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Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You (2017)

In the world of Pokemon, it is considered a rite of passage to leave home (at the age of 10 no less) and travel the land. Together with their partner Pokemon, the experiences and choices of these Pokemon trainers will help them discover who exactly they are meant to be. However Ash Ketchum (Satoshi in Japanese) a young Pokemon trainer to be, already knows what he wants to become. A trainer like no one has ever seen before with the greatest Pokemon by his side, in other words, a Pokemon Master. But in his eagerness, he accidentally sleeps in and misses his chance to pick any of his first choice Pokemon. Leaving him with a tiny and temperamental electric mouse Pokemon named Pikachu, who refuses to use its Pokeball.

Frustrated but undeterred, Ash sets out and attempts to prove his sincerity to Pikachu. Even putting his life on the line to protect the tiny creature when they are both in peril. This act forges an unbreakable bond between the two partners. In the aftermath, both Ash and Pikachu catch a glimpse of one of the mysterious Legendary Pokemon, Ho-oh. One of the rainbow bird's feather's floats down to Ash's hands. Ash and Pikachu set out on their journey, resolving to meet this strange Pokemon and see what else the world has in store for them.

Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You is the 20th film of the Pokemon anime franchise and a celebration of the series 20th anniversary. The film was directed by Kunihiko Yuyama (longstanding Pokemon series and film director) and produced by Oriental Light and Magic Inc. (OLM for short). Shoji Yonemura,  another series veteran, wrote the film's screenplay loosely based on the first season of the Pokemon anime, the Indigo League. The film's title also shares its name with the very first episode of the anime.

As a reimagining of the Indigo League, longtime time fans will recognize many familiar scenes from the anime.

If you are a long time fan of the original anime then the plot summary above should sound very familiar to you. The first 10-15 minutes of I Choose You are a loose retelling of the very first episode of the 1997 Pokemon anime series. As a celebration of said anime series, it only makes sense to go back to where it all began. Including an expansion of Ash's first encounter with Ho-oh and bringing that encounter to the forefront of the story. As the 20th film in a long-running franchise and as an anniversary movie, Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You both honors the series long history by acknowledging everything that makes the Pokemon anime what it is. A fun adventure film for the young and young at heart.

Speaking as a long time fan of the anime, Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You is at its peak enjoyment in the very first half of the film. The retelling of Ash and Pikachu's initial encounter is still endearing as it ever was. Enhanced by some downright wonderful animation that really puts emphasis on character movements and detailed backgrounds. Right off the bat, this film understands what made the anime series so much fun to watch. The fact that it has an opportunity to expand on the Pokemon world in a way that the games are unable to. To show how the world functions as a society through Ash's inexperienced eyes. A vast majority of my favorite scenes in this film all focus on this idea.

For example, while Ash is visiting a Pokemon Center, a trainer rushes inside with his Pokemon in his arms. Telling the story of how he encountered Entei, one of the region's most elusive legendary Pokemon, and attempted to battle it. With barely a moments hesitation, Ash rushes out to find the beast and confront it with a few other trainers joining in. From the moment they encounter Entei and begin to battle, the size and power of the legendary creature is made crystal clear. Not simply through character exposition (as anime usually does), but through the animation and sound design.

Ash and Pikachu are overwhelmed by their second encounter with a Legendary Pokemon.

 Given how recent Pokemon films have handled legendary Pokemon as throwaway promotional characters, it feels really good to see these creatures treated as ancient animals to be both feared and respected. It was also a surprise to see a depiction of the legendary beasts (Entei, Suicune, and Raikou) original origins, taken straight from the video games. Even though they are Pokemon of a previous generation, it is good to know the filmmakers did what they could to acknowledge lore from that games that would make sense in the context of the film's story. If the lore already exists, why not use it?

As the movie progresses, older Pokemon anime fans will begin to see more familiar stories. Such as the heart-wrenching story of “Charmander, the Stray Pokemon” and full tale of Ash's Butterfree, who he must eventually say goodbye to. The former adaptation is handled surprisingly well and seems to fit right at home with the movie's narrative. The latter on the other hand, while nostalgic, feels rushed. So when the inevitable sad goodbye occurs, it's emotional impact is lost. Older fans may also take umbrage at the cast change for this film, as Ash's initial companions (Misty and Brock) and his arch rival (Gary) are nowhere to be seen. They are replaced by three new characters: Verity, Sorrel, and Cross respectively.

Knowing that they were replacing characters that I cared about, I went into the film expecting to hate these new characters. However, by the end, I found that I actually came to like them and what they brought to the movie. Though both of them share similarities with their show counterparts (Verity is an outspoken tomboy, Sorrel is the mature one of the group, and Cross is a rude/cruel rival) the characters themselves are unique enough to set them apart from the rest of the Pokemon cast. I enjoyed getting to know their histories and how it influences the way they travel. Simply showing the type of Pokemon they choose to travel with informs a lot of their personality and background. Specifically Pokemon from later generations such as Piplup, Lucario, and Incineroar. Though it is strange to see later generation Pokemon in this setting, it is a brilliant way to show just how big the Pokemon world is and just how many different creatures can be encountered.

The film's rival, Cross, and his Incineroar stare down our heroes.

Sadly, as the film passes into its second and third act the film starts to lose its focus. The legendary beasts relevance in the story is all but replaced by the newest promotional legendary Pokemon, Marshadow. Whose supposed role as a guide to Ho-oh is muddied by its ambiguous nature. Haunting Ash's shadow when the movie forces him to have a moment of doubt and becoming a full-on adversary by the movie's climax. This shift feels extremely forced and only serves to show the kids watching the movie what new Pokemon code will be available soon. Because of this forced promotion, the latter portion of the film feels off-kilter and older viewers will mentally check out just as the movie begins to wrap up. That being said, there are still a few interesting scenes that make the second half worth seeing.

Beware! Wild Spoilers Appears!!

Two scenes, in particular, are notable firsts for the Pokemon franchise. One is a surreal dream sequence where Ash finds himself in a world without Pokemon (also known as modern-day Japan). The other is a flashback to young Sorrel and his family Luxray. A Pokemon that willingly allows itself to freeze to death in order to keep Sorrel alive as he lies injured in a snowy mountain range. Though the word “death” is never uttered in this scene, the frozen body is visible for all to see. A distraught Sorrel having to be pulled away by a rescue team while crying his friend's name makes the scene all the more heart-wrenchingly real.

These scenes while small were very effective in pushing the movies overall theme of friendship through adversity and both the positive and negative consequences that can happen.

Unfortunately, these powerful scenes are offset by some bizarre choices later on in the film.

One such scene has been the topic of much debate since the film's release.

Pikachu is injured and Ash is attempting to protect it in a similar fashion as the start of the film. However, this time, Pikachu no longer has the strength to protect its trainer. As the two lie on the mountain, exhausted and hurt, Ash asks Pikachu why it refuses to use its Pokeball even in the face of certain death. Pikachu responds, however, while the lip flaps mimic Pikachu's typical Pokemon speak, the audio is replaced with intelligible dialogue (English or Japanese depending on which version you're watching). This scene has been met with a great deal of criticism by fans and I would be lying if it didn't take me out of the experience. Still, one line of cheesy dialogue does not make a terrible movie. Perhaps the filmmakers could have used physical movement instead of words to get the same meaning across. Or perhaps it was meant to represent how close the two friends had become? Hard to say for certain but I don't believe that this one misstep is worth throwing away the whole movie.

Wild Spoilers Ran Away

Regardless of how this film plays to nostalgia, or how it balances narrative with the usual Pokemon promotional advertising, I Choose You has to be the most beautifully animated Pokemon film to date. Even when I wasn't too thrilled with the plot, the character animation, backgrounds, and intense battle choreography managed to keep me in my seat all the way to the end of the film. As a fan, I would even go so far to suggest this movie's purchase just from the animation alone.

But frankly, the enjoyment level of this movie comes down to what expectations you bring to the movie and what you enjoy most from the Pokemon anime. If you enjoy well animated Pokemon battles, you will get that in spades throughout the film. If you enjoy lore building and exploration of the Pokemon world, you will find some interesting scenes to hold your attention. If you are looking for a recreation of the original season of the anime, you might be a bit disappointed with the changes made to fit the movie format.

Western Pokemon fans may be disappointed at the English dub of I Choose You. Not for the acting quality (which is fine) or the occasionally stilted script but for the film's soundtrack. The original soundtrack, composed by Shinji Miyazaki (original composer for the Pokemon anime and subsequent films), contained a plethora of familiar pieces from the anime as part of the 20th-anniversary celebration. However, much like previous Pokemon films, the English dub has replaced Miyazaki's score with compositions by Ed Goldfarb. Though the new soundtrack isn't terrible, it also isn't very memorable. An extreme disappointment for long-time fans who have a great deal of nostalgia for Miyazaki's previous works.

With the Ho-oh's Rainbow Wing in hand, Ash and Pikachu set off on their journey.

Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You does its job at acknowledging everything wonderful and not so wonderful about the series. Its cheesy, occasionally stilted dialogue and lack of focus in the second and third act make it a hard film to recommend to anyone other than die-hard fans. If you are a fan, however, you may find more to take away from this movie than any of recent Pokemon films. Incredible animation, a nice dose of nostalgia, and a few notable scenes that give the Pokemon world depth. Personally speaking, I would rank this as one of the best movies in the franchise's history in spite of its many flaws. If you love everything Pokemon, I Choose You is an enjoyable anniversary film that is worth seeing.

FORMATSCinema/DVD release in the UK
FROM OLM and Toho
RATINGNot yet rated

1hr 35m

IN A NUTSHELL: A fun adventure for Poke' Fans young and old.