Flashback Review: Pokémon: The First Movie

In 1989, video game company Nintendo, introduced a handheld console called, “Game Boy,” this encouraged Japanese game designer Satoshi Tajiri to come up with an idea by meeting several employees about a High Concept involving a video game based on Satoshi’s childhood hobby of insect collecting. The game focuses on the player searching for a specific type of creature using a ball to transfer their selected creature inside it. As he/she collects their desired characters, they train their personal fighters to become stronger gaining experience points after several quests, fighting enemies & training, they enter a tournament to compete against other players. If a competitor wins, they have the right to trade a certain character. The concept of trading within a gaming system was also developed by Satoshi himself to let players feel immersed within the game itself.

It took Satoshi and Nintendo seven years to develop the project by coming up with unique creature designs, experimenting with role-playing-game elements, (a la Final Fantasy) sound design etc. After hectic development, Satoshi and his crew released their pet project in Japan under the name, “Pocket Monsters Aka and Midori. (Translated as red and green) Instead being released as a single game, it was developed as two different games, boosting a boatload of customers to buy both of them. 

Nintendo made a deal a small team of American game designers to translate the game for American consumers and forever christened Pocket Monsters as “Pokémon” for short. Plus, they retitled the game as “Pokémon Red and Blue.” The American version was released in 1996. It sold millions of copies and went on to become an instant best seller.

Over the years, the game eventually spawned a multi-billion-dollar company consisting of numerous sequels, a trading card game, action figures, t-shirts, collectibles, a long-running anime series, a mobile app called, “Pokémon Go” and of course a film series. Total accumulation of every single piece of merchandise, video games, the trading card game, the anime show, mobile app & films generated the franchise’s net worth of $53 billion dollars surpassing other multi-billion-dollar franchises including “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter,” “James Bond” & “The Simpsons.”

Let’s look back at the anime series that went on to become a film series. The anime series aired in Japan in 1997 and later aired in America in 1998. The series focuses on Ash Ketchum who goes on a journey to become a Pokémon monster to collect over 150 creatures with the help of his best friends Misty & Brock. During the journey, he bonds with his Pikachu as he considers him a close friend rather than a designated fighter. As their adventure progresses, they encounter members of Team Rocket, Jesse, James & their sidekick Meowth. (Who allegedly speaks English) Whose primary goal is to capture Pikachu. (Even though there is more than one they could’ve got) In every episode, Team Rocket loses by Pikachu or something sending into the air, and they miraculously survive. I guess God & Satan didn’t invite them to their happy or evil place because of their incompetence to steal a different Pikachu.

Despite the series using a formulaic plot, the series remains as a global success among young viewers and fans of the games. Even though the show’s plot is to capture all 150 creatures, the company expanded more on their games by adding more characters so they can earn more money. Trust me, they’re gonna keep going and going like an endless merry-go-round no matter what. Now to finally move on to the company’s transition to expand as a film series starting with “Pokémon: The First Movie.”

Pokémon: The First Movie was released in Japan in 1998 and it finally got released in the United States in 1999. Despite making a profit at the box office, it was critically panned. Between 1998 & 2017 Pokémon released 20 Films. Their 21st entry titled, “Everyone’s Story” is scheduled for a release date on July 13, 2018. Ryan Reynolds has officially signed on to voice Pikachu in the upcoming “Detective Pikachu” film. I would like to share what’s good or bad about the first entry of Pokémon’s film series based on the beloved video games, trading card game and anime television show.

First Things first, I’m gonna begin with Pikachu Vacation, Mewtwo’s Origin Story & Mewtwo Strikes Back, because I used to own a VHS tape of the movie. It’s all about going back to a trip to memory lane.

The following review contains potential SPOILERS. If you’re not familiar with the mythology of Pokémon or haven’t seen a few episodes of the first season, read at your own risk!

Pikachu’s Vacation

Positive: The Animation style is retained to match the one from the series. 

Character Development involving Pikachu & his gang as well as their rivals.

Negative: “The Observation Unit” annoyingly interjects by telling us what’s obviously going on with the characters’ activities. Ever heard of the phrase, “SHOW DON’T TELL?” Look, I understand it’s programmed to understand a certain species’ characteristics & abilities, but do we really need to hear him say what we already get what’s happening with the characters. It’s like the equivalent of an audience member talking during the movie. Can you imagine the A.I. annoyingly interjecting Tom Hanks in “Cast Away?”

Random Transitions abruptly halt Pikachu’s race. A transition would only work, when necessary, take Austin Powers for example, the transitions were used to cut to another location not to immediately interrupt a punch line or a visual gag.

Uncut Story Of Mewtwo’s Origin

Positive: We get to witness Mewtwo’s origins and where he actually came from. Unlike the VHS version, the Uncut Version is dark, adding a true meaning to Mewtwo’s tragic origin story.

The scientist who created Mewtwo also has a backstory that motivated him to develop genetic cloning in order to make a clone of his late daughter Amber.

Negative: I couldn’t spot anything wrong with this segment, I’ll give the deleted opening an Extra Point for expanding the Pokémon mythos by introducing genetic cloning that feels like a breath of fresh air, rather than Team Rocket hunting down Pikachu countless times. It’s about time they did something different for a change without retelling the same episode.

Mewtwo Strikes Back

Positive: As I’ve mentioned a positive element from Pikachu’s Vacation, Animation is retained from the series, bringing polished environmental locations to life.

The Opening Scene strongly sets up Mewtwo destroying a laboratory facility, indicating he’s extremely dangerous and his power level stronger than a common Pokémon creature. You think Wolverine slaughtered his way outta The Weapon X Facility? Well, guess again! A ballsy move 4Kids made with Mewtwo murdering scientists.

The Pokémon Theme Song is retained when Ash battles an opponent.

One scene made me chuckled is when Ash said that Vikings are from Minnesota. A reference to the NFL team, Minnesota Vikings.

The Tone is slightly darker than the series, but not too dark.

When I first saw Ash turning into stone, I was shocked. Now I understand why fans were scarred for life upon witnessing this unexpected moment.

Character Development involving Mewtwo. He despises humans believing they treat his kind as slaves, until he saw Ash turned into stone causing him to undergo a change of heart.

Negative: Why is the title called “Mewtwo Strikes Back?” Doesn’t make any sense, because people are gonna get confused by misidentified the film as a sequel. If you’re gonna name your first movie, call it “Rise of Mewtwo.” They’re trying so hard to be like “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Ash acts like a complete nincompoop when he attempted to punch Mewtwo without thinking this through. Imagine if military soldiers charged a moving tank by literally punching it instead of using their own or something powerful to destroy it?

When all the Pokémon engage in battle with their clones, a catchy feel-good pop song called, “Brother My Brother,” is played in the background I don’t think that song fits for an Action Sequence, I was cringing instead of becoming emotionally invested. What if the song was used during the docking scene from Interstellar instead of Hans Zimmer’s “No Time for Caution?” Filmmaking 101, experiment various music tracks to see if a specific song or instrumental piece suits well for a scene that’ll make the audience emotionally engage.

The film shoved forced social commentary down my throat with the moral of the film is “Fighting Is Wrong.” Nintendo, would you care to explain why Pokémon involves two opponents using their Pokémon to duke it out one by one? Basically, contradicting the series involving fights to win and collect a creature. A few characters say that fighting is wrong. We already get the moral we don’t need another character to remind us what’s going on. Ever heard of the phrase, “Show, Don’t Tell?”

Perhaps the worst Deus Ex Machina ever depicted in cinematic history is when various Pokémon shed tears and they somehow resurrected Ash. I hate to use “The C Word,” it felt “CONTRIVED.” (that’s “The C Word” I’m referring to) Remember when Optimus Prime got killed in the 1986 animated “Transformers” movie? Nobody shed tears to bring Optimus back from the dead, a brand-new character took over as the lead protagonist. One more thing, did George R.R. Martin use magical tears to bring back some of our favorite “Game of Thrones” characters? Nope, they’re permanently dead! Sorry folks, I’ll have to Double Down this con for making an emotional Death Scene pointless & trying too hard to create an emotional moment. I consider this the equivalent of WWE airing a PSA about wresting is wrong, which contradicts the nature of fighting.

The Ending ruined Character Development involving the characters, the moral & of course, Ash’s resurrection. The Ending depicts Mewtwo erasing everybody’s memory and going back in time. WHAT THE HOLY COW?! That was a total waste of time! I’m Tripling Down this con, for Nintendo treating the movie as another pointless episode from the series! Plus, the whole movie depleted my spare time!

The Final Verdict: D, FOR DOG POOP!

At first, Pokémon: The First Movie was my favorite Pokémon related film when I was a kid. Now that I’m an adult and critic, it’s a miscalculation, because Nintendo failed to craft a storyline that was interesting at first, but it fell flat on its face. I think the sole purpose for Nintendo to produce Pokémon movies is to concoct a business practice to draw families and fans into spending their money as a scheme finance their games & create new Pokémon in an endless loop. Trey Parker & Matt Stone made fun of Pokémon on episode called, “Chinpokomon” that made fun of Nintendo’s scheme into tricking kids to buy their merchandise.

Despite adding negative elements, Mewtwo was perhaps one of the redeeming qualities to the film. He had a tragic back story. He was a unique villain who had an actual motive that wasn’t similar to Team Rocket’s ongoing attempt to steal Ash’s Pikachu. Mewtwo’s Character Development upon learning that humans aren’t puppet masters after all made him a three-dimensional tragic villain. If you’re kids are fans of Pokémon, go right ahead and let them watch it, if you’re into story or character driven arcs, you’ll probably won’t like it as I did.

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