By Érico Lotufo
BU News Service
Pokémon is a curious franchise. While being the standard-bearer of almost everything related to 90s nostalgia, it also never actually left its place in the cultural space. This creates a weird, three-pronged fandom that follows all of Pokémon’s multimedia endeavors. There are those nostalgic about the first (and maybe second) generation of creatures, those who fell in love with the franchise 20 years ago and never left, and the youngsters who just now are picking up the games or TV show.
“Pokémon The Movie: I Choose You!” is the 20th full-length Pokémon feature based on the ongoing anime about Ash Ketchum’s quest to be a Pokémon Master. However, the movie never really knows exactly which subset of fandom it should try to please.
It’s marketed as a nostalgic trip through the first season of the anime, but it also rewrites many moments from the series to add more recent elements, such as new Pokémon.
The traditionalists will be confused as to who Piplup and Lucario are (both characters were added to the franchise in 2006), ongoing fans will complain about fan-favorite characters like Misty and Brock getting cut, and kids will ask why Ash isn’t in Alola training Litten and Rowlet.
The film starts exactly where the TV show does. Ash Ketchum is 10 years old and ready to embark on his journey as a Pokémon trainer. After waking up late and missing the chance of picking the normal starter Pokémon given to beginners, he has to settle for Pikachu. The electric mouse is not pleased by this and refuses to follow Ash’s orders.
After both are ambushed by a flock of violent birds known as Spearows, Ash protects Pikachu and gains his trust. After the attack, they see a giant phoenix-esque Pokémon named Ho-oh. Ho-oh gives them a rainbow feather before disappearing. Ash decides that he will do everything to find that legendary Pokémon again, this time with Pikachu as his inseparable companion.
This is where the movie begins to diverge from the original. Instead of the old anime cast, newcomers Verity and Sorrel join Ash on his quest. This will cause much grief among fans, especially since the promotional material focused very little on this. Instead, it almost entirely focused on the events leading to Ash and Pikachu’s friendship, which is resolved in the first 15 minutes. This will definitely make some feel cheated by the movie’s marketing.
The rest of the throwbacks to the anime, most notably the Charmander storyline and the tearjerker “Bye, Bye Butterfree” reenactment, serve to pad the completely original storyline. It felt like a band that sprinkles some of its greatest hits in the middle of new songs in a concert setlist to make sure fans don’t get impatient.
Despite this, “I Choose You!” is probably the most structurally sound Pokémon movie. The previous 19 all played like expanded and higher stakes versions of a typical episode, with the “monster of the week” being a highly marketable Pokémon. This time, it can tell its own story and structure it accordingly, with three acts and a climax that ties with the opening Spearow scene.
Pokémon is a franchise, which means movies like this are also an exercise in brand management. In this case, they add a new mythical creature to the story, Marshadow, despite his inclusion making absolutely no sense. It seems as if he was added to the script late to make sure The Pokémon Company had a brand-new Pokémon to sell the film with.
“Pokémon The Movie: I Choose You!” is an interesting experiment. It wants to build on nostalgia, while at the same time updating the original story and sell a new toy/in-game Pokémon at the same time. The result is a movie that doesn’t know who it’s for, but that at the same time has something in it for everyone to enjoy—and be mad about.