12th of October 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, we’ve been covering each and every Pokémon film in celebration. Check out past articles here.
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama
Cast: Sarah Natochenny, Michele Knotz, Kayzie Rogers, Bill Rogers, Ikue Ootani, Eric Schussler, Rich McNanna, Jimmy Zoppi,
Plot: An evil pirate known as Phantom has acquired an egg of a legendary Pokémon known as Manaphy. The egg is soon taken into custody by a Pokémon ranger known as Jack Walker. Walker gives the egg to May, but once it hatches it forms a very close bond with May. This becomes a problem as it is expected that Manaphy should guide them to a lost underwater city and then have to leave the humans.
The first full length feature starring the new vocal cast is something I approached with great trepidation the first time I decided to watch it. Pokémon is a lengthy series that most fans will have invested a lot of time in, and so to have our wonderful voice actors replaced came as a slap in the face. Not just that they were replaced, but because it was done so to cut costs and to add insult to injury, soundalikes were cast. This gives the majority of the film a feeling of a cheap bootleg, and just some fans doing bad impersonations. If only they’d waited, there could have been a neat transition point when May and Max left the series, as this is their last film.
Despite all this we must move on, and after awhile you should get used to the voices. But then every time I revisit older episodes and movies I remember how good we once had it. The film starts with the usual trek through the Pokémon world for the uninitiated or the casual fan, only this time we also get an introduction to Pokémon rangers. These are people that dedicate their lives to helping Pokémon and the environment, pretty much the opposite of Team Rocket. As the title would suggest, these are pretty important people to the plot of this film.
We then follow an egg as it floats through the ocean before it is taken by a gang of pirates lead by the sinister The Phantom. The Phantom is the most boring of all Pokémon villains so far. He’s a pirate and he’s greedy. That’s about it. He is just used as a plot device and has no personality that would set him apart from any generic pirate in any other medium. Just when The Phantom thinks he has his prize, one of his henchmen turns out to be Pokémon Ranger, Jack Walker. The name alone gives the impression of a super spy and that’s precisely what we get. Unfortunately there’s something about the vocal performance that rubs me up the wrong way. Whenever he is talking to other people, even his allies, he sounds condescending. I almost expected him to be one of those incompetent heroes such as Gilderoy Lockhart in HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS. This leads to an opening sequence some may compare to similar scenes from James Bond.
One thing that is certainly notable in these earlier scenes is the attention to shading and lighting. It adds a much darker feel that could have been better utilised in earlier films. The animators also seem more comfortable using a larger colour palette. Meanwhile the CGI submarine and underwater action makes for a cinematic feel that would have been great to experience on the big screen. Unfortunately in our backwards Western countries, it would be rare to see a Pokémon film on the silver screen.
When we meet Ash and the newly voiced compatriots, it’s a big shock to the system. Ash now sounds like a woman putting on a young boy’s voice, rather than sounding like a young boy. The group meet up with some water acrobats and we see a wonderfully animated scene that involves a lot of jumping in and out of bubbles. Not to be sexist, but this is certainly a film more aimed at the female audience. There are obviously the spy elements for your typical guys, but the main story here has May looking after an egg. We see a very maternal side to May and seeing her as the lead gave her extra dimensions as a character. Unfortunately the plot is far too similar to POKEMON: JIRACHI – WISH MAKER. In that film Max built up a friendship with a Pokémon that would eventually have to leave. I guess in some ways this is more powerful as we see May teaching Manaphy to say “I love you” which is very sweet, but in an awkward kind of way that exemplifies the tragedy.
One of the biggest shames in changing voices is that Jesse and James are once again very villainous. It would have been nice to hear the original voice actors go out on this role. Well, as villainous as they have ever been. They team up with The Phantom and actually show some initiative which almost answers why they were hired for Team Rocket in the first place. They still allow for plenty of comedy especially in one scene where Wobbuffet is mimicked by Mime Jr. who may annoy some, but I think he’s adorable.
The rest of the film leads us from one place to another as Manaphy shows the way to The Water Temple, which thankfully isn’t as complex as the ones from Zelda. May and Manaphy’s connection deepens, and we learn about Jack Walker’s love for Pokémon. He tells us the story of how he was saved from freezing by a group of Pokémon, which really shows Pokémon as a species as being far removed from the animals we know. It’s quite an inspiring scene but again is let down by the voice acting. I was impressed though, that Jack Walker didn’t turn out to be some kind of self serving turncoat. You often see a character like that in these sorts of adventure films, so the fact he is a loyal and honourable character gives a sense of trust for younger audiences.
The final scenes play out like any adventure film. It turns out that the villain searching for the treasure unwittingly starts the destruction of the place they have found. The film does mix enjoyable elements of spy thrillers and Indiana Jones’ type Saturday matinee movies, but it just can’t justify its own running time. This is the longest Pokémon movie by quite some stretch, clocking in at a monstrous (for a Pokémon movie) 1 hour and 45 minutes. The first film was under 80 minutes, and unlike POKEMON: DESTINY DEOXYS, this film has a lot of filler. I can’t count the number of underwater shots we had of simply swimming, and although it looks great, it pushes the film through at a snail’s pace. Even with the long running time the film ends suddenly and doesn’t have the prologue after the main events we are used to. A fine addition to be sure, but with a lengthy running time, new voice actors, and coming off the back of the last two amazing cinematic releases, this is a bit disappointing.
Best Performance By A Pokémon: Manaphy as she is the only Pokémon with extensive screentime. She has a decent character arc as well, but her babyish nature can be tiring for the audience. If a legendary Pokémon gets this much screentime it needs a definite personality, such as Lucario or Mewtwo. Otherwise give it limited screentime like Mew. The connection with May can be very emotional at times, and we feel for Manaphy as she doesn’t understand the situation in the same way as May.
Best Battle: Another minus against the film is the lack of battles. The climax is the closest we get to anything resembling a battle, but it is more of a chase. The Phantom rides on a jet ski with Manaphy in his arms, but Ash has been granted the powers of the King of the Sea and travels in a large yellow energy beam. Legendary Pokémon Kyogre appears and together Kyogre and Manaphy launch an assault on The Phantom’s submarine. It’s better than BATTLESHIP.
Come back tomorrow for our next PokéMovie Marathon article. Gotta read them all here.