Monday, July 17, 2017

Pokémon The Movie 2000 (1999) (Movie Review)

      20 YEARS ... that’s how old Pokémon is, in fact 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 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 as 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 a 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. 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 ... a 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-person 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 figuratively 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, in other words “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 finally 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. Also, when the flooding finally stops, there's this colorful arch appearing in the sky, which absolutely makes me think of God using the rainbow as a promise that the world will never suffer from a global flood again.

      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 a 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.    


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