[Welcome back to the Evolution of Video Game Movies series. Every week, I will be moving forward through time, starting with the earliest and ending with the most recent of video game movies. I will be detailing the histories of the games and how the films came about, and both my and fan reaction to the adaptations. Practically all of my background information is either common knowledge or from Wikipedia. So without further ado, let's move on to the next film on the list.]
(Bear with me on this one.)
Way back in 1965, a man named Satoshi Tajiri was born. As a child, he was a big fan of insect collecting--to the point all the other kids called him Dr. Bug and he almost became an entomologist. As a teenager, though, his interests shifted to video games, primarily arcade games. And at the age of 17, he began to write and produce a fan magazine (wherein it was hand-written and stapled together) called Game Freak.
One day, a man named Ken Sugimori saw this magazine in a store and decided to get a little more involved. But as more people became involved, they began to notice games were lacking in quality (as I stated earlier on in this series). Tajiri wanted to make his own game. Taking the magazine title, he created the Game Freak video game company in 1989. And after the Nintendo Game Boy came out, Tajiri got an idea. This idea took his childhood love of insect collecting to a new level. This game was called Pocket Monsters... or Pokemon. And because Tajiri had actually helped work on another hit, The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo considered this new idea of his.
However, Game Freak almost went bankrupt trying to create the first couple games--the Red and Green versions. The games took six years to produce, with Ken Sugimori drawing the original 151, and they had to invest in another company--Creatures Inc.--in order to survive. But by the time the games were released, most media felt the Game Boy was a dying system and didn't pay Pokemon much attention. The games were not expected to do well whatsoever.
But then something interesting happened. Rumors ran rampant about a secret Pokemon named Mew which could be collected by exploiting programming errors in the game, which in turn increased interest. Funnily enough, Tajiri included Mew to promote trading and interaction, but the company itself had not known of the creature's existence. And as the games became a success, the slowly failing Nintendo company began to once again succeed. With the success of the games, the next version was developed--Pokemon Blue. And when the game was translated to come overseas in 1998, Blue was split into what Americans know as the original Red and Blue versions, with the Japanese Red and Green having never left Japan.
The concept of the game is simple: You are a Pokemon trainer on your first day, but you wake up late. There are only three starter Pokemon left to choose from: Bulbasaur, Squirtle, and Charmander. And whichever one you take, your rival (named either Gary or Red) takes the exact opposite to make things more difficult for you every time you battle him in the game. You begin on your adventure to collect all 150 known Pokemon (151 if you include Mew), which you can only get if you trade between the partnered game. While you're doing this, you're traveling from town to town, fighting in gym battles, getting badges, and trying to become the best trainer you can be--as well as stopping a crime syndicate called Team Rocket.
Soon, a kid's anime series was released, which followed trainer Ash Ketchum. He woke up late, as in the game, but the only Pokemon left is a cantankerous little Pikachu who refuses to stay in his pokeball (the object that carries and/or captures the creatures). Eventually, Ash befriends gym leaders Misty and Brock, who leave with him on his adventure. They're constantly faced with attempts from Team Rocket members Jesse, James, and Meowth to steal away Pikachu. Not longer after, the game company released Pokemon Yellow, which was a version that more closely followed the show (starting you off with Pikachu, having Jesse and James, etc.).
In November of 1999, a movie was released in America (though over a year prior in Japan) based on the anime show. It featured the most powerful Pokemon of the original games, Mewtwo, and--yes--the secret Pokemon, Mew. Pokemon was at the height of its success when the film came out, and it was a box office hit. Unfortunately, despite its monetary success, it received negative reviews, and most critics (and game fans) said it was purely for little kids only.
I was a HUGE Pokemon fan as a kid. I was definitely in its target audience when it was popular. I loved the original games. I bought Yellow with a special Pokemon-themed Game Boy Color when it came out. I have hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of the playing cards. I watched the original TV show, and even owned episodes on VHS. I had some toys, collectables, CD albums, etc. I can do a pretty spot on impression of the Jigglypuff song (as well as a Pikachu impression). I, at one point, had all 151 original Pokemon memorized in numerical order. And I did see this film in theater on opening night (and eventually owned it on VHS). But I'll be honest--I haven't seen it since I was a kid. I remember details from it, but that's about it. So... let's go into this now and see how it fares with me as an adult.
Out of all the films I've had to watch for any series that I do, I've never had as hard of a time tracking down a movie as this. I did say I own it on VHS, but I don't have a functioning VCR. But this film is not available through any rental capacity for some reason, nor could I even find it on YouTube. In fact, I had to watch it through a fan-sub of the original Japanese version online. Anyway, that didn't really help or hurt it any, so that doesn't matter.
The film starts out as some scientists successfully made an enhanced clone of Mew that they call Mewtwo. Mewtwo questions his identity and purpose before killing all of them, getting taken in by Team Rocket, and then destroying them before heading off on his own. We then meet up later with Ash, Misty, and Brock having lunch and battling Pokemon when they get an invitation to meet the strongest Pokemon trainer in the world. Of course, when they eventually get there with some of the others who were invited, they discover its really Mewtwo. He wants to clone all the Pokemon and... rule the world or something with his (wait for it) clone army.
There are some upsides and downsides with this movie. First, the animation has moments that are really good. Nothing awe-inspiring, but really good, nonetheless. Mew, also, is a fun and fantastic little creature. They portrayed it well as playful and innocent, but dangerous if provoked. Mewtwo himself is a very menacing villain, and you know he's not one to mess with. He will straight kill you. Unfortunately, those are all pretty much the only upsides.
The downside of this film basically stems from the film attempting to be more than it should have. I guess perhaps it was too ambitious (but only in themes). For being based a light, cheesy cartoon, the movie is incredibly dark. The first ten minutes alone have numerous people murdered, as well as a number of crime committed. And there are implied deaths not too long after that are just swept over. There is the dark themes of identity and purpose of life through cloning, as well. And these themes are really all the film has going for it, as it doesn't try to do much else except be basically a morality story.
And the movie fails because it is not consistent with these themes, nor do the words or actions of almost any character make a lick of sense. Let me give you some examples, starting with the words/actions. Near the beginning, when all the invited trainers are trying to get to the island, there is a terrible hurricane (described as one of the worst they'd ever seen). The ferry was shut down and crossing was not allowed due to danger of life (both self and Pokemon). So what happens? Every trainer there immediately calls out their Pokemon to help them cross through the hurricane. Ash, Misty, and Brock can't cross because, as they state, they have no Pokemon that can swim. So this is when Team Rocket shows up in a rickety old row boat dressed as vikings and invite them on. Yes... this is your SAFEST option, right? Of course it is! So they go with it. Eventually, the hurricane topples them over. What saves them? Oh, you know, their Pokemon that can swim (which they said they didn't have--which boggles the mind to begin with considering Misty was a gym leader that specialized in water Pokemon). Anyway, it's things like that.
But then there is how the themes fail. Mewtwo figures his purpose is to make his army of clones and fight all the originals, right? So the big lesson that everybody ends up learning from this is... everybody's life is valuable and fighting is bad/wrong. Um... excuse me? You realize that the entire premise behind Pokemon is fighting, right? That's what Pokemon trainers do. They battle and collect Pokemon and experience. Without battling, the entire concept is lost. In short, the entire message of this film goes against everything Pokemon is. And after Mewtwo realizes that fighting is wrong, he takes his clones and flies off with them, never to be seen again (at least... until the direct-to-video sequel Mewtwo Returns. But don't worry. I'm not reviewing that one).
So while there are some positives to the film, it ultimately fails. It tries to be dark (I'm assuming for the adult fans), but it messes up its themes so that they can't enjoy it. And although there are some fun Pokemon battles and everything looks cool, the darkness of the story can be a bit off-putting to little kids, as it's not as child-friendly and cheerful as the show. So it's almost a film that tried to appeal to everyone but ended up appealing to very few. Don't get me wrong--I certainly do not think it is a poorly put together film (like I said, it looks nice, and there is some fan service (not that kind!)), or really even a terrible film. It just had the potential to be so much better than it was. It strove for greatness but really fell short.