are no real moral lessons, but, like I said, it’s atmospheric, and thankfully intimate. No end-of-the-world scenarios here; just people doing bad things on a personal level. I think I prefer the villains in my children’s entertainment to have small ambitions. It’s hard for a kid to understand why world domination is necessarily a bad thing, seeing as most kids are selfish little buggers. Better to show the immediate impact of a villain’s action on the heroes.

Pokémon: Jirachi: Wishmker (2004)

Pokemon 6

Directed, now, by Eric Stuart.

This is the first straight-to-video “Pokémon” movie, but the production values are still increasing. At this point, the third generation of Pokémon have been introduced, meaning 150 more Pokémon. Also, Misty has been replaced by a girl named May, but is played by the same voice actress. We also have May’s little brother Max (Amy Birnbaum), a nerdy little know-it-all who is only slightly less annoying than Spritle Racer.

The Story: Another local festival. This time, a village is celebrating the appearance of a comet that only appears once a millennium. They have a whole carnival set up, including an impressive magic show put on by a douche bag named Butler (Wayne Grayson, which sounds like a Batman mistake).

The special Pokémon that shows up in this film is the title monster Jirachi, which can speak, and only appears for one week every 1000 years for the vitally important task of making friends with a young boy. The young boy is Max. Jirachi’s special power is granting wishes. The evil collector that wants it is Butler. Butler, it turns out, was once a member of an evil thief clan called Team Magma, and was kicked out of his clan when hefailed to  catch a monster called Groudon, which is essentially a stories-high fire-breathing dinosaur.

Butler uses a big-ass machine to imprison Jirachi, and saps its special energy-producing powers to make a giant clone of Groudon. The clone, predictably, goes on a rampage, destroying the local woods. Uh oh. There’s that ecology message again. There’s talk about how if the local trees are destroyed, the entire ares will vanish. Or something. The franchise is good to promote ecology, but they seem utterly preoccupied with trees in particular.

Eventually Max and Ash free Jirachi with the help of another oddly-placed featured Pokémon called Absol. Groudon dissipates, and Butler makes up with his childhood sweetheart. Did I mention he has a childhood sweetheart? Well he does. He has a childhood sweetheart. Jirachi and Max have a teary farewell, and Jirachi disappears with the comet.

Pokémon: Destiny Deoxys (2004)

Pokemon 7

Directed by Kunihiko Yuyama.

Like the 5th, this 7th film is gorgeous and atmospheric, having been modeled on, of all places, Vancouver. It takes place in a huge, clean, technologically advanced city, replete with helper robots and clean natural energy. The city in “Pokémon 7” is every environmentalist’s dream come true.

The Story: Ash and his klatch have arrived at this city to compete in some sort of tournament that takes place in a big scary techno-tower that looks a lot like a clean version of the prison from “Fortress.” They are told all about how wonderfully advanced this city is, and how it is populated by floating helper robots who know where everyone is at any given moment. A bit 1984-ish, but whatever. The entire city runs on wind power.

Ash also meets a young boy named Tory (Tara Jayne) who has befriended a mysterious floating crystal. It’s not clear whether or not this crystal is a Pokémon or what, but we still get the playful garden montage.

A Pokémon from space arrives. This is Deoxys. It encases the entire city in a force field, cutting off its wind supply, and begins scanning for something. Is it Tory’s crystal? Man, you’re way ahead of this movie. Somehow the arrival of Deoxys also invokes the ire of a space-dwelling dragon named Rayquaza. Rayquaza and Deoxys spend a lot of the movie fighting. I guess this is a rule in Japan: if two giant monsters meet, they must fight.

To stop the fighting monsters, the characters must find what Deoxys was looking for. It doesn’t take them long to realize that it’s Tory’s crystal, and they must use their bodies and Pokémon to power the city just enough to hatch the crystal. Yeah, evidently there’s another Deoxys inside. If the two Deoxys meet, then all will be well.

Yeah, all is well.

This film is actually quite clever in the way it sticks to its own rules. The city seems, as proper sci-fi should, actually usable and credible, despite the farfetched future technology. That’s why “Star Trek” is so appealing: one feels that The Enterprise might actually work, what with its pseudoscience.

This raises and interesting question, though. When does the universe of Pokémon take place? Is this the future? It must be, as there are high-tech devices all over the place like Pokéballs. But it’s still a world that uses regular cars and phones and fashions. I guess, like some sci-fi and fantasy, it takes place in a parallel world where Pokémon stand in for regular animals.

Pokémon: Lucario and the Mystery of Mew (2006)

Pokemon 8

Directed by: Darren Dunstan. This is the last Pokémon film to feature the same cast of actors. They were all replaced in the next film. I guess the contracts all expired. This is also the first film to feature the fourth generation of Pokémon bringing the grand total to about 475.

The Story: Ash and his crew are attending a Renaissance Festival.

Let me repeat that: The characters in “Pokémon” are going to a frickin’ Renaissance Pleasure Faire. That’s probably the nerdiest thing I can think of. Perhaps if they had Ash team up with Frodo Baggins so they could swap Green Lantern trivia in Klingon it would be nerdier. They even dress Pikachu in a jester outfit. Good Lord.

Anyway, Ash is elected head of some RenFaire court because he looks like a guy in a painting. Ash seems to be destined to be a somethingorother… I’m so tired of destiny stories. Ash’s scepter at the Faire, though, turns out to have contained in it a psychic Pokémon named Lucario (Sean Schemmel). Lucario has been trapped in the scepter since the days of Queen Elizabeth, and is still bitter that his old master ran out on a vital battle 400 years before.

Lucario wants to investigate further, though, and enlists the help of Ash and co. to visit a local mountain said to conatin the power of the area. Magical ecological grove! Hurray! Lucario is also blessed with a second-sight sort of power, which behaves the same way that supercomputer Cerebro did in the “X-Men” films: he can locate things with his mind. Also along is a lady Indiana Jones type. I forgot her name.

The magical mountain grove is protected by a trio of weird-looking robot Pokémon. Our human characters also find that Mew, from the first movie, has been living here this whole time, making sure that a giant crystal in the center of the mountain has energy or something. Anyway, it turns out that their very presence in the mountain has harmed the health of the entire grove and local ecosystem, and Lucario must use his special powers to heal the crystal in the heart of the grove.

Rather than have actual flashbacks, the film provides us with the single most convenient narrative device since the Babelfish: the Flashback Flower. When one touches a flower, they see what happened near it in the past. It’s not clear how these flowers work, but it’s enough to say that Lucario learns the real truth of his dead master, and makes a noble sacrifice in his honor.

The film may have stupid narrative leaps, and it may cleave too closely to the abstract at times, but the series is still getting better and better looking. Also, with Lucario, we’re given the first Pokémon character to have emotions and conflicts of its own. Finally, we’re having emotional conflicts rather than just goofy battles.

Oh, did I forget to mention Team Rocket? I don’t mean to give them such a short shrift in all these reviews, but they never function in the stories, serving more as comic relief. I have to say, I have a strange affection for Meowth, as he seems to be the only one who sees how silly a lot of this stuff is. In the Japanese versions, Meowth serves as a sort of wise Buddhist chorus for the show. In the merican version, he’s a wisecracking troublemaker. Either way, he’s the only one with anything approaching a real personality. And Maddie Blaustein is great in the role, essentially using her own voice. Blaustein died in 2008.

Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea (2006)

Pokemon 9

New studio! New cast! Ash is now played by Sarah Natochenny, May and Jesse are now played by Michele Knotz, James and Meowth by James Zoppi, Brock by Bill Rogers. At this point, the Pokémon franchise has been relegated to the diehards, and less and less distribution money has been given to it. The series still looks as good as ever, but for the kids who grew up on the stuff, it’ll seem like a huge departure.

The Story: There’s a rare Pokémon called Manaphy who bonds with May upon hatching out of its egg. Its special power is control of the oceans. The bad guy who wants it is a clichéd pirate man named The Phantom. There’s also a character named Kyle who calls himself a Pokémon Ranger, which is, as far as I can tell, kind of like a Pokémon superagent or something, who helps Pokémon in trouble. His character is notable in that he’s really, really douchey.

Anyway, there’s a grand chase through the oceans to return Manaphy to an undersea castle where it prsumably came from. The pirate man is in hot pursuit, and Kyle is really, really douchey. The film resembles, in many ways, Disney’s “Atlantis: The Lost Empire.” In fact, they’re nearly the same film in both story and quality. There’s even an ancient prophecy. Ash eventually finds himself replacing magic crystals to an ancient machine that will save the undersea castle from the turbulent environment. This one hit all the bases. And Kyle is really, really douchey.

Why involve a Pokémon Ranger at all? I guess they wanted to throw up the title a little bit, so they added this character. Oh, and they wanted to promote the new video games, which were also, I believe, called “Pokémon Ranger.” Whatever.

I’m kind of neutral about this one. It was action-packed, but not really any more of less interesting than any of the others. See it for completion’s sake.

Pokémon: The Rise of Darkrai (2008)

Pokemon 10

This film opens in another dimension (!) where two Japanese monsters named Dialga and Palkia are fighting for no known reason. They spit energy at one another a lot. They spit so hard, they tear open a hole in reality. Yeah, the series has finally gone there. Not content to focus on real environmental issues like clean air, healthy trees and biodiverse oceans, we’re reduced to holes in the fabric of reality.

Ash is in a small European-like town which resembles Austria. There is a huge two-towered church in the middle of town which contains a giant, ancient mechanical music box that strikes like a clock every hour. The rare Pokémon in this film is Darkrai, a Pokémon whose special power is giving people nightmares. It lives in shadows and rarely appears to people.

O.k. I gotta admit, even after being jaded through a long series of inane kids’ films, and seeing all kinds of monsters with little-to-no personality, Darkrai is really cool. I love its nightmare power, I like the way it looks, I like its scary voice (Bill Rogers again). Darkrai would have worked in a better sci-fi/fantasy film. That Darkrai is not inherently evil also adds much-needed notes of overcoming prejudice and moral ambiguity that this series has been entirely without such maturity until now.

Anyway, Palkia and Dialga spit so hard that the entire Austrian town is sucked into a netherworld where it immediately begins to dissolve from its outskirts inward. Our heroes can see Dialga and Palkia fighting above their heads. It’s hard to tell, at first, whether or not this is a mass nightmare created by Darkrai, or really happening, but our heroes figure it out soon enough. Another douchey character Maury (Joshua Swanson) swaps bodies with a big pink Pokémon called Lickilicki. This detail is delightfully surreal.

The young lady who owns the aforementioned music box, Alice (Emily Jenness) realizes that her forebears built the thing as a way to calm the nerves of the enraged with gentle music. Just the right tune will calm the fighting monsters. Darkrai keeps the monsters busy while Ash and Pikachu run to the top of the tower and play the right song. Just as all is about to be dissolved, the world is saved.

Pokémon: Giratina and the Sky Warrior (2009)

I’m drawing the line, for now, at 10. I’ve not seen this 11th film.

Series overview:

The “Pokémon” series entire is overenergetic, a little incomprehensible, shrill, and obnoxious. At the start, the strong sense of blind consumerism that overwhelmed the series was all too present in the movies. It wasn’t until the franchise began to lose steam that the films began to pick up in quality.

The stories are kind of interchangeable, but I have to admit, I’ve seen a lot of sci-fi and fantasy films in my years, and I’ve seen much worse stories at work. The stories in these films serve more as a function to introduce new monsters, but they occasionally break out into something more entertaining than they ought to be.

Each film contains at least six of the following:

1)      A rare Pokémon with a unique power.

2)      An ambitious collector who wants to capture/kill it.

3)      A local festival of some kind.

4)      An ancient prophecy that only Ash can fulfill.

5)      An ancient machine.

6)      A giant technolab/machine that will blow up.

7)      A pair of giant monsters fighting.

8)      A sacred grove of trees, or a protected ocean that is kept in the balance by Pokémon, and the subsequent upset of that balance.

9)      Team Rocket flying through the air.

Aside from the strong ecological messages, though, the thing I like best about the “Pokémon” movies is the theme of travel. Each movie begins with Ash arriving in a new place, and wandering through this new place with awe and wonder. He wears a backpack, and is seen sleeping in sleeping bags and eating from campfires. We get the sense that this kid really did leave home, and is now living his dream out on the road. It’s almost like “Pokémon” is playing subtle homage to Kerouac. I was lucky enough to travel the world when I was 15, and I met many post-high-school or post-college kids who were taking a few years to live off the land, and explore Europe on foot. I hear the same was common in India in the 1960s. Ash is one of those kids, and I love that. It makes me want to go on a Pokémon journey. Not to capture superpowered animals, but to experience the wide varieties of human life and unusual cities the world has to offer.


Also, I have to say it, Pikachu is way damn cute. Too damn cute. I like his cute twitching ears, his cute li’l face, and his cute li’l voice. I like the way he pants when he runs, and the lighting that sparkles from his cheeks when he’s upset. I think it’s Pikachu’s cuteness that brings me back time and time again. I know that’s hardly intellectual, but I’m willing to bet few have a tolerance to inscrutable Japanese sueprcuteness.

Published in: on July 10, 2009 at 4:41 pm  Comments (17)  

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17 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. OMG there are 10 Pokemon movies? I’m in shock…

  2. wow i missed a movie…i never saw the lucario one although you missed a movie also, theres also the one where mewtwo returns…i dont remember the name cuz i didnt see it either, i just heard about it.

    • Actually, “Mewtwo Returns” was, strictly speaking, a 45-minute television special, and not a feature film. There have been a few of those along the way. I left them out because I think I already had a wealth of material to deal with.

      • I would like to point out several things.

        1.At of the 6th movie there were 386 pokémon, if 150 were added then there would be 400 pokémon.

        2.It’s spelled ”Arceus”

        3.Pokémon4EVER has a second name, ”Celebi voice of the forest”

        Oh and welcome to serebiiforums

  3. What about the pokemon god

    • The Pokémon god is, I learn from some cursory Internet research, a monster named Arcaus that supposedly created all the Pokémon. I learned that the 12th Pokémon movie, featuring this creature, is already in theaters in Japan, and will likely make its way to the States eventually.

  4. Actually, the third pokemon movie DOES have a title. It’s Entei: Spell of the Unown. You can see it at the bottom of the movie cover.

  5. Haha don’t worry about it, I’m in my 20s and I know all about Pokemon, Digimon, and the like. I know plenty of adults that are into Anime, actually.

  6. I love Pokemon…& i wish i’ve pokemon someday…i really love them all….
    I love their movies soooo much….

  7. My son already is a pokemon =) Well no, not exactly. At least he imagines it and apparently very vividly. And he loves them so much, he would like to have all the movies and still he only have “mew2 vs. mew1″… probably one day have to buy the whole series :-]

  8. Wow, that was ironically enlightening. I still love Pokemon and I’m 17 (well, that’s not terribly old, but enough so that I get “You’re too old to like Pokemon!” all the time). The only thing I don’t like about the series is that they replaced the original cast. They didn’t want to be replaced and they fought to keep their roles, but 4Kids Entertainment thought that it was just too much money to keep the originals on board, which is a terrible shame. I really enjoy all of the films (with the exception of the Manaphy movie – May really pissed me off in that movie for some reason). If you ever get around to watching the 11th (and 12th now, with the Arceus film) movies, I do hope you’ll post your opinions on those films, as well. I’m also curious to your opinion about the Mewtwo Returns feature – I thought Dan Green did an excellent job as Mewtwo. Even though every time I heard his voice I thought of Atem from Yu-Gi-Oh! and I cracked up. But I digress. This was an excellent, if somewhat sardonic, review of the series.

  9. What about the one movie where Groudon an Kyogre are fighting.

  10. Correction: in the ninth movie, there is no character named “Kyle.” The Pokemon Ranger is named Jack Walker, aka Jackie.

    …and I totally don’t get how he could strike you as douchey. He was dashing, daring, clever, funny, heroic, self-deprecating, and pretty much the coolest adult character in the movies next to Kidd Summers (the “lady Indiana Jones”) from the previous movie.

    Oh, and in the Darkrai movie, the guy you called “Maury” is really named Baron Alberto. But you’re right about him – he really IS douchey.

    Those little quibbles aside, let me say that I highly enjoyed your reviews. As another adult who likes Pokemon and who gets funny glances because of it, I want to thank you for dedicating that much time and effort to an often dismissed or denigrated anime. It may not be the most sophisticated thing in creation, but it’s far more than a mere advertisement for the game products as so many (who haven’t bothered watching any of it) assume.

    And thanks for bringing up the travel aspect of the series, which I also love, and which few other fans seem to appreciate.

    And yeah, Pikachu is way damn cute. 😉

    [Oh, and, to “John” who replied just before me: There isn’t any movie where Groudon and Kyogre fight. That was a rather anticlimactic two-part episode from the regular series.]

  11. gostaria de ver muito mais filmes

  12. Pokemon is the biggest distraction ever invented! Thank goodness for that.

  13. I straight couldnt beetle off your website before considerable you that we remarkably enjoyed the importance message you offer to your visitors… Choice be encourage over again to retard up on new posts

  14. Thanks for the great info.

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