Re-Views: Pokemon The Movie 2000

Reviewing children's movies is difficult for a couple reasons. For one thing, most movie critics are not children and therefore aren't the intended audience anyway. We can recall back to when we were children, and try to imagine whether the movie would have entertained us then, but that leads us to the second problem: little kids are entertained by everything.

Sure, this particular bit of kiddie fluff might amuse 5-year-olds. But you know what else would amuse 5-year-olds? A kaleidoscope. A video loop of a dog walking on its hind legs. Making a fort out of the couch cushions. You can generally assume that any movie made with the intention of delighting young children will more or less succeed at it. After seeing Cars 2, my 6-year-old niece said it was better than the first one "because it's Cars, but it's new!" You can't argue with that.

So for movie critics, the question isn't "Will kids like it?" (because the answer is always yes), but "Should you, their parents, take them to see it?" Is it quality kids' entertainment, or is it cheap crap that you can get for free on TV? Will it rot their brains? As the adult who has to sit through it with them, will you be able to endure the experience, or will it drive you crazy?

Pokemon The Movie 2000 was released in the United States on July 21, 2000, a full year after it had played in its native Japan. It was the second theatrical Pokemon film; the first had opened in the U.S. in November 1999. (I saw it and wrote a capsule review that sadly no longer exists, but it made my "worst of 1999" list.) If you weren't a big fan of the Pokemon TV series that had been airing in the U.S. since 1998, it was way too much Pokemon, way too fast.

What I said then: "Pokemon: The Movie 2000 is a shameless attempt to cash in on the Pokemon craze.... It's dull, sloppy, poorly dubbed and incomprehensible, and appears to have been animated by, well, no one. I'm guessing the animation department took the week off.... Of course, it wasn't meant to entertain me, or anyone else above the age of 8.... Let's face it, anything with bright, colorful objects that sort of move around is liable to entertain a 5-year-old.... This is not a movie 'for the whole family.' It's for little kids. Parents should avoid it, opting instead to stay in the car and stick their heads in the glove compartment for 90 minutes, as that will surely be a more tolerable experience for them than sitting through the movie. In fact, find something better to take your kids to, something you can enjoy with them.... But for the love of all that is holy, don't see Pokemon. We don't need to encourage this kind of cynical, soulless, assembly-line crap factory." Grade: F [my complete review]

Hoo boy! That was a scorcher. Though all memories of the previous Pokemon film have now been wiped from my memory, I have to assume I was still feeling bruised by it when I saw its follow-up, a mere nine months later. In the process of ridiculing it, I also vented my feelings about anime in general, which feelings were as follows: I don't like it. I called it "this characteristically crappy Japanese 'style' of animation in which nothing moves, which really stretches the definition of 'animation' for me, but I won't belabor that point."

This, coupled with my hatred of Pokemon The Movie 2000, earned me the wrath of some very devoted anime fans. They posted many angry comments on my website. They challenged me to watch other anime series, which I did. You can see the whole brouhaha archived here. (Bonus: You can see what my website looked like in 2000. I'm still convinced that shade of blue is quite lovely.)

Reflecting on it now, I wondered if some of my distaste for Pokemon back then was at least partly influenced by the backlash it was getting in American culture. Sometimes when we are in our 20s we have this tendency to automatically hate anything that tweens love, regardless of its actual quality. I wondered if I might have carried some of that baggage into the Pokemon movies with me. Now that I am old and mature and wise, perhaps I could enjoy the simple pleasures of this brightly colored children's adventure.

The re-viewing: Nope! Still terrible.

It begins with a 22-minute short called "Pikachu's Rescue Adventure," in which the title character and some of his fellow Pokemon either rescue or are rescued by someone or something. I honestly don't know what's really happening here. There is only one character who speaks actual words, a cat-like thing that Wikipedia tells me is named Meowth, and who talks with a Bronx, listen-to-this-wise-guy comedy accent. Super annoying. All the other Pokemon speak in a combination of gibberish and a repetition of their own names (which are also gibberish). This is also super annoying, but in a different way.

Then the feature begins. It's called "The Power of One," which sounds like a very inspiring title until you realize that the One being referred to probably isn't you. It's actually Ash Ketchum, a boy who's a Pokemon "trainer," i.e., he owns many Pokemon and makes them fight with other people's Pokemon. There is no discernible difference between this and cockfighting. Anyway, Ash might be the Chosen One who can prevent an evil man with no name from collecting three rare Pokemon and using them to control "the Beast of the Sea," which in turn would lead to catastrophic weather conditions. The Pokemon are aware that this is happening because, as we are told, "Pokemon are more in tune with nature than we are." We're also told, via song, "We all live in a Pokemon world," a very sobering thought indeed.

I stand by my original assertion that the animation is lousy. The art itself isn't bad, but the movement is choppy and repetitive, barely ahead of South Park. Whether it's a choice or a necessity, it looks cheap. Of course, that wouldn't matter if the story made up for it. No one watches South Park for the visuals. But the screenplay on this thing is barely coherent, filled with genuinely dumb writing and awful jokes, and a story that barely makes logical sense.

More surprising to me is how amateurish the voice acting is. Even when an animated film is poorly written, you can usually count on the actors to perform their terrible lines with flair. Not so in this case. There are line readings that are simply wrong, with the wrong words emphasized, or the delivery not matching the feelings being expressed, or the inflection screwed up. Were they performing this live? Did they only get one take? Or were they just trying to get it done as quickly as possible so they could ship it over here and make money from American Pokemon fans before the moment passed?

Do I still hate this movie? Quite so. On second viewing, I found it just about as garish, pointless, and irritating as before. I wouldn't let my kids watch this. I wouldn't even let YOUR kids watch this. I wouldn't even let kids I don't like watch this. Grade: F