Finally a Pokémon movie I’m really, really excited about!
I’ve followed and adored the Pokémon anime for the past twenty years, and for a while its films were always special, often refreshing, detours from the redundancies of the TV series. Each movie has at least one thing going for it, so I can’t say any are major flops. But let’s face it; after 19 films, it’s become more and more obvious how each Pokémon movie’s concept is fundamentally the same—it’s just that some stories are much better executed than others.
Now, don’t think I’m necessarily criticizing Director Kunihiko Yuyama and his team—I’d run out of ideas after 19 movies, too, especially whilst juggling the Pokémon TV show at the same time. Frankly, I applaud the Pokémon anime for still being around after twenty years, and I hope it’ll be around for another twenty, too! But that doesn’t mean I haven’t craved something “new” from the series, either, especially from its movies.
Nineteen film retrospective
Like I said above, the Pokémon movies used to be a special opportunity for the series to try things it normally wouldn’t in the TV show, most notably better storylines that couldn’t be justified in half-hour TV episodes. The earliest films often involved darker elements, too, such as significantly more dangerous adventures for Ash and friends, including more violence and even an occasional death. These films touched upon serious elements and proved that Pokémon can be more than just a silly, happy-go-lucky Saturday morning kiddie cartoon.
And let’s not forget how the Pokémon movies’ production values (music, animation, CGI) have always been a highlight. Even though the early Pokémon movies had their share of animation/CGI issues, the films still looked much better than anything the TV show offered. Best of all, each Pokémon movie’s visuals improved over the years, to the point that I consider the new ones to be sheer eye candy. If there’s one place the Pokémon movies haven’t lost their edge, its visual presentation.
The movies’ plots are another, pardon the pun, story. Again, every Pokémon movie is fundamentally similar—Ash and friends encounter a legendary pokémon and must save the day. Because these movies usually center on said legendary pokémon, I usually find a film either hits or misses depending on the actual personality/portrayal of said pokémon. Some legendaries have terrific backgrounds (Lucario and the Mystery of Mew), others have relatable personalities (Genesect and the Legend Awakened), and some form strong relationships with our human heroes (Jirachi Wish Maker). Then there are some legendaries that come across as annoying (Giratina and the Sky Warrior), or worse; are simply filler characters as an excuse for the movie to have a legendary pokémon cameo (too many to count in Hoopa and the Clash of Ages!). Even hero Ash can feel secondary to these legendary pokémon sometimes, so obviously if a Pokémon movie’s legendary pokémon is uninteresting, chances are the rest of the film will be as well.
But there have been some Pokémon movies that feature an enjoyable legendary pokémon, who unfortunately is involved in a generally uninteresting scenario/adventure for our heroes. Early Pokémon movies offered higher stakes, some even going so far to reach apocalyptic proportions (The Power of One), which could be argued as going a tad too far—which I suspect is the reason why Pokémon movies have gradually downgraded their situations from “saving the world” to more believably “saving the day.” That’s fine, but remember that this formula isn’t much different from what we see in the TV show—and therein lies the issue I’ve found with more current Pokémon movies that don’t feel much more momentous than an extended TV episode. It’s even more noticeable now that greater effort is being put into the TV series’ storylines. Just compare the last Pokémon the Series: XYZ movie Volcanion and the Mechanical Marvel to the XYZ TV series finale; the latter is much more exciting and features imperative character growth. It’s great to see the TV show upping its game, but not so great to see the movies losing their edge.
The Big 20
So after such a rollercoaster of Pokémon movies, what’s to be done about its platinum anniversary? Back when the Pokémon movies turned ten in Rise of Darkrai, we were treated to a movie that offered a commemorative smorgasbord of similarities to its predecessors. It felt like an anniversary piece, “the best of the old and new” as it was obviously intended, and I expected the upcoming twentieth movie to be the same. So you can imagine how far my jaw dropped when I heard how Pokémon Movie 20: I Choose You! will be another anniversary piece, but instead of offering a new story built out of old parts, it’s going back to the franchise’s very earliest roots and retelling the tale older Pokefans grew up with!
For the record, the Pokémon movies have generally remained separate from the TV show, give or take an occasional cross-reference. We’ve never before had a movie that makes such a direct correlation with the TV series. Yet read the film’s title and you’ll know it’s a direct reference to Pokémon’s first episode, Pokémon, I Choose You! You guessed it; Movie 20 is a retelling of how Ash first became a Pokémon trainer and met his irreplaceable companion Pikachu. True, a rebooted idea isn’t technically “new” material, but I’d much rather watch a Pokémon movie that has some direct relation to the TV series’ canon, rather than yet another unrelated sidestory. Plus, I Choose You! presents an enlightening opportunity for newer Pokéfans—you may be surprised to know Ash wasn’t always as good of a trainer as he is nowadays, nor did he and Pikachu start off as bosom buddies. Their first encounter is as hilarious as it is heartfelt.
Right now there aren’t many details revealed about I Choose You!, although the first trailer looks extremely promising. I probably should warn fans that early-production Pokémon movie trailers aren’t always indicative of what we’ll see in the finished product (check out Destiny Deoxys’ Japanese trailers—you’d swear they’re advertising an entirely different movie! It’s the kind of movie I wish Destiny Deoxys could have been, too). So I am cautious when watching Japanese Pokémon movie trailers, at least until the film is further in development and there’s a greater chance that subsequent trailers will feature actual film footage. Therefore I can only hope I Choose You!’s trailer turns out to be a case of what we see is what we’ll get in the finished product.
The first trailer has recognizable scenes from Episode 1, such as Pikachu refusing to enter its Pokeball, and later Ho-Oh flying overhead, gorgeously depicted across a lush sunset, I might add. The visuals are an expected upgrade from Episode 1’s humble beginnings, but you can tell the movie is also aiming for a dramatic effect, rather than just rehashing everything with a nicer coat of paint (think “reboot” instead of “remaster”). Ash’s character design finally looks like his original self, give or take a few subtle changes in detail (the symbol on his hat is a little different). This tells me that even though I Choose You! is technically a movie that will run concurrently with Pokémon the Series: Sun and Moon, it won’t feature the ridiculous art changes seen in Sun and Moon. Speaking as one who was taken aback by Sun and Moon’s depiction, I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief right now.
I’m not sure if I Choose You! will chronicle Episode 1’s plot exclusively, or if this movie will also cover the rest of the original Indigo League saga. I find it hard to believe that the writers will stretch Episode 1’s half-hour story to span a full-length movie, but at the same time I wonder how they’ll handle a movie that spans 78 episodes (even subtracting the umpteen filler episodes, that’s still a lot to cover in 90 minutes). Maybe this movie will be longer than typical Pokefilms, or I Choose You! will be the first of many reboots? It’s too soon to know.
Either way, the fact I Choose You! retells Ash’s origins already proves that it will be a main character-centric film, rather than starring the Legendary Pokémon of the Day. Even in past Pokémon movies where Ash was the “star,” rarely was he more than an obligatory hero figure. I Choose You! being about his early days means we’ll see Ash’s beginnings, growing up as both a pokémon trainer but also growing into a young man.
This also begs the question if Pokefans will be treated to the long overdue returns of Ash’s first traveling companions Misty and Brock. Let’s not forget Ash’s original rival Gary, either. And hopefully we’ll also see Team Rocket as they used to be, semi-villainous characters rather than outright stooges. It’ll be nice to see Ash’s human friends/enemies share the movie’s spotlight, since they almost always become background ornaments/comic relief in typical Pokémon movies.
But naturally, this being a Pokémon movie, I expect some legendary pokémon to play an important role, leading me to assume that role will be filled by Ho-Oh. After twenty years, Pokémon has many legendaries, but to this day Ho-Oh’s role in the anime remains an enigma. I suspect I Choose You! may not only retell Ash’s origins but also explain why Ho-Oh has appeared before him so sporadically over the years. The series’ writers have obviously been saving Ho-Oh’s story for some special occasion, because every other legendary pokémon under the sun (including Ho-Oh’s counterpart Lugia) has already gotten its movie spotlight. Since Episode 1, Ho-Oh has been a twenty-year-long mystery I’m hopeful to see finally solved.
Safe to say, my expectations are already high for Pokémon Movie 20: I Choose You!, and we’ve still got a ways to go before it hits theaters, never mind comes overseas. Nevertheless, I can honestly say I haven’t felt this excited about an upcoming Pokémon film in quite some time. Whether or not I Choose You! turns out to be the definitive origin story of Ash Ketchum, it’s guaranteed to be a nostalgic, heartwarming celebration of two decades of Pokémon memories.