Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! (2017) Review
I CHOOSE POKEMON NOSTALGIA
Back in 1997, the Japanese anime series of Pokémon (i.e. Pocket Monster), introducing viewers to a colorful episodic adventure within a cartoon world of the vast and diverse range of these Pokémon creatures and beings. In a nutshell, the original TV show followed the series main protagonist character of Ash Ketchum, along with Pikachu (his faithful Pokémon) and his traveling companions Brock and Misty, as they ventured across the Kanto region, encountering various Pokémon, battling gym leaders, and thwarting the troublemaking attempts of Team Rocket (Jesse, James, and their Pokémon Mewoth) as Ash inches closer to becoming a “Pokémon Master”. The original season, which would later be known as Pokémon: Indigo League, originally aired in Japan in 1997 and crossed the ocean to the US in 1998. As the Pokémon popularity grew for the brand (trading cards, feature animated movies, video games, toys, apparel, and other merchandise), the Pokémon anime cartoon continued to further evolve and expand the animated of Ash and Pikachu, with the pair venturing off to new lands (i.e. Orange Islands, Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh, Unova, Kalos, and now currently in Alola), making new friends (Ash’s traveling companions usually changed out within each season or two), discovering a new array of unique Pokémon, battling trainers / gym leaders within the various different regions, and usually deposing of some evil organization along the way. The has followed a formula, but it was worked and the anime’s fanbase continues to expand. Likewise, the Pokémon movies (animated feature length adventures) have continued to evolve as well with the anime series, usually showcasing Ash and company coming across rare / legendary Pokémon with whatever region that they are in. Now, in celebrating 20th anniversary of Pokémon, OLM, Inc. (Orient Light and Magic) and director Kunihiko Yuyama goes back to where it all began with the film Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!. Does this newest animated feature pay homage to franchise’s beginnings or is it a recycled “greatest hits” from the original Indigo League season of Pokémon?
Have the desire to become a Pokémon master, Ash Ketchum (Sarah Natochenny) excitedly waits for the day when gets his first starter Pokémon (Bulbasaur, Squirtle, or Charmander) and leave his home of Pallet Town to journey into the wide world of catching Pokémon and battling other trainers across the land. However, on the big day, Ash oversleeps and arrives late to Professor Oak’s (James Carter Cathcart) lab where three other newbie Pokémon trainers have already chosen the three starter Pokémon selected. Professor Oak reveals that he has one more Pokémon, an electrical type named Pikachu. Despite its volatile and feisty personality (as well as refusing to get into its Pokeball), Ash gleefully accepts Pikachu as his first starter Pokémon and so begins their journey together. After an initial encounter (a run in with a few Sparrows), Ash and Pikachu share a close-knit friendship between Trainer and Pokémon, battling against other Pokémon in the wild, other trainers for fun, and proving their worth in gym battles. Within time, rumors began to surface of the legendary Pokémon Ho-Oh and the tale that surrounds the fabled “Rainbow Hero”, who is destined to find and to battle against the Ho-Oh. Marked by a chance encounter with legendary bird-type Pokémon, Ash, Pikachu, and accompanied by the wise Sorrel (David Oliver Nelson) and the energetic Verity (Suzy Meyers), set out to find the location of Ho-Oh, testing their courage through a series of encounters, including Cross (Ryôta Ôsaka), an arrogant hothead Pokémon trainer, and the shadowy and beguiling ways of the Pokémon named Marshadow; testing to see if Ash is worthy of being the “Rainbow Hero” and summoning the majestic bird.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Come on, guys, you all know the words by heart, so sing it with me…” I wanna be the very best, like no one ever was. To catch them is my real test, to train them is my cause. I will travel across the land, searching far and wide. Each Pokémon to understand the power that’s inside. Pokémon! (Gotta catch ’em all), it’s you and me. I know it’s my destiny. Pokémon, oh, you’re my best friend in a world we must defend. Pokémon! (Gotta catch ’em all), a heart so true. Our Courage will pull us through. You teach me and I’ll teach you. Pokémon! (Gotta catch ’em all) …Gotta catch ’em all!” Come on, I know you guys remember all those words and I bet you loved sing it. Like many of my generation age (I think generation X or Y), I grew up watching the anime TV series Pokémon, especially when the original series first came out in the US. Ash’s episodic adventure (with Misty and Brock) through the Indigo League was stuff of my late middle school pre-teen years, which was filled with nostalgia for the show as well as playing the original Pokémon Red video game for the Gameboy (I eventually got Pokémon Yellow). Then came to the feature films, like Pokémon: The First Movie, Pokémon 2000, and Pokémon: The 3rd Movie, which were awesome to see, especially Pokémon: The First Movie (aka Mewtwo Strikes Back). After that, I think was when the anime series became to enter the Johto League storyline, I stopped watching Pokémon as I began to lose interest with pocket monsters and everything about them. However, it wasn’t until a few years back that I became slightly more interested in Pokémon (as a brand), with several of the video games for the Nintendo DS (and later the 3DS). I still didn’t have the anime series, which is like on its 19th or 20th season, but I’ve been trying to catch up on some of feature length movie releases (I just finished watching Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction) as well as catching up on a few fan-favorite episodes from the Indigo League season. So, in short, though I’ve grown older, Pokémon (the anime TV show, the movies, the video games, and even the trading cards), like Transformers and Power Rangers, is something that was important to me growing up, and I love to reminisce about and getting caught up in Poké-nostalgia.
This, of course, brings me my current review for Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!, which is the 20th Pokémon feature length movie and (like I said above) is being released in celebration of the Pokémon anime’s 20th anniversary. I remember hearing some news about this movie (via online) that it was going to be released in theaters for a special limited engagement in November. Given my Pokémon resurgence and nostalgia, I was definitely looking forward to seeing this movie and (luckily) my local theater where I usually go to was showing this special screening for the film. Thus, I decided to purchase a ticket and the theater (surprisingly) was completely full and was about 96% of the theater’s viewers were roughly around my age (late 20s to early 30s). I guess Pokémon nostalgia still lives within my generation. So, what did I think of this movie? Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! has plenty of nostalgia to fill every Pokémon fan out there and the central theme focus of Ash’s bond with Pikachu, but works less in its reworking of Ash’s beginning adventure and its attempt to fit the legend of Ho-Oh within its context.
I Choose You!, which is a reference to the very first episode “Pokémon, I Choose You”, is directed by Kunihiko Yuyama, who served as director for many of the anime’s episodes as well as directing virtually all the Pokémon movies. Thus, it would make sense that for Yuyama to direct 20th Pokémon film for the anime series 20th anniversary. Rather than creating another standard Pokémon feature film for the newest Generation (Sun & Moon), I Choose You is loosely retelling of Ash’s humble beginnings as a Pokémon Trainer in the Kanto region. Although, most fans of the anime are well-versed in this story, Yuyama makes I Choose You! feels somewhat different, presenting this tale in a somewhat alternative version to how the anime cartoon presented the material. Thus, the movie is like a homage celebration of what came before (familiar), but weaves it altogether in a new light, which keeps the narrative slightly different and fresher. However, one aspect that doesn’t change (and that’s good thing) is the central friendship theme between Ash and Pikachu. The pair have bonded together for almost 800 episodes and nineteen feature length films and I Choose You! re-states the idea of having the unbreakable bond between Trainer and Pokémon. On that front, the movie soars high. Also, I Choose You also makes the debut for the legendary Pokémon Ho-Oh (a mythical bird-type Generation II Pokémon). Interestingly, while all the other movies, which usually features legendary Pokémon, feel pretty much the same and loose the magnificence in legendary Pokémon from being “legendary”, Yuyama does a great job in making I Choose You! feel that impressionable task of these revered creatures. So, the appearance of Ho-Oh feel grand and mysterious, despite being a vital importance in the narrative’s story. The same can be said for the three Generation II “Legendary Beasts” Pokémon (Entei, Suicune, and Raikou), who are featured in the movie, but are, more or less, revered in how elusive and powerful they are.
As for the film’s animation, it looks beautiful. Yes, it’s not as pretty and glossy-looking like any big Hollywood studio animated features (i.e. Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, etc.), but a Pokémon movie never looked as sharp and pretty as this one. The overall animation is slick and dynamic, while the camera movies in some unique / creative ways, especially in certain chase scenes and dynamic battles. To see some of these Pokémon renders in this updated animation (in comparison to the early Pokémon episodes or even Pokémon: The First Movie) is definitely awesome to see. Also, the Pokémon movies, which usually utilizes a CGI effects, can be a bit jarring here and there in I Choose You!, but the overall look and feel of the movie far outweighs that criticism. Of course, longtime fans of the anime will love to hear the original Pokémon opening theme song at the beginning of I Choose You!. I think everyone in my theater was either humming the song and / or singing the words out loud. So much nostalgia with just that song!
Perhaps some of the best moments in I Choose You! as to be the large roster of Generation I Pokémon that are scattered throughout the movie. For those who don’t know, Generation I Pokémon were the original 151 Pokémon (i.e. from Bulbasaur to Mew) that were showing throughout the Indigo League season as well as the original Game Boy Pokémon video games. Being a fan Generation I Pokémon, I felt I Choose You! was full of nostalgia from early days of watching Pokémon as well as playing the video games. Just to see a Venusaur or a Blastoise or even a Diglett or a Lapras again felt enjoyable and filled me with fond memories of when I first watched the anime cartoon series. In truth, some of my personal favorite moments of the movie had to be the more cameo moments when Pokémon appeared like in one scene where Pikachu is making faces at a Ivysaur or in another when a Staryu and a Starmie jump suddenly out of the water.
That’s not to say that I Choose You! only caters to the Generation I Pokémon as the movie also features a handful of other Pokémon from different Generations groupings. Naturally, several of the legendary Generation II Pokémon show up (as mentioned above), but few ones here and there, including brief appearances from ones that are part of the Generation VI (X & Y) as well as Generation VII (Sun & Moon). It is a bit odd to see some of these different Generation Pokémon battle and interact with each other, especially since the movie takes place in the Kanto region (the Indigo League) like Chameleon (Generation I) battling against Incineroar (a Generation VII) or Entei (Generation II) battling against a Piplup (Generation IV), but you eventually get used to it and start appreciation the Pokémon nostalgia all over again. Also, during the film’s ending credits, images of all Ash’s other traveling companions (prior to Sun & Moon) are seeing. It’s kind of cool that Yuyama included them in this small part during the film’s credits as they are much part of the anime series as Ash and Pikachu are.
Unfortunately, I Choose You! does have it fair share of problems, which hinders the movie from reaching “Pokémon Master” greatness within its own anime franchise. One such reason is the fact that the movie tries to cram too much sub-plot material within its runtime of 98-minutes. As to be expected, the movie has familiar beats from the anime, including Pikachu’s initial attitude to Ash, the evolution of Caterpie to Butterfree (you know what happens with that), and the introduction of Charmander. So, essentially, I Choose You! “remixes” some of the big events from the early episodes the original Pokémon season, but doesn’t have that emotional / dramatic purpose that the show was able to achieve, which is mostly due to the movie’s strict runtime. In conjunction with this idea, I Choose You tries add in the mysterious tale of Ho-Oh, a legendary Pokémon, as well as the special bearer known as the “Rainbow Hero” who will summon the mythical bird. It’s an interesting concept, but feels rushed as the movie glosses over its legend behind Ho-Oh, including the creation of the three Generation II “Legendary Beasts”. This also extends the introduction of the elusive / shadowy Pokémon Marshadow, a Pokémon that’s part of the Generation VII Sun & Moon roster, who has a part to play in the Rainbow Hero’s journey, but is kind of a perplexing one that’s mostly a plot device figure rather than a supporting side character (even for a Pokémon character). Additionally, this also extends to the involvement of Team Rocket, the iconic troublemaking trio of Jesse, James, and Mewoth. Truth be told, they really don’t serve a purpose in I Choose You’s main narrative in anyway other than for side-comedic relief and / or Pokémon continuity reasons. Basically, Team Rocket could’ve been omitted from the movie and wouldn’t change the flow out it whatsoever.
Another negative reason found in I Choose You! was the replacement of Ash’s first traveling companions of Brock and Misty and replacing them with Verity and Sorrel (two completely new characters for the movie). Both the characters of Brock and Misty have become the most iconic ones of Ash’s traveling companions throughout the series of Pokémon (mostly due because they were the first) and their absence is really noticeable; one of the endearing factors of the original Kanto / Indigo League season. Which really begs the question on why remove them and add two new ones in their place. I guess that’s part of the “alternative” retelling effect that Yuyama wanted to achieve in I Choose You; a way to keeping things both fresh but familiar at the same time. As characters, both Verity and Sorrel are okay in their respective roles. The problem is that the movie is more focuses on the relationship of Ash and Pikachu and not so-much on these two new companions. Verity is spirted energetic character, but there’s not much to her beyond a few scenes about her past (i.e. her mother is Cynthia, the Sinnoh League Champion). Likewise, Sorrel is a bit more fleshed out as the more “knowledgeable” one of the trio and is given a more prominent (yet dark) flashback scene. However, Sorrel is, at the end of the feature, a bland character. Thus, the inclusion of Verity and Sorrel are a welcomed one, but really don’t leave a lasting impression.
While I do praise the movie for making the legendary Pokémon featured to be more mysterious and revered, I was expecting a bit more from their screen-time, most notably from Ho-Oh of which the movie kind of sort centers around. This also extends to a scene that I was expecting to see at the end of the movie that featured Ho-Oh. I was dying to see it, but the movie simply skips over it, which is disappointing and something that fans (myself included) were kind of expecting to see. As a side-note (and a minor nitpick), where is Ash’s Pokédex in I Choose You! as he basically knows everything without ever needing guidance or a reference. Lastly, there’s a piece towards the ending, which somewhat ripped from Pokémon: The First Movie (aka Mewtwo Strikes Back) as well as one really odd scene that’s touching and sweet, but also a bit cringeworthy.
The overall English voiceover work in I Choose You! is fine as the English dubbing from the original Japanese language has never been 100% percent accurate; a long-standing debate amongst anime fans (original Japanese versions versus English Dubs). That being said, the movie’s English voice talents (as a whole) get the job done in bringing these characters to life, especially with most of their background in providing voiceover work for English dubs of anime. Sarah Natochenny (Robin Hood: Mischief in Sherwood and Super 4) provides the voice for the Pokémon series protagonist character of Ash Ketchum. While Natochenny voice is solid enough in carry Ash’s vocal work through dramatic and lighthearted moments, I still prefer hearing Veronica Taylor, who was the original voice for Ash Ketchum. The same thing can be said about Team Rocket Trio, with James Carter Cathcart (Sonic X and Yu-Gi-Oh!) voicing James and Mewoth and Michele Knotz (TOME: Terrain of Magic Expertise and Queen’s Blade: Rebellion) voicing Jesse. I do know that both Cathcart and Knotz have been with Pokémon anime series (both in the cartoon series and the movies) for quite some time, but I still personally prefer the original voice talents of Rachael Lillis (Jesse), Eric Stuart (James), and Madeleine Blaustein (Mewoth). As a side-note, James Carter Cathcart also provides the voice work Professor Oak in I Choose You! as well. Additionally, Suzy Meyers (Winx Club and World of Winx) and David Oliver Nelson (in his first debut work) provide the voices for Ash’s new companions Verity and Sorrel, while Ryôta Ôsaka (Attack on Titan and Assassination Classroom) as the arrogant and proud Pokémon trainer Cross. Lastly, it was pretty cool to hear Rodger Parsons’s voice again as the “narrator” that bookends the feature.
Ash Ketchum begins his journey of catching Pokémon, making friends, facing challenges, and discovers the intangible bond between Pokémon and trainer in the film Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!. Director Kunihiko Yuyama newest feature of the long-run anime series presents an alternative retelling of Ash’s journey in become of a Pokémon master as well as introducing the legendary Generation II Pokémon Ho-Oh into a new storyline. While it does feels a bit crammed, a bit confusing at times, and does have a few questionable scenes, the movie is beautifully rendered its animation, the various Pokémon are cuter than ever, and entire movie is choke full of Poké-nostalgia from onset to conclusion. Personally, I thought it was a fairly good movie. It wasn’t the best Pokémon movie out there and it was a bit disjointed / condensed it some areas, but it was still an entertaining enough to hold my interest and filled my appetite for all things Pokémon. Thus, my recommendation would definitely be a “iffy-choice” as the large fan base will be spilt on this movie; debating the compressed narrative structure over reminiscing of classic Pokémon nuances from both the cartoon anime and of Generation I (and possibly Generation II) Pokémon creatures. However, since this is the 20th anniversary of anime and the 20th feature film to be released, Pokémon the Movie: I Choose! You is a nice anthology / homage feature to the overall series that began back in 1997, harkening back to the early days of a young boy’s journey (albeit slightly reimagined) and the unbreakable friendship bond with his first Pokémon. And, in that regard, the movie succeeds.
Also, a personal side note, Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You is my 300th movie review since I’ve started blogging (some I’ll be releasing on here from my old blog). A personal milestone for me and for Jason’s Movie Blog. Anyways…thank you to my readers, followers, and fellow bloggers. I couldn’t have done it without you!!!
3.4 Out of 5 (Iffy-Choice)
Japan Released On: July 15th, 2017
US Released On: November 5th, 2017
Reviewed On: November 13th, 2017
Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You is 98 minutes long and is not MPAA rated, but I would say its PG for cartoon fantasy action