Pokémon The Movie I Choose You review: A real celebration of the series as a whole. It has plenty of throwbacks, but never feels reliant on them.
Pokémon The Movie I Choose You review by Luke Ryan Baldock.
Last year Pokemon celebrated their 20th anniversary. It’s a huge milestone in the greatest franchise that’s ever existed (Yeah! I said it). This year sees a similar birthday being celebrated, with the anime series also reaching the big double decade. For 20 years, Ash Ketchum has traveled the many regions searching for catchable monsters that he can then train and fight to become the champion of a Pokemon league. He may not have aged after 20 years, but he has seen a voice change, and also still can’t quite win a league (not counting the Orange Islands here). With last year seeing Pokemon reach even greater heights thanks to Pokemon Go, and the release of Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon, it’s probably a better time than ever to return to the beginning of Ash’s journey, serving as both a nostalgia trip for seasoned veterans and an introduction for newer fans.
Anybody familiar with the anime series will be getting deja vu at the start of this film, with the events playing out similarly to the first episode of the anime. It’s not all fan service, however, as soon Ash and Pikachu spot the legendary Pokemon Ho-Oh, and this is where the tale diverts. Despite Ash having spotted Ho-Oh very early in the anime, it’s a plot point that has never been explored. Treated as an almost alternate reality, fan favourites Brock and Misty are nowhere to be seen and instead, Ash meets new trainers Verity and Sorrel. The three journey throughout the Kanto region, with some popular moments playing out differently than before, such as the meeting of Charmander. But as Ash and Pikachu get closer to Ho-Oh, there are rumours of a Pokemon that lurks in the shadows and may impede their journey.
Pokemon The Movie: I Choose You, is a real celebration of the series as a whole. It has plenty of throwbacks, but never feels reliant on them. We get a brief glimpse at a single gym battle, but the film is much more concerned with building on the relationships between the characters. Verity and Sorrel both have pasts that fuel them forward, and despite this being a stand-alone adventure, you get to know them completely by the end. The real heart of the film though, is, of course, the relationship between Ash and Pikachu. The script bravely takes Ash to a darker place, showing him as perhaps more selfish and egotistical. He becomes too reliant on Pikachu, and in a beautiful scene is left in a dreamlike parallel world where Pokemon don’t exist.
The animation is stunning for the most part, and not just ‘for a Pokemon movie’. Fans will be glad that the more jovial look of the Sun and Moon series has been left behind in favour of the more traditional look. The Pokemon battles have never looked more impressive, with fluidity and speed bringing the bizarre moves to life in thrilling ways. It’s also clearly a film for the fans, with no Pokedex for Ash, and so no exposition on what every single magical creature is. Despite covering a large amount of time, however, the film doesn’t feel rushed or patchy.
Unlikely to convert doubters (though there’s always hope), Pokemon The Movie: I Choose You, does suffer from being too ingrained in its own mythology. You need a base knowledge to understand what’s going on a lot of the time, and awe that legendary cameos should strike into the audience may very well be lost. Thankfully, I am a fan, and this is one of the strongest Pokemon films to date. It captures the sense of adventure, friendship, and discovery, that made the games, show, and everything in between such a success to begin with. We can only hope that the live action Detective Pikachu film (why is that a thing?), is handled with the same care.
Pokémon The Movie I Choose You review by Luke Ryan Baldock, October 2017.
Pokémon The Movie I Choose You plays in UK cinemas from Sunday 5th November.