I watched the new Pokémon movie

Believe it or not, the Pokémon franchise is old enough to drink in all 50 States. 21 years is a pretty long time! The Pokémon anime has been on the air for 20 of those years, and is still going strong, which is a pretty impressive feat. Maybe even more impressive is that there has also been a Pokémon movie for every year since then. That’s twenty Pokémon movies! The only one of them that I’ve ever seen up until now was the very first one. In a theatre, to boot.

Creating a nice opposite bookend, my brother and I went to see Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! last weekend three weekends ago. It’s a special movie that was made to celebrate Pokémon’s 20th anniversary (which was last year…), and is partially a retelling of the anime storyline. I say partially because it goes wildly off-course after the first fifteen minutes and I have no idea if the movies/show will continue in this timeline or the original one. Though it really doesn’t matter to me, because I don’t follow this series at all.

Despite a couple misgivings, I really enjoyed this movie! We go through the classic rigmarole of Ash partnering with an unruly Pikachu as his starter and heading off on his grand Pokémon adventure, to be the very best like no-one ever was. Only this time, after the Spearow attack, it does the theme song and then jumps forward in time to Ash besting Erika (to get his third badge? Sequence break much?), after which the plot moves on to telling its own original tale, placed in some undefined wilderness.

Ostensibly, the bulk of the film takes place in the Johto region, because we see all three legendary beasts (though Raikou is just mashed in there for no reason), and Ho-oh is one of the headlining monsters of the film. But we only ever see wild Pokémon from Kanto, Ash’s new friends both hail from Sinnoh, and the villain uses monsters from Alola. Oh, and also Marshadow plays a very big and unexpected role in the story. So there’s a pretty wide spread of Pokémon history on display here! As a long-lapsed viewer of the anime series, it’s really cool to see such a varied bunch of Pokémon on the big screen.

There were really only two things that I disliked about the movie. Firstly -and it’s a small issue- is that Team Rocket is just poorly shoehorned in. All they do is spout corny dialogue and get blasted off again several times. They don’t do their notorious motto thing. They never interact with Ash or his friends even once. You could have cut them out entirely and literally nothing would be lost.

Secondly, more importantly, and very spoilery, is that the climax has Ash dying and being resurrected. Not totally unlike in the very first Pokémon movie. I don’t know if they’ve played that card again in any of the eighteen films in between, but it seemed cheap and didn’t provide any dramatic tension because you know that they wouldn’t dare to actually kill him. They couldn’t. Although I would kind of like to see the realistic take on how being killed by horde of wild animals and brought back to life by the Pokémon equivalent of a phoenix would affect a ten-year-old. I can’t imagine that Ash would really come out the other side quite as “rambunctious and big-hearted” as he was prior to his death.

There’s a tradition in Pokémon movies that each one starts with a Pikachu-focused short. Just like how Pixar puts unrelated short films before the main attraction. I Choose You! broke heavily from that mold, though. Before the movie, we were treated to the first three Pokémon Generations shorts (watch them all on YouTube), which was neat, but seemed a little out of place. Interspersed between those were seconds-long animated skits featuring the Alola starters. Finally, there was a huge compilation of scenes from all previous Pokémon movies that played along to a remix of the show’s theme. That was the coolest part of all, as they synced up the footage to the music incredibly well. I am genuinely upset that this isn’t available to watch online anywhere.

Pokémon movies don’t get wide theatrical releases outside of Japan any more, in fact I’m pretty sure that after the first three they were all direct-to-DVD affairs. So it’s all the more special that I Choose You! was given even a limited run in theatres. It was already surprising that they opted to show it here, and even more surprising that the theatre was nearly packed. I didn’t think that Pokémon would draw in that kind of crowd, but I couldn’t be happier to have been wrong! The crowd was nice and diverse, too; a blend of older Pokémon fans (like myself) and parents with their young children. And I’m very curious of how many of said parents were existing pokéfans and how many were there just because their kids wanted to see the movie.

Speaking of the crowd, there was a very young child sitting behind me who was not shy about cheering every time she saw a Pokémon that she liked. Normally I’m very annoyed by both children and people who talk in movies, but it genuinely warmed my cold heart to hear this small child be so overwhelmingly excited by Pokémon. I think I smiled every time she shouted something out instead of rolling my eyes and wishing she’d be quiet. Man, she was so thrilled the first time Incineroar came on-screen that I almost wanted to turn around, high-five her, and congratulate the parent/s for having such an awesome kid. It was one of those increasingly rare moments that makes me consider that having children might not be the absolute worst thing.

I would do the whole “in conclusion…” spiel here, but I already stated very definitively that I enjoyed Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! and obviously I’m gonna recommend it. While there were a couple eye-rollingly bad lines and some questionable inclusions, overall I think it was a solid film. And obviously, it was a real treat to see such a diverse range of Pokémon so beautifully animated on the big screen. It’s just a shame that Lucario didn’t get to do a little more. He really took a backseat to the much cuter and squeakier Piplup. Oh well!

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