Today’s Obsession: The Pokémon Movies

Chaos in Print

So, I finally bought the fifth Pokémon movie on DVD: Pokémon Heroes. I was threatening that I’d do this someday, so I think that today is the day. I’m going to sit here and review all five Pokémon movie DVDs! Actually, it’s thanks to the Pokémon movies that I cemented my reputation as a movie news god. We were in line to see Episode I, and the latest issue of ToyFare was being passed around. They were talking to the folks at Hasbro about Pokémon toys, and one of the questions asked was, “Will there be toys based on the upcoming movie?” One of my friends – a real anime snob – said, “Wha? There’s a movie?” And I said, “Well, like several other anime television programs, Pokémon has proven popular enough to spawn several feature films. The first one, entitled Mewtwo Strikes Back, is currently being dubbed for a straight-to-video release. But, if the Pokémon fad continues to grow, it’ll probably get released to theatres.” At this, my friend groaned, and six months later, I was in line to watch Pokémon: the First Movie. So, let’s get on with the reviews!

Pokémon: The First Movie
Actually consists of a short film and a feature. The short is Pikachu’s Vacation. The feature film is Pokémon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back.

Original Japanese title of feature: Mewtwo Strikes Back.

Mark’s summary in 35 words or less: Mewtwo, the genetically enhanced clone of Mew, seeks to destroy the world and repopulate it with his genetically enhanced clones. Our heroes get caught in the crossfire and are soon fighting to save the world.

My review: I actually waited until this film was in the dollar theatres before seeing it. I hooked up with Mr. Anderson to see it, who was actually there for the big Camrose premiere. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I saw many similarities between it and that similar based-on-a-cartoon film from my childhood, Transformers: The Movie. True, there was nothing deep to it, but it was just big, colourful fun.

The DVD bonus stuff: I’ll never forget when the DVD came out. DVD enthusiasts were incredibly pissed. DVD was still in its infancy, and it still took a lot of effort and pleading for a special edition to come out. And here was Pokémon: The First Movie, a stacked special edition. As one critic put it: “This is everything we want in a special edition, and they wasted the effort on Pokémon.” Let’s go bit-by-bit.

Running commentary – There are two folks on the commentary: Michael Haigney, the director of the American dub, and Norman J. Grossfeld, producer of the American dub. It’s a pretty good commentary. If you’re an anime fan, there’s actually some pretty interesting insights into the translation and dubbing process.

One cut scene – In this deleted prelude, you see how the Team Rocket scientists got their hands on Mew’s DNA and used it create Mewtwo. Ads some interesting back story, but it’s obvious why it was cut.

Ash’s Journey – For those new to pokémon, this is a montage of clips narrated by Brock explaining what pokémon is all about and Ash’s pokémon journey. Good for newbies. (Interesting enough, this was tacked onto the beginning of movies 4 and 5)

The Music Video – The soundtrack was filled with banal pop tunes, and the one that got airplay on MuchMusic was Don’t Say You Love Me by M2M. Lame song, lame video.

The trailer – Good trailer.

DVD-ROM Stuff – On the DVD-ROM side, you get the complete promotional website and an essay on the history of video games. The essay is actually pretty fascinating.

Teaser trailer for the second movie – Great to whet your appetite.

This film is truly a pop culture milestone that will be beloved by a generation for years to come, and reviled by their parents. It is a pretty good DVD, and I still enjoy it.

The film: 3 nibs. The disc: 4 nibs.

Pokémon the Movie 2000
Again, this feature is in two parts. It starts with the short film Pikachu’s Rescue Adventure, and the feature is Pokémon: The Power of One.

Original Japanese title of feature: Revelation Lugia

Mark’s summary in 66 words or less: A pokémon collector is seeking to capture Lugia, the rarest pokémon of them all. In order to flush out Lugia, he has to get three legendary pokémon together to duke it out. The three pokémon begin to fight, Lugia appears, but Lugia needs the help of the chosen one to stop the three pokémon from destroying the world. And, of course, the chosen one is Ash.

My review: Forget the dollar theatre! I paid the full $8 to see this. More action than the first one, but some lame dialogue and plot contrivances. (“When the prophecy says “The world will turn to ash,” it doesn’t mean the end of the world. It means, Ash is the chosen one!”) Yeah, it’s a little lame, but it’s all part of the package.

The DVD bonus stuff: Not as well-stacked as the first movie, but good stuff nonetheless.

Concert footage – The bonus material on this disc seemed to focus on the film’s soundtrack. You get a few clips from some concert that was held, where three of the artists on the soundtrack sing their contributions. It’d be OK, if the songs weren’t so lame.

Featurette – Again, we get a featurette about the making of the soundtrack. The highlight for me is an interview with “Weird Al” Yankovic about his contribution, Polkamon.

The trailer – I like trailers. Another good trailer.

Teaser trailer for Pokémon 3 – I think this where people started asking, “When will this franchise die?”

It was an OK DVD. I guess the makers realized that they didn’t have to go all-out for these films. But still, it’s a good presentation.

The film: 3 nibs. The DVD: 2.5 nibs.

Pokémon 3: The Movie
The short film is Pikachu and Pichu. The feature is Pokémon: Spell of the Unown.

Original Japanese title of feature: Lord of the Unknown Tower.

Mark’s summary in 54 words or less: Molly’s father, a renowned pokémon researcher, is taken by the mysterious Unown. The Unown come to care for Molly, conjuring up the mythical pokémon Entei to be her father. When Molly asks for a mother, the Unown kidnap Ash’s mother! Now, our heroes must embark on a quest to save Ash’s mother and Molly.

My review: This is my favourite Pokémon film. Yves once told me she rates an action film by how many moments make her stand up and cheer. Well, this has a lot of stand-up-and-cheer moments for me, from Brock and Misty getting to do some serious pokémon battling to Charizard’s duex et machina appearance at the film’s end. It was also the first time I was all alone in a theatre to watch a movie. Oh, and Pikachu and Pichu is my favourite of the shorts, too.

The DVD Bonus stuff: Still not quite as much as the first film, but good stuff.

The Running Commentary – Michael Haigney and Norman J. Grossfeld are back. They repeat a lot of the insights that they had on the Mewtwo Strikes Back commentary, but they do share some of the unique cultural differences they had to overcome when dubbing this film. These guys are actually a pretty entertaining duo.

The Making of the theme song – Watch Norman J. Grossfeld try to put together a girl group! Lame, lame, lame.

The Johto Pokerap – A reject bit from season 4 of the cartoon, this is a new pokerap which shares the new 100 pokémon introduced in Pokémon: Gold and Silver editions.

The trailer – Whee.

The Japanese trailer for Pokémon 4 – OK, so it came out on DVD before dubbing began on fourth movie. So, they stuck the Japanese trailer on. Very cool, actually.

This being may favourite, I wish they did more with this edition, but I’m happy with what I got.

The film: 3.5 nibs. The disc: 2.5 nibs.

Now, here’s where things get interesting. The first three films were brought to North America by Warner Brothers. 4 and 5 were brought over by Miramax. Miramax did some things that the fans didn’t like, such as giving the films very limited theatrical releases and lopping off the short films to save them for DVD bonus material. Miramax called this a “dynamic new marketing strategy,” but it did more to take the film franchise out of the public consciousness. But enough of my bitching!

Pokémon 4Ever
The complete title onscreen is Pokémon 4Ever: Celebi – The Voice of the Forest.

Original Japanese title of feature: Celebi: A Timeless Encounter.

Mark’s summary in 90 words or less: Young Sammy on his pokémon journey rescues Celebi from a pokémon poacher. In order to escape from the poacher, Celebi teleports himself and Sammy 40 years into the future. Here, Team Rocket’s most ruthless agent, the Iron Masked Marauder is looking for Celebi. Sammy and Celebi team up with our heroes. But, the Iron Masked Marauder captures Celebi, turns Celebi evil, and Celebi goes on a destructive rampage. Can our heroes save Celebi? (Oh, and in the neat time-travel twist, Sammy turns out to be the young Professor Samuel Oak.)

My review: I think the brainstorming session for this one went like this: “Hey! I’ve got an idea! Let’s do a Pokémon knock-off of Princess Mononoke! We’ll make San some kid from the past, Lady Eboshi a Team Rocket Agent, Ash and gang Prince Ashitaka, and pokémon in place of gods!” I first saw this when I rented it on video in Japan. Even though I didn’t understand the dialogue, I could clearly see what the film was inspired by. There’s some neat new additions to the Pokémon universe, like Sammy’s 40 year old pokémon technology and the Iron Masked Marauder, but the shadow of a much better film looms large.

The DVD Bonus stuff: Yay! The first movie released in widescreen! And Miramax did a poorer job on the DVD transfer. The colours are muted and sometimes things look out of focus.

The Short Film – Pikachu’s PikaBoo follows the adventures of Pikachu and the gang wreaking havoc in a wealthy person’s garden. The climax happens in the hedge maze. Pretty good stuff.

The Running Commentary – Michael Haigney and Norman J. Grossfeld return again, but this time they’re joined by: Jim Malone (director of the translation; Haigney just wrote this time out), Veronica Taylor (the voice of Ash), Rachel Lillis (the voice of Misty and Jessie), Eric Stuart (the voice of Brock and James), and Addie Blaustien (the voice of Meowth). You learn lots of neat stuff about the voicing of the show.

Trivia Game – Haven’t played this. Can’t comment.

Trailer – Ooo.

Trailer for Pokémon 5 – The tradition continues!

Animation progression – Your standard “storyboards to finished product” multi-angle thingie.

Even though they botched the theatrical release, and the picture quality’s a little messed up, it’s a pretty good DVD.

The film: 2.5 nibs. The DVD: 3 nibs.

Pokémon Heroes
Compete onscreen title is Pokémon Heroes: Latios and Latias.

Original Japanese title: Latios and Latias: Guardians of the Water City

Mark’s summary in 72 words or less: The gang’s in a Venice-like city for a water pokémon festival. Two crack Team Rocket agents – Annie and Oakley – show up to capture the city’s guardian pokémon, Latios and Latias. But, Oakley has designs on bigger things. Latios and Latias are the keys to the city’s ancient doomsday device. Soon, Oakley is at the controls, ready to take over the world, and it’s up to Ash and Latias to save the city.

My review – This will always be my coolest Pokémon movie-going experience! The time: Obon holiday 2002. The place: Warner Mycal Cinemas in Kumagaya. It was the second movie I watched in Japan, and even though I had no idea what was going on, I loved it anyway. Trippy Italian/J-pop music and some insane action. Way cool.

DVD Bonus Material: Same problem as with the Pokémon 4Ever. The colors just seem off in a lot of scenes.

The Short Film – Camp Pikachu follows the misadventures of the Pichu brothers (from Pikachu and Pichu) as they fall of their train and get trapped in the woods. Luckily, they run into Pikachu and the gang and head for the train station. My second favourite of the shorts.

Location Scouting – Footage of Venice shot by the Japanese animators for reference. Looks too much like my former students’ home movies, but nifty nonetheless.

The Characters – Text bios of the new pokémon introduced in the film. Just like the cards – only on your TV!

Trivia Game – Haven’t played it.

Animation Stages – Haven’t watched it yet.

I love this film, but there could have been…more effort into this DVD.

Film: 3 nibs. Disc: 2 nibs.

And that’s all for now, maybe that’s all forever. To the best of my knowledge, no distribution deal currently exists for #6 and onwards. I’d like to see it go back to Warner Brothers. And they’re big into the straight-to-video market anyway. I’ll end this the way every episode of the show ends: To Be Continued….

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