Wayback Wednesday: Pokémon: The First Movie (1998)

This movie will always get an “I choose you!” from me. 

Every generation has its phenomenon. For kids in the 1970s, it was Pet Rocks. For kids in the 1980s, it was Rubik’s Cubes. For kids in the 1990s, that phenomenon was undoubtedly Pokémon. From the original video games, to trading cards, to action figures, to the wildly popular anime, the 90s were dominated by an adorable collection of pocket monsters that challenged kids to catch them all. And oh bitch, did my brother and I try. We watched and played Pokémon like it was our job. Fun fact, to this day I have yet to finish an entire game of Pokémon. I enjoy re-starting because it means I get to raise my Squirtle all over again. As if the Pokémon craze didn’t already have the kids of the world enthralled, things reached an all-time high with the highly-anticipated release of Pokémon: The First Movie (1998). You guys…I cannot stress enough how big a deal this was.

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 11.42.16 PM
Credit: imdb.com / Toho

In Pokémon: The First Movie, aspiring Pokémon master Ash Ketchum and his best friends Misty and Brock find themselves drawn to a mysterious island after being invited to battle the world’s greatest Pokémon trainer. When that trainer is revealed to be none other than Mewtwo, the world’s most powerful Pokémon, Ash and friends soon find themselves in a Pokémon battle that will decide the fate of the entire world.

God, this movie makes me so happy. It brings me right back to the carefree days of being a little kid, a time when the most important issues in my life were passing my upcoming spelling test and finding a Water Stone to evolve my Poliwhirl. Now I’m stuck dealing with taxes, groceries, and other nonsense. I’ve always loved this movie but if I’m being honest, I actually prefer the sequel, Pokémon: The Movie 2000 (1999), more. Not only is it the more cinematic of the two with a more thrilling story, but my brother and I also watched the shit out of it because it was the only Pokémon movie we owned on VHS. The first movie was a treat that we could rent from Blockbuster every once in a while. That being said, Pokémon: The First Movie is still a wonderfully-executed love letter for Pokémon (1997 – present) fans, just on a more intimate and self-contained scale. Much like Hannah Montana: The Movie (2009) – which you can check out my review for here – the movie ups the ante so that it evolves (ha!) past a basic episode of the series and delivers a story that feels like a natural extension of the show. All the while the movie is delivering a truly staggering amount of fan service that other movies based on TV shows should strive to emulate.

Pokémon: The First Movie GETS IT. Effortlessly applying elements of the show that fans know and love, the movie contains everything from a segment of “Who’s That Pokémon?” to a plethora of electricity-based puns, to Team Rocket adopting yet another elaborate disguise in order to capture Pikachu. By the way, can we talk about Team Rocket for a second? Sure, Ash and co. were the heroes of the anime and I’ll be the first to admit that I loved spending my Saturday mornings with them, wishing I could join in on their incredible adventures. But let’s be real for a second: Team Rocket stole the show from those twerps EVERY. DAMN. WEEK. It was a wise decision by the movie, and the following two sequels, to not have Team Rocket play the big bad villains. Not only do new enemies and legendary Pokémon make for more interesting and formidable antagonists, but it also lets the lovable trio of screwups do what they do best: provide amazing comedic relief and jokes that went way over all of our heads as kids. That Minnesota Vikings joke? I didn’t get it until I was at least 15 and now that I do, it gets me every time.

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 11.47.08 PM
Credit: imdb.com / Toho

Would Pokémon: The First Movie win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature? No, probably not. However, it’s a solid entry in the canon of Pokémon movies and tells a quality story that is brimming with heart, humour, and action. It totally holds up! Additionally, there’s a level of craftsmanship and attention to detail in this movie that I was shocked to notice during this viewing. Music can be a super effective (ha!) way to tell a story and this movie makes fantastic use of its gorgeous score. Transitioning from sinister, to epic, to triumphant, the music helps tell the story in a way that words never could. Which isn’t to say that Pokémon: The First Movie is poorly written. Far from it. In fact, this movie contains two of the most extraordinarily profound quotes I’ve ever heard in a movie and I swear to God, I’m not joking:

“We do have a lot in common. The same earth, the same air, the same sky. Maybe if we started looking at what’s the same instead of always looking at what’s different…well, who knows?”

AND

“I see now that the circumstances of one’s birth are irrelevant. It is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.”

Can you believe that those are found in a freaking POKÉMON movie? But not to worry Pokémon fans. The movie never takes itself too seriously and thankfully, there are still enough puns to fill an entire Pokémon Centre. “A CLAW-ful mistake.” It’s so cheesy and I’m so here for it.

I thought multiple viewings would have prepared me for this but to this day, watching the Pokémon brutally fight each other without the fantasticalness of their special abilities is heartbreakingly horrible. Then having the scene set to the emotional bop “Brother my Brother?” I had no idea Satan himself had a hand in making this movie.

But the real emotional kicker comes when Ash is petrified and Pikachu, tears in his adorable eyes, tries to shock him back to life while the other Pokémon look on and weep. That right there is “Mufasa Dying Levels of Sad.” Admittedly the tears bringing Ash back to life is a glaring plot hole that doesn’t make much sense but come on: the minute we start to search for realism in a Pokémon movie is the minute that our whole world begins to crumble. Besides, magical life-saving tears make for a pretty shot!

Pokémon: The First Movie is very much a product of its time and I mean that in the absolute best way possible. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the charming traditionalism of 2D animation, and I have to commend the movie for telling a neat and tidy story in a reasonable hour and 36 minutes. 3D animated two and a half hour epics? Not really my thing.

A perfect jump from the small screen to the big one, Pokémon: The First Movie is sure to capture (ha!) the hearts of any Poké-fan whether they grew up with the original 151, or are playing the newest edition of the games. My hat is off to you, Pokémon: The First Movie: 21 years later and you’re still the very best like no one ever was.

What’s you favourite Pokémon movie? What’s you favourite Pokémon?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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