A week ago today 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, Lisa Ortiz, Megan Hollingshead, Wayne Grayson, Megumi Hayashibara
Plot: In the town of Alto Mare there is a story about two mythological guardians that protect the town. Meanwhile, two master thieves steal a book and believe they can capture the legendary Pokémon Latios and Latias.
POKEMON: HEROES – LATIOS & LATIAS is stunning, a genuinely gorgeous piece of work on all accounts. Even non Pokémon fans need to see how good the franchise can be. I don’t know exactly what made the writers, director, and animators put in so much effort for this 5th cinematic venture, but they did, and I’m very pleased about that fact.
The film starts with the same intro as POKEMON 4EVER: CELEBI – VOICE OF THE FOREST as the franchise continues to try and lure in new and unsuspecting victims. We’re then thrown into the middle of some cat burglars stealing a book that speaks of legendary Pokémon. This scene is a lot of fun mostly due to the fun Spy music that feels like it has been ripped directly from a show of the 1960s. The cat burglars we’re introduced to are Annie and Oakley, members of Team Rocket, and out to steal a powerful jewel. Annie and Oakley are great villains, and are probably why Jesse and James are sidelined to the point that they never interact with our heroes. This is a great choice, as they never seem forced to take part, which means the plot can commence without interruptions. Annie and Oakley are dangerously competent without ever becoming too serious which makes them perfect antagonists for a kid’s film like this. We can hate and like them at the same time.
After this intro we are transported to Alto Mare, the most beautiful place ever animated for a Pokémon film. Alto Mare is based on Venice, and is drawn with such detail that it feels like the real thing. The textures, lighting, and depth to every shot bring Alto Mare alive as a character itself. We’ve never seen a place like this in Pokémon, and the influence of European architecture is very reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s work. The streets are so alive and authentic that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Donald Sutherland chasing a murderous dwarf. Not only are the visuals brought alive by mosaics on the ground and Pidgeys bathing in birdbaths, but the film utilises its locations too.
When we first encounter them, rather than engaging in a battle as the credits appear on screen, Ash and Misty are taking part in a water Pokémon race through the canals of Alto Mare. It’s a furiously engaging scene that allows us to see the sights of the new setting. As Ash races on Pokémon fly past, only we can’t see them as they have some kind of cloaking device activated. I’ve seen a similar cloaking device used before, where was that again…OH GOD…It’s the PREDATOR. I knew he was a Pokémon all this time, if only Arnold had a Pokéball. Oh jeez, he’s going to eat Pikachu isn’t he? Luckily it turns out not to be a PREDATOR, but whatever they are mess about with Ash which causes him to sink. Ash doesn’t care though, as he’s learnt so much on his journey. Even though his Totodile feels ashamed at losing him the race, Ash shows his love and our hearts melt.
Ash soon meets a young mute girl, but as Annie and Oakley reveal to us, this is actually a Pokémon in disguise. Ash protects the young girl/Pokémon and we are lead down the claustrophobic, beautifully realised, twisting streets in a first person CG shot that completely captures the panic or Ash and friend. The details of the locale continue to impress. It seems more and more like a Studio Ghibli film, with even the smallest characters standing out. An elderly woman on a bench knits as she sits quietly next to her Vulpix for example. Later, when Ash spots the girl again he gives chase to a gorgeous piece of music which utilises an accordion very well. Once again it adds to that European flavour that is separating this from all previous Pokémon films.
Ash follows the girl into a secret garden where he learns that the girl he has been chasing is actually a Latias, who bases her human appearance on an actual human Bianca. There is also a magic jewel that contains the spirit of Latias and Latios’ father. Latias is a fun and playful creature who is looked after by her protective brother Latios. Latias and Latios have a very sweet relationship which is expertly crafted so that when Annie and Oakley show up to capture the pair, it becomes a very emotional moment as the Pokémon are forced to split up. Not only do Annie and Oakley capture Latios, but they steal the jewel which can resurrect two evil Pokémon fossils and control a machine that will destroy Alto Mare.
Oakley becomes a bit dangerous at this point once she starts imagining about controlling the world. It a brief surge in power rather than an actual ambition of hers which really hammers home the message of absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even her partner Annie realises this is going a bit far, which once again emphasises that these are grey antagonists and not in the black and white spectrum of good and evil. Oakley resurrects Aerodactyl and Kabutops, which chase Ash, Pikachu, and Latias through the streets/canals of Alto Mare. The night time setting and the leaping through narrow streets and off gondolas makes it a unique action sequence.
The finale sees a huge flood caused by Oakley, coming towards Alto Mare, and the only way to stop it is for Latias or Latios to sacrifice one of their lives. Now, we’ve seen sacrifice hinted at before in Pokémon movies. Ash in POKEMON: THE FIRST MOVIE – MEWTWO STRIKES BACK, Celebi in POKEMON 4EVER: CELEBI – VOICE OF THE FOREST, but those sacrifices have always been followed by a quick resurrection. Not this time. Another reason that makes this film so powerful and above its fellow films, is that the sacrifice is permanent. The scene is played out in a wonderful heartfelt way that children will certainly be able to understand. POKEMON: HEROES – LATIAS & LATIOS is a wonderful film and shows what the franchise is truly capable of when the animation, writing, music, and action come together.
Best Performance By A Pokémon: Latias and Latios are very close, but I’m going to go for Latias. In her human form she is a sweet and curious creature that wants to learn more and have some fun. When her brother is kidnapped, Latias refuses to leave him at first and comes very close to being captured herself. The final heartbreaking moments cement this as one of the best Pokéformances (Oh I said it) so far. I haven’t felt this moved since Ash first encountered Charmander on a rock, waiting for Damian to return.
Best Battle: Although the chase through the streets is incredibly impressive on a visual and excitement scale, the best battle has to be between Annie and Oakley vs. Latias and Latios. Latios and Latias turn invisible, but thanks to Annie and Oakley’s ingenuity they have some glasses that can track their heat signatures. Using their Pokémon of Ariados and Espeon, are able to weaken Latios down. Ariados aims a Nightshade attack at Latias but Latios throws himself in the way. He’s then caught in a mechanical net and urges Latias to escape. It’s easy to hear the pain in Latios’ voice, which makes the battle quite emotionally draining.
Come back tomorrow for our next PokéMovie Marathon article. Gotta read them all here.