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Warning: The following review of Pokemon: The First Movie does contain spoilers.
 

Pokemon: The First Movie is an Odd
Mixture of Good and Bad
by Joe Tracy, Publisher of Animation Artist Magazine

With a Pokemon craze sweeping the nation, theaters across the US showing Pokemon stand to get a lot of business.  The craze is so hot that an LA-based station, KTLA, found itself in a predicament when it offered free Pokemon tickets to the premiere for those who called the show. The station received 70,000 calls per minute, killing its voice mail system and shutting down communications at its neighbors – Disney and NBC!

Nothing is going to stop millions of kids from dragging their parents to see Pokemon. In fact, Warner Bros. insured this by offering exclusive bonus trading cards to those who purchase tickets. There are four cards and you get one with your purchase. I got Pikachu.

Reviewing Pokemon is almost a losing scenario as it will have no effect on the outcome. In fact, prior to seeing Pokemon when it opened on Wednesday, I had already read five straight negative reviews. The theater I viewed the show in – Arlington Theater, which looks like it seats 2,000 people, in Santa Barbara – was practically sold out. Kids outnumbered adults 10-1. They were everywhere, like a Pokemon reunion.

An animated short called Pikachu's Vacation preceded the showing of the Pokemon movie. The biggest question that I had was "why?" Not only was Pikachu's Vacation totally mindless and without a plot or story, but it was also annoying with transitions that seemed like they were brainwashing mechanisms. It seemed that a lot of people in the theater were annoyed with this animated short that also brought confusion because some people thought they were watching the Pokemon movie and when it ended – after about 20 very long and agonizing minutes – there was loud rumblings of disappointment from kids (and adults) in the audience who thought they had just seen Pokemon: The First Movie!   Pikachu's Vacation does effectively lower your expectations for the main event, but luckily the main event – Pokemon: The First Movie – is much better at its delivery. Perhaps this is due to Pikachu's Vacation being so disappointing that the Pokemon feature can be nothing else but good.

Pokemon: The First Movie
I went into Pokemon: The First Movie with very low expectations. Having read several reviews prior to my viewing, I was prepared for a movie that completely excluded adults and just threw out a mindless story (like Pikachu's Vacation). Luckily, Pokemon: The First Movie exceeded my expectations, although it was still weak in many areas (particularly the "chicken exit" ending).

The Story
Pokemon: The First Movie is about a new super-Pokemon, Mewtwo, that is created by humans only to escape his captors with plans of destroying the world. Ash and his adorable sidekick, Pikachu, set off on an adventure, with friends and other Pokemon, to stop Mewtwo and save the world.

The Good
- The development of Mewtwo as a villain was actually quite good for the first three-fourths of the film (until the movie flushes his motivations down the toilet).

- Some of the mysteries and twists were well developed. This includes the entire sequence of top Pokemon trainers (like Ash and friends) making their way to a mysterious castle, surrounded by a horrendous storm, to unlock a mystery.

- The card you get when purchasing your movie ticket actually adds a fun element to the whole experience. I got a Pikachu card, which makes a nice little keepsake. It is definitely a clever marketing method on Warner Bros. part, which also allows them to push The Iron Giant (a much better movie) through the inclusion of an promotional card for The Iron Giant that is included with your Pokemon card.

- Pikachu is a really cute character that you can't help but like and sympathize with. The little creature also has a unique noise it makes, before giving off a blast of energy, that is quite humorous as it does it over and over.

The Average
- The anime quality of Pokemon: The First Movie is average at best. Graphically, it doesn't even begin to compare with other anime films like Princess Mononoke. Yet, for kids, it does the job.

The Bad
Here are the main problems I had with Pokemon: The First Movie:

- The main message of the movie is that people should not fight, yet nearly the entire movie that's all you see – Pokemon characters fighting! It is also a central theme of the TV shows that I doubt will ever change. There will no doubt be a sequel to this movie and I'm willing to bet that the central theme will once again be fighting. To me, this message was hypocritical.

- Mewtwo has built a machine that clones Pokemon characters. In one scene, Pikachu goes into the machine, but is rescued by its trainer (Ash), and in the process the machine malfunctions. Yet, somehow a cloned Pikachu shows up in the film 10 minutes later. Since the original Pikachu never was cloned, the second Pikachu shouldn't exist. This was a pretty blatant oversight.

- Basically the whole movie is a waste of time because all of the characters memories are erased at the end. This is a classic "chicken exit" because the writers and producers didn't know how to give the movie a proper ending. Also, if Mewtwo has the power to erase memories, then why doesn't he just cast a zombie spell on the world? Giving Mewtwo ridiculous powers like that was a mistake on the part of the team that created Pokemon: The First Movie.

The Horrible
The worse part about the entire Pokemon experience is having to sit through Pikachu's Vacation. In my opinion, Warner Bros. was very naοve to include this anime short prior to the Pokemon movie. First, kids didn't seem to enjoy it that much (at the showing I went to) and second, it takes away a lot of money from Warner Bros. Had Warner Bros. eliminated this mindless piece, theaters could have added an extra showing of Pokemon to each screen because of the saved time. This would have resulted in over 2,900 more showings a day, adding millions of more dollars to Warner Bros. vault. If you don't believe me, just look at the success Men in Black had from its very short running time and increased showings. Also, many kids thought that Pikachu's Vacation was the Pokemon movie and that created a lot of temporary upset kids (and adults).

Conclusion
Pokemon: The First Movie is going to easily break into the top 10 of many animation record categories, including Box Office income and one of the biggest openings for an animated film ever. You can attribute this to the clever marketing of Pokemon as a franchise. It is more than a movie – it is a trading card game and an experience. Every kid in the theater really thinks he/she is a real-life Pokemon trainer. They have the cards and they train hard as parental pocketbooks can confirm.

If you are an adult with no kids and no familiarity with what Pokemon are, then this is definitely a movie you want to avoid. If you are a parent with kids, you can't avoid this movie because "every kid in the world" wants to see it.  Once you make it through the disastrous Pikachu's Vacation, you might actually garnish some enjoyment from the main movie. Kids will love it. I thought it was simply OK. Most critics hate it. Yet no opinion will stop it from becoming a blockbuster within the first month of its release. After all, it is written in the cards.

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