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, Emily Bauer, Michele Knotz, Bill Rogers, Jimmy Zoppi, Ikue Ootani, Craig Blair, Khistine Hvam, Bill Timoney,
Plot: Two Pokémon battle in a dark empty world. Meanwhile Ash Ketchum and friends arrive in Alamos Town where sightings and rumours of a mysterious Pokémon known as Darkrai abound. According to legend Darkrai gives people and Pokémon nightmares, which doesn’t make him very popular at all.
POKEMON: THE RISE OF DARKRAI is the first film from the Diamond & Pearl era of Pokémon. If you are a dedicated Genwunner, then you aren’t going to like a lot about this film. You’ll recognise a few characters, but as for Pokémon, you’d lose in ‘Who’s That Pokémon?’ standoff. You can also just toddle right on, plenty of the new generation Pokémon are awesome and this film demonstrates that fact. Not only that, but this is the first time where a film does eventually play into the following movies, making a nice connected trilogy.
The film begins with a trip down nostalgia lane, as we see an animated sequence in which we are shown all of the legendary Pokémon that have appeared in feature films so far. Ash, Brock, and newcomer Dawn (we’ll get to her in a minute) are then seen walking against a mosaic background of clips from previous films. Good way to trick the purists you tricky little filmmakers. Just as all looks calm and jolly, we’re thrown into a world of darkness and fear. The whole world is a huge swirling black cloud and ocean. Suddenly two huge Pokémon engage in battle. Dialga and Palkia look like a cross between battlemech robots, and the monsters that they really are. They fight and fight with no end in sight, and since we can’t sit around forever, we leave those two and follow Ash to Alamos Town.
Ash and Brock are now joined by Dawn, who is my favourite female companion of Ash’s. She’s a strong willed character without being bossy or pushy. I actually think she is a terrific role model for young female fans and as this film progresses she is clearly shown as Ash’s equal, and not just some comic relief or misguided love interest. I say misguided because they’re 10 years old people, come on. She also has my favourite Pokémon, a Piplup. They are my favourites simply because I love penguins and I had waited years for a penguin Pokémon. My rejuvenated and continued interest in Pokémon can all be attributed to the cuddly little fella. Dawn, having just joined our protagonists, means her voice acting is a first time thing and the brilliant Emily Bauer doesn’t need to try and impersonate anyone. As for the others, Natochenny is much better now and has relaxed her vocal chords so it doesn’t sound so gruff and forced. Brock on the other hand just sounds too old now, like he is in his 30s or something, which makes his come-ons a bit creepier.
Ash, Brock, and Dawn meet up with Alice, who takes them to a Pokémon garden where everyone can have a bit of fun. We are treated to some light-hearted Pokémon antics which is a lot of fun, and very necessary given the direction the film takes later on. The Pokémon nearly end up in a fight, but Alice is able to soothe them with a song. They are then alerted to some damage in the garden, which is attributed to Darkrai, a nightmare Pokémon. This is when we come across Baron Alberto. Baron Alberto is simply a comical version of Gaston from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. He believes he is going to marry Alice, but doesn’t try and force a union, and later in his own pomposity, he strikes up a mob to take on Darkrai. If only he’d broken into ‘The Mob Song’. That’s what we need, a Pokémon musical. On one of Alberto’s advances on Alice it is Dawn who sets him straight and isn’t afraid to get all up in his business. Go Dawn!
Alice is in love with a scientist she believes once saved her life, Antonio. He’s a geeky kind of guy, but he’s got brains. As Antonio reels off some spiel about alternative realities, time and space, continuums etc. we see our big buddies battling once again in their world of darkness, but this time it is shown that certain attacks can have an effect in our world. This multiple dimension story is something new to the Pokémon films and it’s a great idea. Soon Darkrai appears in the garden, and not knowing any better, our heroes blame him for the temporal shift. Trying to battle Darkrai proves a bad idea, as he hits Ash, sending him into an isolated and empty world. Everything looks the same but it’s just not right. Ash sees Pikachu and the world starts sinking away before Ash wakes in a hospital bed. Turns out he was victim to one of Darkrai’s attacks which put him the nightmare world.
The guys go to the Space and Time tower which is a wonderfully designed and animated mixture of traditional 2D animation and CG for some of the moving parts. It has the aged feel that really does make it seem 100 years old, but at the same time there is something futuristic about it which makes for an impressive juxtaposition of the old and the new. Once in the tower they come across a gigantic organ which Dawn is about to use but then Ash buts in “Hey, I wanna do that.” It’s a childish moments for Ash, that reminds us of his age, but also kind of undoes the maturity he has gained over previous seasons. Still, since he hasn’t aged I can’t be too harsh. And besides, now he has Dawn to put him straight back in his place. Obviously with the organ and Alice’s earlier musical treat, the film goes for a message of music soothes the savage beast, so you can kind of tell how all the troubles will be solved, but it’s still nice to see the journey.
After another blast from the other dimension Darkrai is attacked by large numbers of Pokémon and their trainers. He puts them all into the nightmare world but now we see the nightmare world and real world crossover. This is exemplified when Baron Alberto turns into his Lickilicky. With what’s about to happen I think it was a good move not to make Alberto an actual threat to anyone, and his bumbling nature is just exaggerated to the max when he becomes a Pokémon. Meanwhile we learn that Darkrai was actually trying to protect the citizens all this time. He was also responsible for saving Alice all those years ago and was close friends with her grandmother. This information is revealed in cleverly tinted sepia scenes, which is kind of cliché, but it works here as it really stands out from the rest of the animation, but doesn’t feel out of place.
Eventually the town becomes caught in a nightmare and the entire world begins to dissolve just as Palkia and Dialga’s battle spills into the real world. As they battle endlessly above the city, the heroes discover the song that will calm them once and for all. The climax has a lot of intense moments where you honestly don’t know if the heroes will make it or not. The finale focuses equally on both Ash and Dawn and it was great seeing them work together as a team. It’s something I feel has never happened before in the series. POKEMON: THE RISE OF DARKRAI is all about not judging Pokémon (and I suppose the same can be said for people) on appearances. Darkrai is really the hero, the handsome and wealthy Baron Alberto is a tool, and the nerdy Antonio is a sweetheart. Oh yeah, and Dawn’s a badass. Great non-stop action (literally) and a plot that doesn’t get too wrapped up in itself, help to make this an enjoyable film which does a lot to continue the franchises formulaic but engrossing journey.
Best Performance By A Pokémon: Darkrai is a dark and scary Pokémon of the ghost variety. He’s not actually classed as a ghost Pokémon, but just look at him for crying out loud. Even though he is judged by others, he doesn’t allow this to get in the way of making the right decision. He also doesn’t become a whining little baby because of it. If he is attacked, he will fight back. Darkrai also has a string connection to humans which is interesting because other Pokémon that faced persecution such as Mewtwo, simply turned against humanity. Darkrai is also willing to make the ultimate sacrifice if needs be.
Best Battle: The battle between Palkia and Dialga goes on for the entire movie, and probably started long before the film does. Their battle spills from the world of dreams and nightmares into our world. They persist on smashing the hell out of each other without showing signs of exhaustion. Their battle, which the humans can barely interfere with, rages on as the team have missions to complete, but we never forget that the heroes are just feet away from being splatted all over the pavement. The battle also serves as a nice interim source of excitement whenever plot and exposition show themselves, as the director can cut to ongoing action anytime he wishes.
Come back tomorrow for our next PokéMovie Marathon article. Gotta read them all here.