Pokémon: The First Movie

on November 10, 1999 by Annlee Ellingson
   A hodgepodge of ideas and themes, "Pokemon the First Movie" opens with the short "Pikachu's Summer Vacation," starring the most beloved Pokemon of them all, Pikachu. Pikachu and his buddies leave their master Ash and retire to a lush valley with other vacationing Pokemon who put aside their differences to help a friend in need. As cute as the frolicking Pokemon are, this segment is downright surreal: All but one Pokemon have vocabularies limited to their names, so the dialogue consists of variants of "Pikachu!" and "Squirtle!" uttered in grunts and squeals. Meanwhile, random Pokemon parade across the screen in psychedelic interludes like something out of a funky kaleidoscope. A device meant to introduce all 151 Pokemon (which also has the unfortunate side effect of inciting prepubescent patrons to demonstrate their ability to name each and every single freakin' one), this short's end is a welcome relief.
   The Pokemon feature is equally surprising in its style, but for a different reason. Mewtwo, a scientific clone of the rare Pokemon Mew, destroys his creators, intending to take over the world by harvesting more Pokemon clones and destroying the original Pokemon and their human masters. Dark and scary, the movie draws from Japanese anime (animated entertainment tailored for discerning adults) and sci-fi classics such as "Alien."
   In the battle finale, all the Pokemon are combating clones of themselves in fights that can only end in death. "Pokemon" attempts to justify this scene--and its whole premise--by pointing out how it differs from typical Pokemon battles and spouting aphorisms that advocate anti-violence and tolerance. Unfortunately, pontifications like "The circumstances of one's birth are irrelevant. It is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are" are probably too verbose to significantly influence the target audience.
   There's room for camp here, of course. The dialogue is frequently sarcastic and punny, particularly in the case of the wisecracking Meowth, the only Pokemon (aside from the telepathic Mewtwo) who can speak and who says things like, "Send in the clones" and "I almost made a clawful mistake." And while kids will be traumatized when the Pikachu clone bitch-slaps the real Pikachu, the scene's gut-wrenchingly hilarious for adults with a sense of humor about such things. Starring Pikachu, Ash, Misty, Brock, Team Rocket and Mewtwo. Directed by Kunihiko Yuyama. Written by Takeshi Shudo. Produced by Norman J. Grossfeld, Choji Yoshikawa, Tomoyuki Igarashi and Takemoto Mori. A Warner Bros. release. Animated. Rated G. Running time: 98 min
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