This week’s IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! brought to you by a generous donation by Rachel Kraft. Thank you for your support!
I went into this knowing I’m probably not the right audience for the film. I’m not an adolescent and my brain is, as far as I can tell, relatively intact and undamaged. However, attempting to do criticism of any medium in which you get paid for it will mean that, from time to time, you have to undertake an endeavour that isn’t up your alley. So me reviewing Pokémon 3: The Movie is a bit like seeing Yahtzee take on a real-time strategy game or JPRG for Zero Punctuation. It just isn’t going to end well.
I used to be a pretty big animé fan, but I never really got into the whole Pokémon scene. My tastes in the genre tend to lean more towards the artsy Miyazaki films and the rather adult escapism of series such as Cowboy Bebop, Rurouni Kenshin, Macross Plus, Record of Lodoss War and Death Note. So the art style of the film didn’t bother me as much as it might some others. However, this film is meant to draw in and entertain youngsters fully enthralled by the Pokémon series of games, or those that are just distracted by bright colors and “catchy” tunes. Though I doubt most of them understand why Brock’s so interested in getting laid.
This exercise in adaptating the long-running Nintendo franchise in animé format opens with the short Pikachu & Pichu, in which the titular Pokémon get involved in a city-street caper. Surprisingly, at least to me, I found this wasn’t half-bad once I got past the nature of the character designs and methods of communication. This little romp would be decent in exemplifying wordless storytelling if it weren’t for the insipid narration. This is probably adaptation decay to make sure ignorant large American children understand what’s going on since subtlety is likely lost on their squishy over-stimulated brains. The music and style seem to be something in keeping with Charlie Chaplain or Laurel & Hardy (if they were rather cute ‘monsters’) but the knowledge that the narrator’s going to chime in to point out the obvious at any moment waters down any potential enjoyment for an American viewer over the age of 6. My favorite part was a little in-joke Brock makes on the unchanging nature of most animé characters’ costumes.
The movie proper begins by introducing us to Professor Spencer Hale and his daughter, Molly. They’re shown as being happy which means that something awful’s going to happen and, within about five minutes, Spencer’s been sucked into a pocket dimension by a type of Pokémon known as the Unown. Molly, understandably upset by her dad’s disappearance, stumbles onto the means to summon the Unown and they start granting her wishes, including creating a facsimile of a legendary Pokémon called Entei who basically serves Molly as a surrogate dad. Into this situation wander Ash, Brock and Misty who are joined by Professor Oak and Ash’s mom, since Spencer was one of Oak’s top students. Entei appears before the group and makes off with Ash’s mother since Molly also wished for a mommy. Naturally, Ash doesn’t take his mom’s abduction lying down and heads off to rescue her. Upon seeing the trainers climing the crystal palace of dreams created by the Unown, two things happen. Molly decides she wants to be a Pokémon trainer too, setting off a series of matches with Brock and Misty; and Ash’s mom snaps out of the hypnosis that yanked her into the dream in the first place. The confrontation escalates, more Pokémon battles are waged, and since this is a kid’s movie everything resolves happily and plenty of Pokémon are seen so the kids who go home can spend more time pursuing them in whichever Pokémon game came out most recently.
Now, I can’t pretend that I don’t understand how this movie got made. Nor can I pretend that I don’t get its appeal. Heck, seeing Ash riding Charizard around made me smile a little, because even at my age the idea of riding a fire-breathing dragon into battle is pretty damn cool. However, the thing that got to me about Pokémon 3: The Movie is how safe it felt. To me, at least, there was never really any sense of danger or tension. There was the knowledge in the back of my mind that even if Molly wished for a neutron bomb or to wipeout the firstborn or a new Dan Brown book – you know, some sort of apocalyptic event that’d destroy humanity – Ash and company would emerge on the other end unscathed because there are more episodes of their TV series to produce along with video games, action figures, plushies, bed dressings and toaster cozies. When you have a cute mascot of a lucrative franchise, you don’t want to feed it to a wood chipper just to see if it’s still the same color coming out the other end. Well, Nintendo doesn’t, at least. But I’m somewhat curious.
Anyway, my point is that this movie, for all of its various forms of what might be considered monsters, has no teeth. There might be some narrative nuance with Entei sacrificing itself to grant Molly’s wishes for peace when the Unown spin out of control but I must again consider a form of adaptation decay at work because the voice acting just felt flat and uninteresting. None of the principle characters seemed all that concerned with what was going on outside of stock reaction noises. And if they don’t care about what’s going on, the audience won’t either. A grown up audience, that is, won’t care. Kids are far more likely to be invested in the characters since they’re more focused on the pictures in motion than the writing or acting or motivation or passion behind the figures. This isn’t really the fault of the writers or actors, though, more the fault of the material itself. There’s only so much you can do with something this generic when aimed at a narrow age group. At least kids can see a cautionary tale with the moral “Never summon anything bigger than your head.”
Imagine a peice of toast. Functional in that it will sustain you, but bland. It’d be livened up with some butter or jam or peanut butter or cinnamon or something. But it’s possible to ruin toast, by burning it or dropping it butter-side down or having the dog snatch it from your plate when you’re not looking. Pokémon 3: The Movie isn’t ruined or burnt but it’s not tasty or sweet, either. It exists mostly for its own sake and to further drive the sales of games and merchandise to impressionable young kids. If you do have young kids and they’re into Pokémon, this is likely to get added to the Instant selections they can watch over and over again while you do important things like make dinner, tidy up the house, balance your budget or break out the gimp. If you’re an adult without spawn, this animé will pass you by and be forgotten almost as soon as you finish watching it, meaning I really can’t recommend it. In your case, may I humbly recommend something a bit more adult, especially if you can watch it in the original Japanese. Your mileage may vary, but for my money, a much better adult animé experience can be had watching a little 1995 flick called Ninja Scroll.
Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.