Pokémon: The First Movie

   The first thing I noticed about the Pokémon movie was the crowd in line to buy tickets. I live in a small town, and most of the premiers I attend usually don't attract more than ten or fifteen people. Here, though, were five parents with at least two children each ahead of me in line--and I got there half an hour before the thing started. As I walked into the theater, I noticed that I was the oldest one there without a child in tow. This was probably for the best. Pokémon is a unapologetically a children's movie, and while it may be silly to expect a deep, satisfying experience, Disney and Warner Brothers have shown that it is possible to make children's movies without alienating the rest of the audience.
 Pikachu's Vacation
Shiny Happy Pokémon

   As most of you know, the film is divided into two segments. The first of these, titled "Pikachu's Vacation" is seen through the eyes of the Pokédex. The story follows the mishaps of Pikachu and friends (namely Togepi, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur) as they take a day off at a mountain resort entirely for Pokémon. This foursome squares off against the "fearsome" quartet of Marrill, Raichu, Cubone, and Bruno in a variety of contests. The short is cute and fun in a mindless kind of way -- much of the action is slapstick humor, since there are no humans present and Pokémon cannot speak -- but there are annoying animations, featuring nothing more than various Pokémon strutting around and speaking their names, that break up the action at seemingly random points. These "scenes" ring suspiciously of an attempt to squeeze all of the Pokémon into one short segment.

One Winged Mewtwo
Estuans interius ira vehementi! Mewtwo! Mewtwo!

   These irritating sequences are even more annoying in the context of the setup for the real movie, Mewtwo Strikes Back. The first five or six minutes of the movie do very little in the way of setting up Mewtwo and his motivations. They get as far as his origin, and then there's a stretch where it seems that a few pages of script were lost. The plot moves directly from the beginning of Mewtwo's involvement with Giovanni to the end, with only the line "We stood as equals!" to explain what happened in between. Probably a few minutes could have been cut from Pikachu's Vacation to stand better service explaining what drives Mewtwo.

   Unfortunately, things don't get better after Ash's introduction. I found the use of a voiceover narration to start the plot very odd, because I wasn't quite sure whom it was intended for. All of the children in the audience presumably knew who Ash, Brock, and Misty are already, and the adults certainly didn't need an explanation that Ash was a Pokémon trainer only minutes before he is seen using his trained Pokémon to do battle. At any rate, things pick up a bit after the introductions are over and the movie can begin.

 Team Rocket
Team Rocket blasts off at the speed of light

   The story deals with the invitation of a select group of Pokémon trainers to Mewtwo's challenge on a remote island, a challenge which an even smaller group are able to attend--including, by an amusing series of coincidences, Team Rocket. For the most part, however, none of the trainers matter except Ash. Depth of characterization was apparently not a priority for the filmmakers; speaking for myself, I'm hard-pressed to even remember the other trainers' names.

   This has been a negative review so far, for one simple reason: up until now, I've focused on the human characters and the plot, two of the Pokémon movie's weakest points. Where the movie shines is the Pokémon. Somewhat ironically, any one of the little guys manages to portray a greater range of emotion and elicit more sympathy than all of the human characters combined. This is especially apparent during the ending wherein the humans stand on the sidelines spouting treacly morals, intercut with Pokémon teaching the same lessons to much greater effect with their actions. I won't reveal the particulars so as not to spoil the plot, but some scenes involving the Pokémon near the ending are stunningly (and bizarrely, considering the subject matter) moving - -the one thing I didn't expect from a Pokémon movie was to feel genuinely bad for the characters.

   Of course, all of this is from the perspective of someone totally new to the Pokémon experience. If you're already a devoted fan, then you're probably already at the theater. Conversely, if you're already set against Pokémania, then this movie will do nothing to win you over. But if approached with the right attitude and an open mind, there's a lot to like about Pokémon's First Movie.

Review by Nich Maragos, GIA.
Pokémon: The First Movie
Producer 4Kids Entertainment
Distributor Warner Bros. Family Entertainment
Genre Adventure
Running Time 78 minutes
Platform Movie
Release Date  Released
Pokémon: The First Movie pushed up
47 stills / 2 trailers
2 movie posters / 2 character collages
DVD box art