Picture the scene, it’s the year 2000, a 5-year-old me and my uncle have just come out of the cinema after seeing Pokémon The First Movie. Take a wild guess who was beaming with happiness and who had the confused face? You have no idea how old it makes me feel knowing that Pokémon is now 25 years old. I can still remember how completely gripped I was by the franchise and how tolerate my parents were of me wanting absolutely everything with the Pokémon label stuck on it. Naturally, it was a vital necessity for me to see this film in cinemas. I have watched this film many times both as a child and adult and even after all these years, the joy I get is immeasurable.
Pokémon The First Movie first released in Japan in 1998 before being taken over by 4Kids Production for the English language version. It centers around Mewtwo (Jay Goede), a Pokémon cloned from the DNA of Mew who escape the laboratory where he was created. He plots his revenge against humanity which involves using cloned versions of Pokémon to take over the world. Ash (Veronica Taylor) and his partner Pikachu along with Misty (Rachel Lillis) and Brock (Eric Stewart) are invited to challenge Mewtwo to a battle along with other trainers so he can prove that his cloned Pokémon are more powerful than their original counterparts.
Now as an outsider to the Pokémon franchise, this is a film that is a part of the whole marketing campaign aimed at getting children wanting to know about and buy more Pokémon products. In a way, this perspective does make sense because if you went to see this film when it was released, you also got a complementary Pokémon trading card to lure kids into the whole craze. However, for someone who is already into the craze, they will know that this film is spreading the valuable message that has continued to spread in everything Pokémon is a part of. The messages around being a friend to all and teamwork are all evident in this film and have been at the core of the Pokémon franchise for years.
Moving away from the reoccurring messages, there are also lessons taught in this film that are valuable to not just children but everyone, which are immortalised by two of the film’s most famous quotes. You have Meowth’s quote on how people fight over what makes them different rather than celebrating what makes us the same, then you have Mewtwo’s epiphany on living life to the fullest despite where you come from. If the lessons are good enough for former presidential nominee Herman Cain, then surely they can be picked up by any adult.
Let’s sidestep and have a look at the characters in depth. Viewers of the TV series will identify in Ash as someone who is selfless, determined and will go to extraordinary lengths to protect his friends and other Pokémon. However, I believe the emotional connection between audience and character is remarkable, when Ash sees the senselessness of what’s going on, you can feel how much he is hurt by this. Don’t get me wrong, there are equally emotional moments in the TV series, but I don’t think any have come close to matching the raw emotional toll that this film generates.
Where this film has another edge over the animated series is that when this film shows us Pokémon battles there is a lot more meaningful weight attached to it. Take for instance the scene that pits Mewtwo’s cloned Pokémon against their original counterparts, for a child who is used to seeing Pokémon battles on the animated series being flashy and having an emphasis on a Pokémon’s elemental power, it’s a different experience when you see Pokémon fighting their clones using their physical strength, punching and kicking. It’s no surprise this is a very emotional scene because obviously you want to see Pokémon battle, but this is the wrong type of fighting.
But even this scene has nothing on the emotional rollercoaster of when Ash gets in the way of a direct attack from both Mew and Mewtwo to stop the fighting. This scene is still able to make me cry buckets every time, even after all these years. There something so deeply saddening hearing Pikachu and the other Pokémon crying after Pikachu’s attempts to bring Ash back. And of course, once he comes back, the entire emotional wave crashes on you once again. I’m getting watery just writing about it. The voice actress of Pikachu, Ikue Ōtani is definitively brilliant, especially in this scene.
Now there are moments in the Pokémon The First Movie that are blatant errors that should have been fixed before release. I do wonder if those in charge were still getting their heads round over this craze because there are several times where the film gets some Pokémon names wrong, for instance calling a Scyther an Alakazam. You also have one trainer claim to have all Water type Pokémon, yet he owns a Nidoqueen which is Ground/Poison type. And sometimes the colour schemes of Pokémon are wrong.
Oddly these errors aren’t too distracting, because while the filmmakers maybe had intentions to make this film part of the whole marketing campaign around Pokémon, they may have just created something that had emotional value. Sure, it’s not the most ground-breaking animated film, far from it, but for people who have invested so much of themselves into this one franchise, it upholds the core values that we want to see in a Pokémon film, but still having a few surprises up its sleeve.
The only way I can end this review now is by saying congratulations Pokémon for 25 years of joy. Here’s to many more.