Between the ages of 5 and 6, it’s safe to say my life was unequivocally dominated by the Pokémon video game and its various merchandising spin-offs. This cultural phenomenon in the late 90s captured the childhoods of millions, much to the bemusement of parents and their respective bank accounts. My love of Pokémon was like many others, totally reignited over last year's release of Pokémon Go, fulfilling that dream of pokémon being real. Now, there's another opportunity to supposedly relive that childhood wonder.
Pokémon: I Choose You! is a celebration of 20 years since the original series first debuted in Japan and is the 20th film the entire longstanding franchise. Directed by Kunihiko Yuyama, who’s directed the show and every subsequent movie since its inception, the plot revolves around an anniversary retelling of the story of Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town and his Pikachu in his journey to become the greatest Pokémon master in the world.
This time, Ash and Pikachu are on a quest to find and battle legendary bird Pokémon Ho-Oh. It should come as no surprise that odes to the original tv franchise are abundant with the movie essentially rebooting the tv franchise. Memorable moments from the original series are retold and easter eggs of familiar characters are peppered throughout the film, resulting in nice nods to the show.
From the offset, it's hard not to appreciate the beautiful animation. The production is jaw-dropping throughout, mixing traditional hand-drawn 2D animation atop 3D CGI, creating immersive captivating worlds – the action has never looked better. Soon though, the sentimentality fades and its appeal quickly dries up. It’s the same premise and story arcs that we grew up with, and therein lies the problem. Ash is still hot-headed and boisterous, the bond between him and Pikachu is unbreakable, love triumphs over power. These are synonymous themes now to the point of banality and Pokémon: I Choose You! adds nothing to the longstanding franchise for parents to appreciate or for adults wanting to relive that nostalgia, it’s just not the same now that we’re all grown up.
Dialogue is infantile, relegated to “tubular” quips and hyperbole playground remarks. Frustratingly voice actor Veronica Taylor who voiced Ash for the first 8 seasons of the popular tv show hasn’t reprised her role for the film, with Ash’s longstanding friends Misty and Brock in the original series also notably absent, replaced with trainers Sorrel and Verity who are mere bystanders and add nothing to the story. Attempts at sentimentality miss the mark so spectacularly thanks to its melodramatic scenes it’s cringe-worthy, at least for anyone over the age of 12.
Pokémon capitalises on kids' love of adventure, big explosions and adorable monsters you always wanted as pets. Given its continued success, there’s little reason to change the formula. Sure there's some fan service that the film pays homage to with its older audience, but under the hood, nothing’s changed. Younger cinema goers will love the latest adventure but for older former Pokémon fans, it’s a missed opportunity to fall in love with the franchise again.