Last Friday saw the UK release of Pokémon Black 2 & White 2 on the Nintendo DS. So as I’m sure many Poké fans will want to rest their blister covered hands for an hour or two a day, over the next 2 weeks join THN as we take a look back over the entire series of Pokémon films.
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama
Cast: Veronica Taylor, Rachael Lillis, Eric Stuart, Madeleine Blaustein, Ikue Ootani, Tara Sands, Dan Green, Kazuko Sugiyama, Roxanne Beck, Stuart Zagnit, Rodger Parsons
Plot: 40 years ago a hunter pursued the legendary Pokémon known as Celebi. Celebi was protected by a young boy named Sammy, but in its attempts to escape, Celebi brought them to the present day. Now Ash, Misty, and Brock must help Sammy to protect Celebi from an even more dangerous hunter known as The Iron Masked Marauder.
It’s the end of an era, but not one you’d actually notice. POKEMON 4EVER: CELEBI – VOICE OF THE FOREST, is the first film in the series to be distributed by Miramax, the previous three were distributed by Warner Bros. This is probably why Miramax shove on a brief lesson on everything Pokémon in the first couple of minutes, because you just know Miramax fans that have never watched Pokémon before are tuning in.This was also the first film not to get a wide theatrical release in the US, UK, Sweden, or Latin America. I guess this would mean the eventual death of Pokémon and everything associated with it.
It’s a shame that POKEMON 4EVER: CELEBI – VOICE OF THE FOREST missed a theatrical release, because in terms of animation this is the clear highpoint of the series so far. The colours are vibrant and the shadows create a new depth that clearly distinguishes it from the series. The opening is especially impressive, as Celebi, one of our two legendary Pokémon in this outing, is chased through a CG forest. This allows for dramatic camera angles and 3D movements that were previously prohibited by the 2D animation. As a Scyther and Houndoom give chase, we meet Sammy, a young boy who loves to sketch Pokémon. I wouldn’t be surprised if his last name was Sketchit. Actually I would, but only because I know how it all turns out.
Sammy is merely minding his business, admiring the improved animation of his surroundings, when he becomes caught up in the chase. Sammy decides to protect Celebi from the big bad hunter that wants to sell the legendary Pokémon in order to make a profit, the fiend. Celebi resorts to its highest level of defence, time travel. Oh you heard that correctly. Pokéballs with little twisty bits on them? Where we’re going we don’t need Pokéballs with little twisty bits on them.
It isn’t exactly BACK TO THE FUTURE with Pokémon. In fact, the time travel element is only really used once and the film could have done without it. Why not have our heroes go to medieval ages with the dragon Pokémon as actual dragons? Well, that’s me just wishing away madly. Instead, the film settles into another tale of living in harmony with the environment. Sammy meets Ash and co. who have recently spotted the legendary Pokémon Suicune; who will no doubt make an appearance before the end of our adventure. Ash and Sammy strike up a very close friendship. One thing the time travel element does put to good use is the fact that sooner or later these friends will have to part. Either that or Sammy will lose his family in the past forever. It’s nice to see Ash interact with a boy his own age. There’s too much sexual tension between Ash and Misty, and Brock just has his eyes on anything in a skirt. Sammy and Ash get along really well despite coming from different time periods.
While Ash and friends work on getting Sammy back to the past, a new and more dangerous hunter is prowling the forest. The Iron Masked Marauder is one of the most infamous members of Team Rocket. He has a ‘cool’ costume, he tramples around in a huge mechanical spider; see what you started Branagh? And he also has Dark Balls…Perhaps I should explain that last part. His Pokéballs have the ability to turn any Pokémon they catch evil. Pokémon hell bent on destruction? That’s a recipe for disaster. Jesse and James join forces with The Iron Masked Marauder, who we will refer to from now on as Tim, making this the first film adventure in which they are actually bad guys, even if not the main antagonists.
This entry does well to once again give us a new location to appreciate. Sure, Pokémon spends a lot of time in the forests of the world, but there is something more alive here. The humans of the area live in tree houses and use boats that double up as aircraft. The woodland and foliage has more texture than ever before, which makes the Pokémon stand out as they venture around their home. This is never better demonstrated than when the good guys try and find help for the injured Celebi. An Ursaring and Teddiursa approach through the mist and take them to a healing lake; how many healing lakes are there in the Johto region? This sequence is a quiet and thoughtful piece that echoes, but in no way compares with, the work of Studio Ghibli.
Tim eventually kidnaps Celebi in one of his large Dark Balls, turning our time travelling pal evil. Once evil, Celebi constructs a giant monster from the likes of twigs, leaves and Jesse. This monster is used by Tim to destroy the forest and prove that he is the most powerful man in the world and no longer needs to work for Giovanni. The monster constructed by Celebi is a huge Kaiju-like beast and is completely CG. I like this franchise’s use of CG. I don’t care that it sticks out and doesn’t compare to the likes of Pixar, it adds life and imagination to the films. Although having faced powerful adversaries such as Mewtwo, the legendary birds, and Entei, having an obstacle to overcome that dwarfs our heroes and their Pokémon really does raise the stakes.
The elemental ecological message is something that has been explored time and time again in Pokémon, but most notably in the films. POKEMON 4EVER: CELEBI – VOICE OF THE FOREST does feel as though it is going through the motions at times, but at least it pushes the franchise in the correct direction where style is concerned. The ending even matches the first film i terms of emotion. A dying Celebi lies in Ash’s arms and Sammy becomes more distraught as the lake fails to revive Celebi. A shot of the water shows the berries that Sammy, Ash, and Celebi enjoyed together fall into the lake, along with Sammy’s tears. I think what we really need is a complete overhaul for a film, perhaps a number of different locations, rather than setting the action in one locale. Maybe we need to follow a different group of Pokétrainers for awhile, just to get a more complete view of the universe. After all, we all live in Pokémon world.
Best Performance By A Pokémon: The award goes to Celebi who manages to mix the cute nature of Mew, but also keep a sense of wisdom about him. As Ash and Sammy approach the injured Celebi, he finds it hard to trust them and actually attacks. Like all animals, when threatened, Pokémon will defend themselves. The shaking and quivering shows the fear Celebi must be feeling, but we the defence reminds us that he has the ability to be dangerous. This is important, because when he turns evil we completely believe in the transformation. The powerhouse performance it gives in the last few minutes could really dehydrate you via crying. Hand him the Oscar now.
Best Battle: The final battle has a lot going on, in the best possible way. Tim orders evil Celebi to destroy Ash and Sammy. Just then Suicune rescues them; I knew he’d come back. Tim releases his evil Tyranitar, which he tells to use Hyper-beam on Suicune. Brock is having none of this and sends in his Onyx to knock Tyranitar’s shot off-target. This battle has it all, attempts to redeem a friend, legendaries going at it, old favourite weighing in and holding their own, and a big monster comprised of CG twigs.
Come back tomorrow for our next PokéMovie Marathon article. Gotta read them all here.