Monday, July 17, 2017

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – My Top 10 Favorite Episode Arcs

Star Wars: The Clone Wars” stands as personally one of my all time favorite animated programs, and in my opinion is a benchmark in the Star Wars saga. I loved the characters, I loved the action, I loved the expanded universe, and most of all I loved the opportunity to see unique stories told that you’d never be able to see in a theatrical “Star Wars” movie. Now I understand if casual Star Wars fans would prefer to just stick with the movies, and have no interest in sitting through an animated series with 122 episodes total. Regardless, there’s still so many quality episodes from this series that shouldn’t be glanced over. So I’m going to narrow down my personal top 10 Episode arcs that I highly recommend checking out. Now episode arcs from this series can range between two or four episodes, so this won’t be a traditional top 10 single episode countdown. With that said, if you’re a Star Wars fan of any sort, these are the episodes from “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” that I don’t think you should miss, because personally I’d place these among some of the best of what the Star Wars saga has to offer.   

#10 The Rebels of Onderon Arc (Season 5)
4 Episodes – “A War on Two Fronts”, “Front Runners”, “Soft War” and “Tipping Points” 

In my opinion, Season five was hands down the best of this whole series, and as you’ll notice on my countdown, most of my favorite arcs came from this season. Things were strong right off the bat with this epic four part premier arc in which Anakin Skywalker’s apprentice Ahsoka Tano leads a band a Rebels to revolt against their corrupt and evil kingdom. While there is definitely a lot of “War” in this “Clone Wars” series, they’ve never looked or felt more different than in these episodes. The best way to describe this arc is if the large scale battles and imaginative creatures of 2009’s “Avatar” became one with the look, feel and characters of “Game of Thrones”. That may sound like a radical combination, but that’s what you get with this arc ... and it’s outstanding for it. Aside from the unique medieval setting, I really love the characters in this arc. Of course we have Ahsoka present to represent our main cast, but I really like all these other one shot characters, some of which I feel could have had their own spin-offs. Actually, this arc introduced the character Saw Gerrera, who years later would be played by Forest Whitaker in the spin-off movie “Rouge One: A Star Wars Story”. I think this is a very underappreciated arc from the series, but definitely a favorite of mine, and one that I think could have passed as a standalone movie on its own.

#9 The Clone Cadet Arc (Season 1 & 3)
3 Episodes – “Clone Cadets”, “Rookies” & “ARC Troopers”)

One of the shows crowning achievements was humanizing the Clone Troopers and making them more than just cannon fodder during the battles. While this arc isn’t the most linier of the series, it was still a poignant example of how this show was going to expand the “Star Wars” saga in new, exciting and character driven ways. This arc follows the journey of a group of clones called Domino Squad who start off as failed cadets in training. We then see their valor, as some give their lives to defend their base. It all comes to a close in one of the shows most epic battles, as the evil droid army launch a full scale attack on the troopers home planet. We have rookie clones facing impossible odds, and it highlights these soldieries as individuals that the audience can care for. Captain Rex in particular is one of the best characters to come from the series, and is a personal favorite of mine among “Star Wars” characters in general. Also the episode “ARC Troopers” features the first paring of the shows two main villains General Grievous and Asajj Ventress, which was nothing short of epic.

#8 The Rain of Darth Maul (Season 5)
4 Episodes – “Revival”, “Eminence”, “Shades of Reason” and “The Lawless

We all remember Darth Maul from “The Phantom Menace” right? He was that really cool looking villain that got killed before he could do anything impactful. Well, one of the best ideas from this series was to bring Darth Maul back from the dead in the season 4 finally, and make him the main threat of season 5. It was a real treat to finally see Darth Maul as this menacing and larger than life villain, which he never achieved on film. His new design was stellar, and his voice was downright chilling. Naturally having Darth Maul as the primary focus of this arc, the writers were able to go all out with him, and his never dying quest for revenge against Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi who attempted to kill him back in the movie. Maul and his brother soon spread across the galaxy like wild fire, concurring all in their path. They bring Jabba the Hut and the entire Hut clan down in ruins, they take control of the Death watch clan, assemble their own personal army, and even take over their own planet in which Darth Maul becomes a ruler. Seeing Maul perched on his throne room chair is a chilling image and always stuck with me. His means of enacting vengeance on Kenobi are also really intense, and lead to one of the shows most tragic deaths. The action in this arc is also some of the shows best, and isn’t afraid to feature some really dark material. The violence on display is shocking for an animated program of this sort, and proves that Star Wars: The Clone Wars” wasn’t for little kids. Everything builds to a deeply thrilling showdown between Darth Maul and his former master The Emperor. Seeing these two titans clash is like the best of fan fiction come to life, and it is brutal, but highly entertaining to watch. On a side note, the final episode of this arc titled “The Lawless” is dedicated to the memory of the late voice actor Ian Abercrombie, who up to this point in the show had supplied the voice of The Emperor ... may he rest in peace.

#7 The Lost Padawan’s Arc (Season 3)
2 Episodes – “Padawan Lost” and “Wookiee Hunt

One thing that “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” absolutely got right was introduce us to new original characters to go along with the familiar favorites. I my opinion it was Anakin Skywalker’s young apprentice Ahsoka Tano who stood out as the shows big break out character, and personally one of my five all time favorite Star Wars characters. She went through various peaks and vales through the series, and it just made her a more well rounded individual then the others. One of the brightest moments in her journey came in the season three finally, in which she’s kidnapped by a group of hunters that aim to use her and several other captured young Jedi for sport. Now stranded on a foreign jungle planet, she has to utilize all her strength and growth to survive, as well as inspire her captured companions to fight against their oppressors. You could almost describe this arc as “Predator” meets “The Hunger Games”, and it’s awesome! The battles, particularly the climax are some of my favorite action highlights from this show as a whole. More than anything, this is a great turning point in Ahsoka’s journey. It’s the moment where she really matured from the annoying and overly enthusiastic young Padawan she started as at the beginning of the series. Her relationship with her master Anakin is also developed in a small but very effective way at the end of the arc. Another small highlight is that this arc features a special guest appearance from Chewbacca, who aids our hero’s during their escape. It’s a short yet memorable and highly entertaining story arc from the series that shouldn’t be missed.           

#6 The Gathering Arc (Season 5)
4 Episodes – “The Gathering”, “A Test of Strength”, “Bound for Rescue” and “A Necessary Bond

Now here’s a surprisingly fun series of episodes that are very different from what the show usually produces, but it also feels like classic “Star Wars” at heart. Ahsoka Tano leads a small group of kids aspiring to become Jedi on a sacred rite of passage, where they face their flaws, and forge their own lightsabers. During the mission, the group is attacked by pirates lead by Hondo, who aim to steal the Jedi’s force sensitive lightsaber crystals, but end up taking Ahsoka prisoner instead. With the other adult Jedi’s out battling General Grievous, it’s up to the kids to embark on a wild adventure across the galaxy in order to save their friend, and earn the title of Jedi. Of all “The Clone Wars” arcs, this one appealed to my inner child the most. I remember being a kid and imagining myself as a Jedi going on exciting outer-space adventures of this sort. Now having a series of episodes revolving around a group of kids may seem obviously aimed to appeal to young viewers, but it’s all handled with a very mature direction. The young Jedi cast is surprisingly likable, all with distinct personalities, each learn valuable moral lessons, and they just make for a memorable group of characters. Of course having Ahsoka Tano present in this arc as a main character is always a plus. The pirate Hondo is voiced by the exceptionally talented Jim Cummings, and the character really shines in this arch as both one of the most charismatic and funniest villains the series has ever produced. Yet another stand out character from this arc is the robot Huyang who is brought to life by “Doctor Who” himself David Tennant, who actually won an Emmy Award for his voice work on this show. On a side note, the closing episode “A Necessary Bond” marks the final appearance of General Grievous in the series, and it’s one of his best battles. It’s consistently fun, there’s great action, the cast is terrific and “The Gathering” itself works great for building on the lore and mythos of the Jedi.   

#5 Yoda’s Journey Through the Force (Season 6)
4 Episodes – “The Lost One”, “Voices”, “Destiny” and “Sacrifice

This season finally arc marks the end of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, and it’s a suitably poignant swan song for the series as a whole to go out on. In fact, the final episode of this arc titled “Sacrifice” is widely considered by fans as probably the absolute best of what the show has to offer. After making a frightening discovery of the origins of the Jedi’s very own clone army, Yoda goes on a spiritual journey across the stars in an effort to find answers. Instead he finds himself facing various challenges and tests from several different mystical creatures. He learns more about the force, and discovers even more hidden secrets about the universe at large. This was a surprisingly touching series of episodes, complete with terrific character moments, genuinely deep moral values, sensational animation and it builds on the lore of Star Wars like few others before ever did. One of the many highlights is that Luke Skywalker himself Mark Hamill supplies the voice of a guest villain called Darth Bane. The biggest highlight of all comes at the end when Yoda comes face to face with The Emperor, which leads into an awesome dual. Obviously The Emperor's real identity isn’t revealed to Yoda until the movie “Star Wars 3: Revenge of the Sith”, but this was a great warm up to their theatrical showdown. Also, after the tragic passing of Ian Abercrombie who previously supplied the voice of The Emperor, he was replaced in this season by the great Tim Curry, and he absolutely shines in the role. This is the arc in which Tim Curry was given full rain to take a legendary Star Wars villain to new heights, and subsequently, it's one of his greatest villain roles. While not my absolute favorite of what “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” has to offer, it’s still a powerful series of episodes that closes this amazing TV show on a high note.

#4 The Slaves of Zygerria Trilogy (Season 4)
3 Episodes – “Kidnapped”, “Slaves of the Republic” and “Escape from Kadavo

Now here’s a very different kind of story arc that took me by surprise, and features our hero’s in a unique situation. The entire civilian population of a city is taken captive by a ruthless clan of slave traders called the Zygerrians, who are also in direct service to the shows main villains. All four of our principle main hero’s Anakin Skywalker, Ahsoka Tano, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Captain Rex go under-cover on the Zygerrian home world in an effort to free all the slaves, but end-up becoming prisoners themselves. It’s an exciting premise that features some of the shows finest action, and it’s interesting to see Anakin Skywalker battle his personal demons in this situation. This is also a rare case in which all four of our main hero’s are present for one arc. The Zygerrians also make for a memorable group of villains, as their both ruthless but also kind of interesting. Their evil queen for example takes a liking to Anakin Skywalker, and puts him to a test, she’ll set all his companions free if he willingly surrenders his life to her. I especially like all the little throwbacks to the original “Star Wars” trilogy, particularly the opening Jabba the Hutt sequence from “Return of the Jedi”. We even have Ahsoka put in an attractive slave dress that’s less skimpy then Princess Leia’s original gold bikini. Memorable battles, individual character highlights and a situation that breaks away from the familiar Clone Wars formula make this my personal favorite arc from season 4. 

#3 The Holocron Heist Trilogy (Season 2)
3 Episodes – “Holocron Heist”, “Cargo of Doom” & “Children of the Force”)

While this series was credible for bringing back many fan favorite villains like Darth Maul and Boba Fett, it was actually the show’s original villains that stuck with me the most. My favorite of the shows rouges gallery by far was the new bounty hunter Cade Bane, who personally is my second favorite villain in the entire “Star Wars” saga behind Darth Vader. In the season two premier arc, we saw just how devastating he is as both a threat, and just a plain cool villain. Now we’ve seen past bounty hunters put up a good fight against Jedi, but Cade Bane was the first to inflict nuclear size damage to the Jedi order as a whole. He broke into the Jedi’s sacred temple, ruthlessly killed several members along the way, strategically outsmarted our hero’s, kidnapped several force sensitive children and aimed to brain wash them to become servants for the evil Emperor. While our villain definitely shines, our main hero’s Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano are still very involved and have their own meaningful character arc’s incorporated into this one. The middle episode “Cargo of Doom” features some of my favorite action highlights of the show, including Walkers in space, and a massive brawl in a zero gravity room. The best moment of all is a confrontation involving all three of our principle characters Anakin Skywalker, Cade Bane and Ahsoka Tano. It’s here we see how one bounty hunter can have total dominance over two armed Jedi, and all while using nothing but his ruthless intellect as a weapon. It’s just a solid season premier that further develops our main characters, thrills us with creative action set pieces and more than anything shows off one of the franchises greatest villains in all his glory.    

#2 The Mortis Trilogy (Season 3)
3 Episodes – “Overlords”, “Alter of Mortis” and “Ghosts of Mortis

Before this arc, I had been passively enjoying the series, but it was this arc from season 3 that turned me into a devoted fan of “The Clone Wars”, and things haven’t been the same sense. In this arc, our three Jedi hero’s find themselves stranded on a mysterious planet that seems to have been created from the force itself. While on this strange world, they meet three mystical beings that put Anakin Skywalker through a series of challenges to determine if he’s “the chosen one”, and a series of internal struggles ensue along the way. Not only does this arc develop our characters further, it also enhances and explores the mythology of the Star Wars universe. The setting of this strange planet is arguably the most imaginative and atmospheric setting of the saga as a whole. The three mystics also make for fascinating characters with unique capabilities that we’ve never seen before. Their abilities also lead to some fascinating action sequences that are both visual spectacles, but I also care about the individual characters, which makes these battles all the more engaging. The villain of this arc is only referred to as “the Son” and he’s one of the shows stand out foes. I especially love the internal journey our main characters go through, as Anakin struggles to find his path, and his relationship with his apprentice Ahsoka reaches new heights. There are also several little surprises along the way, including Liam Neeson reprising his role as Qui Gon Jinn. The best moment of all is a scene in which Anakin looks into the future and see’s all the devastation he’ll cause as Darth Vader. The animation and designs in this arc is stunning, I love how it explores the lore of the series, and it was the first time “The Clone Wars” broke away from the familiar took full advantage of its expansive potential.           

Of course I had to draw the line somewhere, but before I reveal my #1 favorite here are some individual episodes that deserve an Honorable Mention ... 

Hostage Crisis” (Season 1)

The Deserter” (Season 2) 

Bounty” (Season 4) 

Carnage of Krell” (Season 4) 

Death Trap” (Season 2)

#1 The Final Journey of Ahsoka Tano (Season 5)
4 Episodes – “Sabotage”, “The Jedi Who Knew Too Much”, “To Catch a Jedi” and “The Wrong Jedi

As I stated above, Ahsoka is personally my favorite character from this series, and I think she’s earned the right to be called one of the great classic Star Wars characters. Her journey took many exciting twists, and the most impactful moment of her character arc by far came in the Season 5 finally. Rather than go for a big action spectacle, or have our hero’s face a larger than life villain, this season finally chose to center its attention on the struggles of someone meaningful, and broke away from the shows more familiar formula. After a terrorist bombing, Ahsoka is framed for the crime, as well as a subsequent murder. Thus she’s forced to go on the run to prove her innocents, while being chased by the very troops and Jedi she fought beside. With no-one left to trust, Ahsoka is forced to make an alliance with none other than her arch enemy Asajj Ventress, which is an awesome paring. Obviously set-up’s like this have been done in other shows and movies, in fact there’s a scene in a sewer that’s lifted right out of “The Fugitive”, and three of the episode titles “The Jedi Who Knew Too Much”, “To Catch a Jedi” and “The Wrong Jedi” are all clearly named after the classic Alfred Hitchcock crime thrillers “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, “To Catch a Thief” and “The Wrong Man”. However, everything from the direction, to the atmosphere, to the visuals, to the mystery plot, to the riveting chasses, to the emotional connections with our characters are all dialed up to eleven in this arc. There’s a great sense of passion in thisone, which is consistently felt through the voice acting, the writing and especially the musical score. Of course the action, particularly the light saber duals are among some of the series best, but the focus always goes to the characters first. This is when action is at its best because I feel for the characters, and wanted to see Ahsoka get through this situation. The whole arc just felt refreshingly different from past episodes, and wasn’t afraid to take risks. Even the twist reveal of the villain is very poignant, and a frightening hint of what’s to come. Admiral Tarkin also works very effectively as an internal threat for this arc. 
Finally, this arc closes on one of the best on screen character moments the series ever produced. Seriously, to call this ending my absolute favorite moment from the TV series is an understatement, because in my personal opinion I think the closing scene from “The Wrong Jedi” is one of the five greatest, and most emotional highlights of the entire “Star Wars” saga. This concludes my countdown of my favorite episodes from one of my favorite animated TV shows. If you’ve never seen “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and have no interest in sitting through all 122 episodes, I hope my countdown at least provided some good options to check out. It may not have been perfect, but when this series was “good”, it really was some of the best of what “Star Wars” has ever offered. 

The End      

My Top 15 favorite moments in the Harry Potter series

      Wow, I remember being in 4th grade when the first Harry Potter film came out and now the final film is here, ending an outstanding series that I feel privileged to have grown up with. So to celebrate I’m counting down my top 15 favorite moments from this amazing series. Now it’s not easy to select just 15 moments or even 100 for that matter because there are so many great moments in this series but I’ll do my best. So prep your brooms and get ready to launch into my top 15 favorite moments from the Harry Potter Series.
#15 Opening to Half Blood Prince 
 Of all the films in the sires, this one has my favorite opening , I love how it starts with the WB logo, we hear Bellatrix in the background, followed by flashes on the events from the last film. Then the title shows up with powerful music playing in the background and then we get awesome shots of the camera zooming through ales and crashing through walls. It’s almost like a theme park ride. Overall a great opening, too bad the rest of the film isn’t as exciting.  

#14 Harry and Herminie dance (from Deathly Hallows Part 1) 
 Of all the relations in this series, the one that always came off as the strongest to me was the true friend ship between Harry and Herminie and this little dance was simply the most joyful moment between the two.
#13 Spider attack (from Chamber of Secrets) 
 This whole movie was like a collection of adventure serials with Ron and Harry getting in one huge predicament after the next. But the most exciting moment for me was when they were trying to escape the dark forest from an army of killer spiders. It was intense, thrilling, and the last time we would see that awesome flying car.  
 #12 Dumbledore’s quick escape (from Order of the Phoenix) 
 This is just an awesome scene, Dumbledore is about to be taken away to prison but he makes a quick escape by grabbing onto the tail of the Phoenix and disappearing in a large, fiery eruption. What better way to end it then with this fun line, “You may not like him minister but you can’t deny, Dumbledore’s got style”, perfect.  
#11 Sky Battle (from Deathly Hallows Part 1) 
 Now this was a teat, what better way to get you excited for the adventure ahead than by starting the film with an awesome sky chase. Spells are being fired left and right, the stakes are higher than usual because more characters are involved and we get lots of on road vehicle destruction, awesome! 
#10 Harry and Lupin talk on the bridge (from Prisoner of Azkaban) 
 I don’t know what it is about this scene that I love so much but there’s something moving about it. It’s the first time we really see Harry have a simple heart to heart conversation with another teacher. There’s no life changing moral or anything but the setting is great, the background music is nice and soothing and Lupin’s words carry so much care and understanding towed Harry and his family that it makes for such an emotional little moment without anything being to overly dramatic, it’s all simple and pure.   
#9 Arriving at Hogwarts for the first time on boat (in the Sorcerer’s stone) 
 This was such a perfect first shot of Hogwarts castle, the music fits it perfectly and it’s such a memorable little moment that it’s actually on par with seeing the Emerald City at the end of the yellow brick road for the first time from “The Wizard of Oz”.     
#8 The “Something Wicked this way Comes” quire (from Prisoner of Azkaban) 
 This small little musicale number is just awesome! The lyrics are great, the sound of the low drum in the background is perfect and it creates such a foreboding, yet lively atmosphere. I love how beautifully all the visuals and images match with the song. First we see a dark reflection of Harry’s face in a window, then it dissolves to a shot of horseless carriages ridding off in the rain and finally the interior of the great hall, fantastic!

#7 Dumbledore vs. Voldemort (from Order of the Phoenix) 
 The entire third act of this film is just one amazing action scene after the next with all the characters trying to escape the ministry. What better way to end everything then an amazing one on one wizard dual between Voldermort and Dumbledore. I could have filled this list entirely with scenes from this battle, but if I had to choose one action moment it would be this dual. It’s not just a collision of spells, there are all kinds of energy elements that are being used, like water, a fire snake, shattered glass,  shadow energy, it’s just an amazing dual.
#6 The Tail of the Peverell Brothers (from Deathly Hollows Part 1) 
 None of the previous films ever gave use anything like this awesome story. This was so unique, the visuals and animation were strange yet so fascinating at the same time. I love the whole mood, atmosphere, its terrific ways of making transitions and Emma Watsons narration was so cryptic that it brought everything to life perfectly. 
#5 Every single Quidditch match from the series 
 I couldn’t pick one individual Quidditch match, there all outstanding. The first time seeing a Quidditch match in the first film was simply amazing, I had never seen anything like it before. The second film just built on top of it by having Harry compete against Draco and get chased by that rouge bludger. The third film was much darker and more haunting, the rain is falling on them, the grim (creepy dog omen of death) appears in the sky and Harry is chased be death eaters. Bottom line, whenever I watch a Harry Potter film, always look forward to the Quidditch matches.      
#4 The PETRONAS charm (from Prisoner of Azkaban) 
 It was such a spectacle to see Harry find the strength within himself to conjure a massive PETRONAS shock wave that takes out an army of death eaters. The music, the visuals, the sensation of this whole scene was simply riveting.
 #3 Flying Buck Beak (from Prisoner of Azkaban) 
 I absolutely love atmospheric flights in films and this is when I first discovered how effective they are. I love all the different shots of the castle and landscape and how it all matched perfectly with the stunning music in this scene. It almost feels meditative and it fully allows you to take in all the atmosphere and genius that the film has to offer.

#2 The ending to Chamber of secrets 
 This is something that I can only describe as the best feel good moment of the entire series. There couldn’t have been a more satisfying ending then seeing the great hall in thunderous applause, we get one final shot of every main character (including one last great shot of Richard Harris as Dumbledore), the camera backs out a window, we get an amazing final shot of the castle, all matched with some great music and it always leaves me with such a powerful and satisfying feeling, like this is the perfect way to end a film.      
#1 The possession scene (from Order of the Phoenix) 

 This scene is just epic and it’s one of the most powerful moments I ever experienced in the cinema. Harry is being torn apart by Voldermort and we get a lot of creepy images and negative flashbacks from the previous films, (which is really cool, how often does a character flashback on events from past films). Then from looking at his friends he remembers why he has strength over Voldermort, he’ll never no love or friendship the way Harry does and then in his last breath he looks at his enemy and says “I feel sorry for you”. This is why we love this character, he’s a hero who looks at his enemy, not with hate but with sorrow that he’ll never know what it’s like to be loved. He then defeats his enemy by bringing up all positive thoughts about the times he’s had with his loved ones. The music in this scene is stunning, the images are right on, and the emotion in this scene is the highest that have ever come from this series and that’s why it stands as my favorite moment from all the Harry Potter films.
Will the last film have a scene that can top this, well find out, when I review Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows part 2.  

Pokémon The Movie 2000 (1999) (Movie Review)

      20 YEARS ... that’s how old Pokémon is, in fact July 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the franchise, and it kind of makes me feel old. I’m three years out of college but I remember being in 2nd grade when Pokémon first erupted in our pop culture, and left a huge impact on many kids between the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Yet somehow, it’s slowly becoming popular again, and I’m quite impressed that it’s lasted for twenty years. Now I grew up with Pokémon when the series was in its prime. My friends and I played all the original Nintendo games, we collected the cards, and of course we watched the cartoon show. Having said all that, I wouldn’t call myself a “fan”, because it’s not something that’s stuck with me over the years. Most Anime I watch or re-watch now like “Cowboy Bebop” and “Death Note” are aimed at the adult democratic, but there are some exceptions as I still adore “Cardcaptor Sakura”. I’ve tried re-watching some episodes from the old Pokémon cartoon, and personally I couldn’t stand it. Even when I was a kid, I only got into Pokémon because it was popular, and my friends liked it. I did however watch the more recent “Pokémon XYZ” series, and that show was surprisingly good. It had terrific characters, it had good morals, and I suddenly found myself wishing that I grew up with that series over the original. I’ll admit, after watching the newer “XYZ” show, it did rekindle the flames of nostalgia burred within me, not for the old TV show itself but for some of the movies adapted from the cartoon. There were in fact five theatrical animated Pokémon movies based on the original cartoon, and I remember genuinely liking these films as a kid (with the exception of the first movie, I thought that was awful, even as kid). The one movie that I remember watching and loving the most was the second theatrical film titled “Pokémon The Movie 2000”. In fact, there was a time in which I held this film alongside “Toy Story 2” as one of my personal favorite animated movies ever. So, in light of the franchises 20 year anniversary, I think it’ll be fun to review the one film in the series that I still have some child hood nostalgia reserved for.

     This movie is set during the second season of the original series, and at this time the shows main hero’s are traveling through a series of islands, four of which will be the center point of this story. Things are set in motion when a new villain simply called The Collector launches multiple attacks on the homes of three legendary giant birds who individually harness the elements of fire, ice-water, and lighting. His goal is to use these titan birds as a means to bait out an even stronger creature from the sea, and claim it as his prize. What the collector failed to realize is that the three birds are more than just creatures with special powers, they are in fact connected to nature itself, and by disrupting their peace it throws all the elements of nature out of balance. Soon a global super storm is born from this imbalance in power, and it’s threatening to flood the entire planet. It doesn’t take long for our main group from the TV show to get caught in the mess. After washing up on an island, our hero’s learn from the local inhabitance that the super storm is in fact part of an enchant prophecy that’s coming to fruition. Our hero’s are then sent on a quest to retrieve three sacred items from the homes of the three titan birds, which when gathered at the main islands sacred shrine during a ritual will set nature back into harmony. Thus the adventure is on, the stakes are higher than ever before, and both new friends and creatures are met along the journey.

      Before I get into the details, lets first talk about the characters, both held over from the series and the new ones created for the movie. The little electric hamster Pikachu of course is present, he’s one of the most famous cartoon/video game characters ever, and surprisingly he doesn’t do much in this film. Seriously, despite being the franchises most marketable icon, I keep forgetting how little he ever dose. Now back when I was a kid watching this show, I only found the cute little pocket monsters appealing, but I didn’t care about any of the main hero’s. Needless to say, I didn’t like a single human character from this show until the “XYZ” series came out 18 years later. That series had such a strong cast of characters, and it just makes me sad that they weren’t present from the beginning. Obviously I’m aware that long time Pokémon fans really do like these original characters, and I hate to step on any toes, but I also can’t lie about my personal opinion. With that said ... I couldn’t stand this original cast of characters. We all recognize Satoshi as the shows main character, as his signature red cap and blue attire are about as recognizable as Super Mario’s design.
This character could have passed for a cool young-hero, but his lack of personality mixed with his ever annoying ego and reckless decisions really held him back. Now to this movies credit, it’s trying to make Satoshi more compelling, and I like that he’s not the lead character by default, the story dose in fact revolve largely around his journey. Unfortunately, despite this film’s best efforts, it still can’t make this kid an interesting or compelling protagonist, and worse yet is that he get’s branded as “The Chosen One” ... oh boy, I’ll talk about that title later in my review. Now I do want to give some serious credit to voice actress Rica Matsumoto who ever sense the shows inception has been consistent supplying the voice of Satoshi in the Japanese dub. Not only does her voice fit the character perfectly, but she can be highlighted along with vocal talents like Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson) as an icon for sticking with a character over all these years. Unfortunately for me, I had to grow up with the English dub, and at this point in the series Satoshi was voiced by Veronica Taylor. Now I’m sure she’s a wonderful person, probably a great talent in many respects, in fact she also supplies the voice of Satoshi’s mother in the English dub, so she’s got vocal range. Despite that, I personally couldn’t stand the voice she gave to Satoshi in the English dub. I don’t know how to explain it, but there’s just something about that voice mixed with that characters attitude that came off as ear-poisoning to me.

      The only character who could possibly make my ears bleed more is the obnoxious annoying red head girl named Kasumi. Again, I know this character has a large fan base, and I’m sure a more devoted fan could point out some of her merits (if she even has any), but I honestly hated everything about this character. I hated her stuck up attitude, I hated how whinny she acted, and she just felt like a stick in the mud that never contributed anything to the group. Now for the sake of this movie it’s once again trying to make this character more interesting by giving her a little story arc in which she finally confesses her feelings for our main hero. Kasumi even contributes by rescuing Satoshi from drowning, which is fine, but there’s never any payoff between these two. Now sense I mentioned the “XYZ” series earlier, I should probably throw this out really quickly ... Serena, obviously I think she’s the better girl friend. There isn’t even a competition, Kasumi doesn’t hold a match stick to Serena who has a heart of gold by comparison, there I said it, let’s move on. Rounding up our hero’s is “extra friend”, who I honestly don’t recognize from the show. I’m sure he has a name too, but in this film he does little else then fill-up space, so why should I bother to give him any more attention than the movie did. The English version changed a lot of the dialogue around, in some cases it was for the better, while other times it was for the sole excuse of putting in some rather silly one-liners and self-referential hummer. There's at least three scenes in which characters brake the forth wall by addressing that their in a movie, most of which are provided by those annoying evil henchman that are dragged along for every step of the adventure. I actually forgot all about those three clowns, and while I could again give the writers some credit from making them helpful to the cause, I would have preferred if they were removed from the film all together.   

       Now with all the hold-over characters from the show addressed, lets shift our a attention to the new characters that are only present for this movie. The first new character to take note of is a local island girl named Melody, who represents the culture of the films setting, actively aids our hero’s, has a great deal more personality then any of them, and is subsequently more interesting. While Satoshi has a journey and goal to reach in the film, Melody actually as a more interesting character arc.
This is a girl who was raised by a culture but fell out of it when she reached a certain age and became more interested in modern appeals and fashions. As she joins our hero’s on their quest she begins to grow closer to the heritage she left behind, and by the end we see that she rediscovers her old beliefs and becomes one with her lineage again. Everything about her story is conveyed through visual storytelling, we can see all the changes in her character happen on screen with nothing internal explained verbally through dialogue, and I absolutely love that. In fact, I honestly wish she was the movies main character or even “Chosen One” from the beginning with the cast from the show firmly supporting her story. If that was the case I actually think we would have had a better movie on our hands. The sinister Collector leaves much to be desired from an antagonist as his motives are paper thin and he doesn't even interact with our hero's that often. Still he makes for a decent new human villain with some pros. Despite his simplistic motives, he seems to have a certain class and intelligence. Also some of his dialogue (at least in the English version) may suggest that he views himself has his own “Chosen One” with a great destiny to fulfill, which is a nice contrast to our main hero. The new creatures in the film are obviously there to promote new trading cards, but they all serve the story in some way, which is better than nothing. Of course the most marked creature is the giant sea beast called Lugia, who aims to bring peace between the three ravage titan birds. He actually makes for a cool mystic creature, but aside from occasionally flying Satoshi to the different islands, and doesn’t do that much in the grand scheme of things. 

       Actually the Pokémon are mostly side lined in favor of the human characters, and the more typical battles are replaced with more focus on adventure excitement. As addressed in the plot synopses, “Pokémon The Movie 2000” is more quest based, with our hero’s out scavenging mystic items, and their always on the run which helps expand the location. In my opinion this was a huge improvement over the first attempt at a theatrical Pokémon film, because that movie kept everything in one single boring location the whole time, and was just an onslaught of fighting. Making this sequel more of an adventure with high stakes was in general a very smart move, but unfortunately there isn’t enough variety to the films excitement. Most of what we see is characters sailing boats in bad weather, or running around on foot in the snow, and it gets kind of tired after a while. If you want to see a near perfect Anime adventure movie, with a great deal of variety and excitement, watch Hayao Miyazaki’s 1986 masterpiece “Castle in the Sky”, because that film gets it right. Now there are some genuinely adventurous highlights spread throughout, the most notable being a chase in the snow which involves a jet propelled safety raft and giant creatures in flight overhead. Now while I like the overall set-up, I do wish the film could have taken step back from the high stake adventure and devoted a little more time to exploring both the mythos and the culture of the setting itself. From what the film provides, this seems like an interesting location, with an ancient lineage, and a culture that’s an amalgamation of various different cultures in our own world.

       Now the movie does have some quiet moments that allow the audiences to be more submersed in the setting. In fact both the soundtrack and the visuals of the changing weather do help give the movie some atmosphere. However, while those select scenes and elements are very good, their only lightly sprinkled throughout all the disastrous mayhem. The animation on display is definitely an improvement over the smaller scaled TV show, and there’s some great visual highlights. Although realistically if you were to compare the animation of this film with virtually any one of Hayao Miyazaki’s or heck any Anime in general, then this will look kind of choppy by comparison. I think the film gets a little too reliant on having CGI effects over shadow the traditional hand-drawn brush strokes. Having said that, I do still love the design of the villains flying fortress, and it dose still convey a sense of looming dread when it’s on screen. Back when I was a kid, CGI was still very new for me, and there was one select moment that I distinctly remember re-winding a lot. It’s a shot in the opening that starts with a close-up of the villain, which then pulls back into a wide shot of his flying castle, and I remember just thinking that was the most epic thing ever. I also re-wound that opening title card a lot too, as the visuals and music were just so cool back then. With that said, some of the effects haven’t aged well, and I remember the flying sequences looking cooler than this. I guess after so much exposure to films like “How to Train Your Dragon”, “Avatar” and the “Harry Potter” movies I have a much higher standard on how to judge a really cool flight scene. Heck even older movies like Disney’s “The Rescuers Down Under” mastered the simulation of an animated flight better than this film. 

        Now I said in the opening that I watched this movie all the time as a kid, but truthfully I haven’t re-watched this film in years, until I had to before I posted this review, and through all those years, I’ve never forgotten this films instrumental music score composed by Ralph Schuckett. Needless to say, the music he composed for this film ... thing of beauty! This is one case in which the American version of the film is superior to its Japanese counterpart. I don’t mean to put down the original score composed by Shinji Miyazaki, because that score was good too, but it just didn’t stick with me the same way Ralph Schuckett’s score has.
There’s one specific track titled “The Guardian’s Song”, and it’s personally one of my favorite music tracks from any Anime I’ve ever seen. The American soundtrack also has some select songs that are also worth taking note of. There’s the song titled “The Power of One”, which is performed by the late Donna Summer, and honestly its way too impressive for this movies own good. It’s a song that belongs in one of those films that’s tailor-made to bait the Academy Awards. Seriously, if this song had come from any other film that year, it probably would have gotten an Oscar nod for best original song, and in my opinion it should have. This song is so good that Herman Cain, a former Republican candidate for President of the United States actually quoted lyrics during his campaign, not realizing where the song originally came from. When he announced the suspension of his presidential campaign he quoted the lyrics again, but this time acknowledging that they were from a song featured in a Pokémon movie. Also, rest in peace Donna Summer, she really was an incredible talent and the Queen of Jazz as she was sometimes called. Next is the song “Flying Without Wings” performed by Westlife. This one definitely comes off like the product of a late 90’s boy band, but I can’t help liking this song too, mostly for innocent nostalgic reasons. Then of course there’s that cheesy, catchy Pokémon theme song that’s heard during the opening credits, which is silly, but a nice up-date of the version herd from the TV show.  ... How is it that for both this movie review and my last review of “The Transformers: The movie” I’ve given nothing but praise to their respected soundtracks. I guess the message to take from this is that animated movies adapted from successful long running cartoon shows will always have a soundtrack that’s better than it’s worth. Ironically both soundtracks for “The Transformers: The Movie” and “Pokémon The Movie 2000” have songs performed by Weird Al Yankovic, although his Pokémon Countdown song is a step back from “Dare to be Stupid”.

      One thing that Pokémon always seemed to struggle with was getting the moral across to kids. Sometimes this series would beat you over the head with its message, and others times it was subtle to a fault, where you just don’t give the message any attention. In this movie the message is all about how any one-personal can make a difference if he or she has the courage to commit to something greater then themselves. Not a bad moral, but it clashes with our hero Satoshi being branded as “The Chosen One” ... as he didn’t get to make a choice himself, instead destiny just forced him to make a difference. In general, I’ve always hated when characters are proclaimed as “Chosen Ones”, but this films even worse as there’s not even a clear reason as to why “he” specifically is a “Chosen One”. Oh wait, the creators have a reason ... he’s the main character of the series, and this is the films attempt to make him more significant. So the screen writers took the clichéd “Chosen One” concept and ran with it ... right into border line biblical territory with it. I’m sure this wasn’t intentional, but at the start of the films third act, we see our “Chosen One” take a lone journey that almost parallels “The Stations of the Cross”. It’s not a blatant cut and pace (this movie would never aim for that), but I did take note of some similarities.
While this “Chosen One” doesn’t carry a cross, he does still carry the metaphorical “wait of the world” on his shoulder during his trek. Someone from the sidelines eventually comes over to aid our hero, or in other words “help carry that wait”. He also stumbles and falls three times during his quest, no joke, I actually counted him falling three times, but to be fair, one of his falls was the result of a giant bird crashing into the ocean. There’s also a moment when he eventually meets his terry eyed mother, not “grieving” but close. Then his journey finally comes to an end at the top of a hill where three sacred items “a trinity” come together as “one” which ushers in a new stage of harmony and balance to the world and life in general. There’s even a moment when it looks like our hero died, but he comes back, and there’s a celebration in which he takes to the skies (while riding a giant bird of course, he didn’t actually ascend himself). Am I reading to deep into this ... of course I am, but still as far as thematic chosen ones go, I think the writers flew closer to the sun with this then they realized. Then again, on the ceiling of the villains floating castle is a renaissance painting with several angles in flight, so there is in fact religious imagery within the film.

      One little detail I really love from Anime in general is that while many of their animated films can end abruptly, we still see the continuing animated sequences with the characters while the credits roll.
Other Anime movies like “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”, “The Secret World of Arrietty” and “Kiki's Delivery Service” all did it, and I was genuinely pleased to re-discover that “Pokémon The Movie 2000” did it too. There’s just something satisfying about seeing the various characters continue on their journeys even though the film has ended. When all is said and done, “Pokémon The Movie 2000” obviously doesn’t represent quality film-making, but I do feel that a lot of effort was put into this movie. I felt that the writers were genuinely trying to make this something special, and more than something that could have just passed as an episode with a bigger budget. I actually think that the film offered more than expected, including some decent animation and an absolutely breath-taking music score. There were even some little details that really took me back to my child hood, like seeing the Kids WB logo flash in front of the screen in the opening, or the purple scaled King Cobra Snake called Arbok as that was actually the name I gave to my pet corn snake back when I was in third grade. I would only recommend this film to long time fans of the series, and to be fair that’s what it’s aimed for. Nostalgia aside, I know this isn’t I good movie by any means, and there are obviously better Anime films out there for kids to grow up with like “Spirited Away” and so forth. Having said that, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy this specific Pokémon movie on some level either, in fact I honestly kind of adore it. Not a great film, but a harmlessly derivative adventure, and a memorable little trinket from my child hood.

I give “Pokémon The Movie 2000” ... 3 stars out of 5.