On Poetry, Prose, and Videogames

JLawrence Kenny

Friday Night Retro: Pokémon: The First Movie

on September 23, 2011

The Pokémon game franchise has been one of the most successful of our generation. Go up to any early-20s, late teenager and say the word Pokémon, and it will be recognized. (If they don’t recognize it, pity them, for they had no childhood) Whether they grew up with 151 Pokémon or 649, few are the children who don’t recall the adorable game about enslaving… I mean, catching… various monsters that exist in the Pokémon world, from the adorable Togepi to the terrifying Onix. So popular is the series, that it has spawned not only an abundance of videogame spinoffs and sequels, but also highly successful anime and movie franchises, both of which center around the eternally youthful Ash Ketchum, whose dream is to become a Pokémon Master. So secure was the company in the longevity of their franchise, they actually entitled the first movie Pokémon: The First Movie, so without further ado, let’s jump right into the wonderful world of Pokémon.

Run, you fool... *a la Gandalf*

The movie begins with a story about Mew, the ancestor Pokémon, in whom resides the DNA of all known Pokémon. A group of scientists discover biological evidence of Mew’s existence, and use it in an attempt to clone Mew. However, the method of cloning was imperfect, leading to the creation of Mewtwo, whose Psychic powers were so powerful, he destroyed the entire laboratory in which he had been created. Thanks to the evil boss of Team Rocket, Giovanni, however, Mewtwo manages to control his powers before Giovanni attempts to use Mewtwo’s powers for his own gain, leading him to abandon the villain. Our heroes, Ash, Brock and Misty, soon find themselves a part of the plot as they are invited to an island by “The World’s Greatest Pokémon Trainer,” who turns out to be none other than Mewtwo. After a brief and fruitless battle against a set of cloned Pokémon that Mewtwo has created, Mewtwo captures the Pokémon of all the trainers he invited to the island, creating his own army of clones with which he intends to rule over the world. Before he can bring his plan to fruition, Mew appears and Ash breaks all the original Pokémon out of their captivity, leading to the climax of the film where all the Pokémon fight their cloned counterparts in a vicious battle. The trainers look on in desperation and sorrow as they realize just how horrible the fighting is, as all the Pokémon exhaust themselves and begin to collapse. Finally, just as Mew and Mewtwo are about to finish their battle, Ash runs in-between them, taking the full force of both their attacks and is turned to stone. The trainers and Pokémon all are stunned at Ash’s sacrifice, and their tears somehow manage to revive him. Mewtwo realizes the folly of his actions, and takes his cloned Pokémon with him so that they might live in peace, and returns the trainers and their Pokémon to the mainland, erasing their memories in the process.

Mewtwo finds your message disappointing.

Now, let it first be said that I am an avid lover of everything Pokémon. With that in mind, this movie is utterly confusing in the extreme as far as its message goes. The clear moral, of course, is that fighting without reason is bad. But this conflicts horribly with the original purpose of the franchise, which is basically to catch these creatures and pit them in fights against each other so that one might establish that they are the superior trainer. Certainly, I advocate non-violence whenever possible, but doing so in a universe that revolves almost exclusively around fighting is both hypocritical and bad for business. One might argue that there is a difference between fighting battles for sport and fighting battles out of hate, but if so, the movie does a horrible job at promoting the difference. And while we’re on the topic, the fact that Mewtwo erases the memories of everyone involved is so counter-intuitive it hurts. The whole point of a story is so that its characters can learn a lesson and become wiser. By forcing them to forget the fact that the events ever occurred, the characters are deprived of any manner of growth, and learn no lesson. And if the characters don’t remember the lesson, then why should the audience, especially when the very next episode is just more battling?

Look at how cute that is! SO CUTE!!!

Of course, the movie does have its strong points as well. The art is superb as always, even going a step beyond the normal style of the animated series to throw in a few more fancy special effects than normal. One of the more common complaints I tend to hear is about the characters and their personalities or lack of common sense. I don’t honestly see any problem with the characters. One must remember that, despite the artistic style, the characters are very young, with Ash being only eleven years old. We’re talking the equivalent of a middle schooler here. That’s younger than my little sister, who still has trouble solving simple puzzles on videogames. To criticize a character this young for lack of intelligence or childishness behaviour is silly, and I would even argue that Ash is much smarter than many give him credit for, as he has a strong moral compass and occasional street-smarts; his dim-wittedness is only ever used as a comic gag and has no impact on the story rather than allow bad things to happen. I also happen to love the story of the movie, despite its contradictory message, merely for the fact that it shows the Pokémon as just as “human” as their trainers, not to mention the fact that the movie is actually referenced in the animated series before the movie was even created. Mewtwo becomes the vicious character he is as a direct result of the violence he was subjected to when he was created, and comes to the decision that all those around him – in other words, non-cloned people and Pokémon – are the reason evil exists. Even during the final battle, Ash’s Pikachu refuses to fight its clone counterpart, knowing that what they are doing is wrong, and allows itself to be pummeled by the clone until the clone literally starts crying because of the pointless struggle. If you didn’t cry during this movie, and during that scene in particular, you are a heartless person, because nothing is sadder than a crying Pokémon.

And hope that Mewtwo doesn't decide to come after you...

So, in retrospect, while the message of Pokémon: The First Movie is absolutely pointless in context, the positives far outweigh the negatives. The wonderful art, the believable characters, and the phenomenal, in-depth storyline does truly make this a movie that can stand the test of time. It is with fondness that I remember the days of 151 Pokémon, and this movie that captured my attention for a little over an hour. The more recent movies still hold the same charm, but also seem to have lost something along the way. It may just be the rose-tinted lenses of nostalgia obscuring my vision, but Pokémon: The First Movie will always have a space in my movie library.

Next Week: Fiddler on the Roof

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