Pokemon the Movie: The Power of Us (2018) Review
THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP
In 2017, the Japanese anime film Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! was released, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the popular “pocket monster” franchise. The movie, which was directed by Pokémon movie director veteran / anime director Kunihiko Yuyama followed the adventures of young Pokémon trainer Ash Ketchum, Pikachu (Ash’s first Pokémon), and the adventures they have and share together; meeting new friends, enemies, and learning about the legend of legendary Pokémon Ho-Oh. I Choose You! is the first of new line of Pokémon movies, setting up an alternative continuity timeline to the main series and acts as a very loose retelling of the original Kanto League (Indigo League) saga of the series / show. The movie was released in Japan during the summer of 2017 and (partnering up with The Pokémon Company International and Fathom Events) received a limited theatrical special engagement screening across the US in November 2017 as well as be released in other international territories (UK, Australia, and France) following the US release. The film was met with mixed reviews from critics and fans / moviegoers, with many torn about the idea of the feature’s setting placed outside the already established Pokémon TV series timeline, while other praise the film’s nostalgia of the classic Generation I Pokémon (of which populate majority of the film). In the end, I Choose You! was able to profit from its theatrical release, making $38 million at the box office worldwide. Now, a year later, OLM / Wit Studio and director Tetuso Yajima present the next chapter in the super popular Japanese anime franchise with the movie Pokémon the Movie: The Power of Us. Does this Pokémon movie find its stride or does it fail to find a “connection” in the popular franchise?
Pokémon trainer Ash Ketchum (Sarah Natochenny) and his faithful Pokémon Pikachu travel to Fula city, arriving just in time for their city’s annual Wind Festival, a joyous celebration when the legendary Pokémon Lugia renews the wind power for the city. From Lugia’s gift, Fula City uses the wind to run the entire city for the whole year. During the fanfare days of the festival, Ash and Pikachu meet five people: Lisa (Haven Paschall ), a young teenager high school girl who ventured to Fula City to catch a Pokémon for her hospitalized brother, Margo (Erica Schroeder), the daughter of Fula City’s mayor (as well as sneaking off to the forest beyond the city limits), Toren (Eddy Lee) a shy and timid research Pokémon scientist who can’t find the courage within himself, Callahan (Billy Bob Thompson), a boisterous man who spins “tall tales” to impress his sickly niece Kelly (Laurie Hymes), and Harriet (Kathryn Cahill), an anti-social old woman who hates Pokémon. Everyone has a chance encounter with Ash and Pikachu during a series of accidents and sabotages (mostly due to the nefarious deeds of Team Rocket) that threatens to disrupt the festival and possibly Lugia’s annual gift of renewing the city’s wind. Thus, it falls to Ash, Pikachu, and their new friends to find the courage to come together to save Fula City and discover the true meaning of “Pokémon Power”.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
What can I say, I’m grew up with Pokémon and, despite my age, I’m still fan of the franchise. Yes, I know it’s a nerd thing, but I am proud of it. I wasn’t too much into the card games (I was a little when it first came out in the US, but not a die-hard fan of it), but I did love the video games for Pokémon (and still do) as well as the cartoon TV show and the various feature movies that have come out. Of course, being an older fan, I love the first couple seasons of the Pokémon animated show / movies that featured the classic Generation I and II type of Pokémon (i.e. from Bulbasaur to Lugia). Thus, despite my age, the Pokémon franchise is one of those things that I’ll never grow old in watching, playing, and overall appreciating. That is why I was intrigued to see Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!, which (like I said above) was to be a celebratory endeavor for the franchise’s 20th anniversary, took the series back to its roots and told the tale of how Ash Ketchum and Pikachu first met underneath a new narrative guise. Being a fan of the first season of the cartoon show, I kind of love / hated this movie, for I loved seeing a lot of the Generation I Pokémon throughout the movie, but was also a little bit disappointed as the movie sort takes a alternative take on the already established setting (i.e. cutting out Brock and Misty) and becoming more of a “greatest hits” of the Indigo League / Kanto region from the first season of the cartoon show. Still, In the end, while the movie did have its fair share of nitpicks and criticisms, Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! Is a nice 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 bond of friendship with his first Pokémon.
Of course, this brings me back around to talking about Pokémon the Movie: The Power of Us, the latest Pokémon in the long-running franchise. Given how I Choose You! played out and somewhat act as a somewhat anthology piece to the series, I was expecting for the 21st feature film of Pokémon to return to the “status quo” of these movie endeavors, seeing Ash and Pikachu on a journey somewhere in the Alola region (i.e. Pokémon Sun and Moon) and face some type of all-powerful legendary Pokémon. Interestingly, the pre-release internet buzz about this movie pointed out that The Power of Us would continue along the lines of I Choose You! (existing in a continuity separate from the TV show), which peaked my interest in seeing the movie. I did see the US trailer for the movie (via YouTube) a few times and seemed very much like a Pokémon movie (Ash and Pikachu, new characters, a new threat, a legend of a legendary Pokémon, etc.), so, giving its premise, it looked to be something we’ve familiar for a Pokémon movie. I had heard that The Pokémon Company International and Fathom Events were going to be holding a very special limited engagement screening for The Power of Us, so I decided to check it out on a Saturday afternoon at my local movie theaters (the movie theater was packed with die-hard fans…with most being around my age). So…. what did I think of the movie? Well, like I Choose You!, Pokémon the Movie: The Power of Us is a mixture of good and bad, promising colorful characters and sweet story of friendship amongst humans and Pokémon, but lacks the gravitas and grandeur of its predecessors. They’re plenty to like about it, but is need more “oomph” to its entirety.
While Kunihiko Yuyama directed literally all of the Pokémon movies that I have come out (from Pokémon: The First Movie to Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!), he does not return to the director’s chair to helm The Power of Us. Instead that duty is passed onto Tetuso Yajima, who has previously worked on several of the Pokémon TV episodes (as a director) and was an assistant director for I Choose You!. Thus, Yajima is well-versed in all things Pokémon and seems like a suit replacement director for Yuyama. To his credit, Yajima accomplishes a lot in handling in his first solo directorial Pokémon movie, navigating through several common nuances that usually accompany a Pokémon installment (involving some large problem that affects a lot of individuals), but keeps its own identity throughout. In truth, Yajima makes The Power of Us a more “intimate” Pokémon movie than a lot of others, with the film focusing more on characters rather than the plot. Rest assure…there is a plot in the movie, but it takes more of a backseat, with the movie presenting a tale of various humans (each one having their own personal journey) and how they all come together; tied together with series characters Ash Ketchum and Pikachu. Of course, another highlight of the feature (like a lot of the movies in the franchise) are the variety of Pokémon that are in the movie. Being a fan since the beginning, I love to see the classic Pokémon and The Power of Us does have several to keep me satisfied in seeing all of them again. All in all, I think that Yajima does a fairly good job in crafting The Power of Us, which (like a lot of Pokémon feature films) is a self-contained narrative from this new alternative timeline and easily accessible from veterans and newcomer to the series. Does this mean that all the future movies would be outside the already established Pokémon universe from the TV show? It might be a possibly, but it’s hard to say. Though I do kind of sort of like how this new “alternative” timeline, I do hope that they one day return to making the more “traditional” Pokémon movies from already established TV series continuity.
Additionally, the film’s script, which was penned by Aya Takaha and Eiji Umehara, also speaks to the inherit nature of the Pokémon franchise; showcasing the power of friendship between humans and Pokémon and the bonds of working together. Upon further examination, what’s even more important is the bond of between the relationship between Pokémon and its trainer (something that has been spoken on throughout the entire cartoon series) as well as the power of making indifference, despite a person’s limitations. It’s a fundamental theme to talk about and something that all can appreciate (regardless of age). All in all, while there are some problematic elements that I had with the movie’s story (more on that below), The Power of Us’s narrative is still a sweet and kind-hearted tale that feels very much like a Pokémon adventure.
Much like I Choose You!, The Power of Us’s overall animation looks beautiful and displays some of the animation of a Pokémon adventure to date. Of course, it’s not as super crisp and glossy-looking like many of the big Hollywood studios animated features (i.e. Disney, Pixar, or Illumination Entertainment), but the more “updated” styles of animation look great in the movie. There are a few moments where the animation is a little bit “bland” (mostly facial expressions of characters in faraway shots), but the animation is rather good and dynamic to create some great-looking shots, even if it’s a Japanese anime movie. It’s quite interesting to see how much the animation of Pokémon TV series has evolved from the early days of the show or even from the animation of Pokémon: The First Movie…in a good way. Also, the Pokémon movies, which usually feature CGI effects, can be a bit jarring here and there (the clash between CGI and hand-drawn animation) and does do that a few times in The Power of Us, but the overall look and feel of the movie far outweighs that particular criticism remark. Plus, I do have mention the movie’s musical score by Shinji Miyazaki, who has composed a movie score for literally all the Pokémon movies to date, produces another solid score that pleasing to hear throughout The Power of Us.
Problems do arise within The Power of Us, making the film fumble in it undertaking through the story it wants to tell. Part of the greater problems that the movie faces is within its own narrative. Much like a lot of the other Pokémon movies out there (even including I Choose You!), the story premise usually features a much “larger” narrative that usually involves Ash (and whoever is traveling with him at the time) get caught up a in a struggle of power with other individuals and a legendary Pokémon. It’s a tried and true method for almost all the Pokémon movies that have proceed beforehand and have ultimately worked, showcasing some of the biggest and powerfullest legendary Pokémon from each subsequent generation roster of the franchise. Unfortunately, with more focuses on the variety of characters in the movie, The Power of Us lacks the overall epic gravitas that many of the other Pokémon movies achieved. Yes, there are two legendary Pokémon in the movie (i.e. Lugia and Zeraora), but they do seem a bit more underutilized in the feature, especially Lugia who just makes a, more or less, “cameo” appearance in the film. I understand that these new “alternative” timeline Pokémon movies are trying to be slightly different from what’s been done before, but I would’ve liked to seeing a bit more “wowed”.
Additionally, the movie’s narrative is a bit on the weak side, especially after I Choose You!. I’m not saying that the narrative being told in The Power of Us is good (as it’s quite poignant and meaningful), but the story seems a bit skimpy. In truth, the movie feels more along the lines of an extended four-part episode story arc from the TV series (or even a TV special) rather than a feature film. The simple mission to “save the city” problem has been done many times over in various media outlets and mediums and kind of sort of feels like a narrative conflict problem from Saturday morning cartoons of old. To me, the Pokémon movies have evolved with each subsequent release, providing deeper and sometimes more sophisticated stories for these particular animated features. The Power of Us kind of feels like a “step back” to a more “simplistic” nature akin to the TV show. Also, it doesn’t help that The Power of Us feels long, with the film’s runtime of 105 minutes (one hour and 45 minutes), making it one of the longest Pokémon movies to date. Naturally, the film’s length is due to the many narrative threads to setup for the various characters in the movie. However, this makes the first half of the movie feel laxed and a bit tedious. It’s not until nearly 40 minutes into the movie where the actual plot of the feature takes center stage, which makes for a somewhat sluggish opening first act.
Also (and I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing), I find it kind of odd that this movie is called “The Power of Us”. Naturally, not for the obvious reason (the idea of people coming together to conquer a common goal / problem), but mainly because its run the parallel opposite to the second Pokémon movie (i.e. Pokémon 2000) with the main movie titled named “The Power of One”, which (like this particular film) also featured the legendary Pokémon Lugia. Again, I don’t know if it’s a positive or negative remark…more along the lines of something a bit perplexing.
The overall English voiceover work in The Power of Us is pretty good as the English voiceover dubbing from the original Japanese language has never been exactly 100% percent accurate; a somewhat long-standing debate amongst original Japanese versions versus English Dubs). That being said, the movie’s English voice talents (collectively) are good and get the job done in bringing these characters to life, especially with majority of their respective backgrounds coming from previous voiceover work for English Dubs for anime. Sarah Natochenny (Robin Hood: Mischief in Sherwood and Super 4) returns to her post to provide the voice for the Pokémon series main protagonist character Ash Ketchum. Much like what I said in my I Choose You! review, while Natochenny voice is solid enough in carrying Ash’s vocal work throughout the feature (through lighthearted dialogue moments and dramatic parts), I still continue to prefer hearing Veronica Taylor, who was the original voice for Ash Ketchum. The same can be said about the infamous 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 the Pokémon anime series (both in the cartoon TV series and the movies) for quite some time, but I still prefer the original voice talents of Rachael Lills (Jesse), Eric Stuart (James), and Madeleine Blaustein (Mewoth). Still, I do like the fact that the Team Rocket trio have a little bit more to do in The Power of Us versus their small cameo-like appearance in I Choose You!.
The Power of Us does boast a lot of supporting characters that populate the movie, with the voiceover work for them providing good work. This includes Haven Paschall (World of Winx and Shrek the Musical) as high school student and former track runner Lisa, Eddy Lee (Mobile Suit Gundam Seed and Lastman) as the timid and self-depreciating research scientist Toren, Erica Schroeder (Regal Academy and Lastman) as Mayor Oliver’s daughter Margo, Marc Thompson (Regal Academy and Robin Hood: Mischief in Sherwood) as Margo’s father Mayor Oliver, Laurie Hymes (Regal Academy and Alisa Knows What to Do!) as the quizzically young girl Kelly, Billy Bob Thompson (Regal Academy and Blast) as Kelly’s tall tale uncle Cahallan, and Kathryn Cahill (Regal Academy and Winx Club) as the anti-social elderly woman Harriet. These characters are not merely side-characters in the movie, but rather have large supporting roles in the feature, with most (if not all) have their own personal narrative paths to follow (rather than just simply bolstering Ash’s party group like in other Pokémon movies) throughout The Power of Us. Also, like I said above, it also helps all of these actors / actresses are veteran of doing voicework for anime project (majority do provide additional voicework for the Pokémon TV series). Lastly, once again it’s still pretty cool to hear Rodger Parson’s voice as the “narrator” that bookends the feature.
Ash Ketchum, Pikachu, and several colorful characters band together to save Fula City from disaster (and learn more about themselves in the process) in the movie Pokémon the Movie: The Power of Us. Director Tetuso Yajima latest film sees the continuation of the new cinematic “timeline” in the Poke-verse, spinning a new tale for series protagonist Ash and Pikachu explore and experience. While the movie doesn’t quite measure up to what’s come before from the previous Pokémon movies (as well as having a few pacing / narrative problems), it still provides plenty to like about it, especially all the various classic Pokémon, the cast of characters (and the voice talents behind them), and the meaning behind friendship / working together, which is relevant to everyone. Personally, I thought that the movie was okay. I did find the story to be sweet, charming, and full of colorful characters, but the movie just simply lacked a strong and sophisticated narrative from what’s come before from a Pokémon movie. To be honest, I liked I Choose You! better than The Power of Us. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a “iffy-choice” as the large fanbase might be spilt on this movie (some like it, while others less so). It will be interesting to see if the next feature will be set in this “alternative” timeline world or will it return back to the already established Pokémon continuity. Still, regardless if it doesn’t or not, Pokémon the Movie: The Power of Us is still a lighthearted Poke filled adventure of friendship and “Pokémon Power” that speaks to the series moniker identity (i.e. the unbreakable bond between trainer and Pokémon).
3.3 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice)
Released On: November 24th, 2018
Reviewed On: December 22nd, 2018
Pokémon the Movie: The Power of Us is 97 minutes long and isn’t rated (at least by the MPAA), but I would say it’s rated PG for mild cartoon action.