Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! (2017)
★★ / ★★★★
The parallel world of Pokémon that director Kunihiko Yuyama offers is as magical and vibrant as the anime and games, but it falls short from becoming a full-fledged picture worthy of a strong recommendation, especially toward those who may not consider themselves to be fans of the worldwide phenomenon, because the screenplay has structural problems significant enough to impede momentum, emotional depth, and catharsis. What results is a watchable quick tour of the series’ core: the importance of forging friendships, learning about one’s level of determination, and defying the odds (sometimes through sheer luck). But it is not a film that will win over new fans because it fails to offer anything particularly special.
Fan service comes hard and thick as it confidently presents opening scenes highly similar to the television show’s memorable and emotionally charged first episode. It sets a lightning fast pacing without losing track of the relationship between ten-year-old Ash Ketchum (voiced by Christa Lips) and his first Pokémon named Pikachu. Take any span of fifteen minutes and one will notice that the material manages to cover emotional highs and lows. Some may be more effective than others but at least the material avoids the doldrums of passivity that haunts TV shows receiving a chance to tell their story through film.
The animation is eye-catching particularly when various species of Pokémon appear in groups, whether it be with their trainers as they stand around in a plaza where a battle is unfolding or out in their natural habitats. The animators command control of the colors in order to highlight specific emotions. Notice which type of color is more dominant in scenes like Ash saying goodbye to Butterfree versus Ash begging Pikachu to enter his Pokéball as hordes of angry Spearows close in on them. There is almost always something to notice even when a shot is calm or still. It makes an active effort to involve the viewers.
But the key word is “effort.” There are occasions when filmmakers put so much effort that at times it creates most unnecessary distractions. Take the use of music as an example. During some of the more emotional moments, one can hear the crescendo of yearning through carefully orchestrated violins and pianos. Not dissimilar to unconfident movies in which score or soundtrack is utilized as a tool to pummel the audience into feeling a certain way, it is further proof that silence really is golden at times.
Perhaps most disappointing is the climax involving a mountain and the appearance of a legendary Pokemon. The battles that transpire there are loud and anticlimactic. With regards to some of its messages, I found them to be confusing. For example, the premise of Pokémon is that there is no such thing as “good” or “evil” Pokémon. Pokémon are the way they are either because of their trainers or they have experienced something in the wild that had made a lasting impression. And yet Mashadow is treated as if it were evil, more or less, the screenplay failing to offer specific details so that we understand its motivations.
There is one excellent sequence in “Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!” which involves Ash inhabiting a world without these trainable pocket monsters. As our protagonist stands on the top floor of his ordinary school, overlooking a vast environment, his universe feels empty somehow. Because Pokemon do not exist, ten-year-olds are left wondering in their ordinary lives what’s possibly out there in the world instead of actually discovering for themselves.
I found this to be such a moving and strong statement about the Pokémon series in general. I have been a huge fan since my father bought Pokemon Blue for me to play on my Gameboy that it is almost unthinkable for me to imagine an alternate reality without these lovable creatures. I think that if this film had taken inspiration from this idea, a must-see movie for fans and non-fans alike might have resulted.