I bet you always wanted to see slightly awkward adult-kids critiquing each other’s life-skills as they attempt to play Pokemon: Go! while on LSD. And I’m sure you want your kids (if you’re like me and have procreated, with spawn old enough to sit mostly still for two hours…) to enjoy that experience with you, because your first Pokemon memories are magic and you want to share that.
If you jumped out of your chair, clutched your charmander plushie desperately to your chest (fire-type because you’re too hot to be cool, yea) and screamed “YES!” in a higher-than-usual pitch, you’re not going to be disappointed! If that sounds like a mixed-bag to you, you’ll be with 97% of other people seeing this move; a little lost, a little disappointed, relying on the old crutch of, “Well the CG was pretty good, and it’s a kid’s movie so I guess the story could have been worse…”. It’s that kind of movie. Nostalgia makes us forgive a host of issues if we’re feeling generous, but it can’t cover everything.
You may remember Pikachu from the original anime series, or from any of the several thousand pokemon franchises spun out following the games. Usually he’s a cute little guy, alternately shocking those he dislikes and fiercely defending anyone who has earned his trust. A true friend or powerful enemy, Pikachu is a little kid’s dream buddy, a pet as equally capable of providing warm, loving acceptance (with a good dose of cuddles) as taking down bad baddies intent on thievery and mayhem. His little cries of “pika pi!” made even my dad smile a bit when I was a kid.
So you’d maybe expect a movie focused on the character to be… well… cute?
To be totally up front, I did zero research on the film before going to see it last weekend with my hubs and the little monster girl. I have no idea how it was marketed, but I sure as hell went in with expectations of silly hijinks and Pikachu style justice-by-electrocution, perhaps with him scampering around wearing a silly detective hat. When the hubs told me there was a Pokemon movie in theaters we both must have assumed the same as we instantly agreed it would be perfect for Little Monster’s first movie. That’s what the legacy is, after all. Cute, silly, friendship and doing your best!
So in the second scene, watching two late teens or early twenty-year-olds scramble around a field full of CG pokemon while conversing really awkwardly (think Yu Gi Oh nerd forced to be friends with mathlete), one pushing the other to try to catch a wailing Cubone despite his protest that no, he didn’t want a pokemon, made me cringe a little. Where were the friends helping friends grow? Since when did people in pokemon completely ignore each other’s very valid preferences? Why are they wearing grade-school style backpacks..? Watching the Cubone then proceed to open up a can of Pokemon whoop-ass on the poor kid was just sad. Did he know nothing about pokemon battles?! But it kept itself in the realm of moderately funny/cute, so there was that. The cute doesn’t last very long.
You find out the first kid is worried about our lead character, the failed Cubone capturer, whose father has recently died under mysterious circumstance (1st scene: lab escape, car chased by everyone’s favorite emo super-pokemon, dramatic crash). The poor kid, already scarred by his mother’s early death and his father’s subsequent withdrawal into his work as a detective in Rhyme city, had given up his dreams of becoming a pokemon trainer and instead now works in insurance. Why..? Maybe the writers wrote down a bunch of boring-sounding jobs and put them in a hat, then picked one at random, I dunno. If I try to look for motive really hard, I could say that our protagonist has trust issues due to his family falling apart, so he couldn’t imagine bonding strongly with anyone ever again, like a pokemon, and that insurance is meant to keep people protected so it would be a natural haven for someone with those kind of issues. But I’ve worked in insurance, and that’s not how it goes.
Now, as the film stills clearly display, this is no animated movie, and that can be cool. Modern CG is a far cry from it’s early days and can look very real. Except the CG pokemon you get here are overwhelmingly creepy, like puppets from a seedy adult Sesame Street. Once we’re on the train to Rhyme City, where our Cubone-less hero heads to collect his father’s stuff, you start to get a closer look at the ugly side of pokemon. Literally. Just look at this Lickitung, who gives the poor man-baby a quick wipe-down on his train ride.
The story is straight forward and ignores purpose and reasonable decision making pretty well. Kid gets to Rhyme City, a place where people and pokemon are supposed to live together freely (no battling), and it’s filled with pokemon as you’d expect. Kid get’s the key to dad’s apartment from dad’s former boss. Kid goes to the apartment, meets pretty but pushy girl trying to scoop him about his dad (she’s an aspiring reporter and not afraid to tell him). Kid pokes around, accidentally discovers both a vile substance and his father’s pikachu partner, who, gasp, he can understand! They are then chased around by a group of hopped-up aipoms, accidentally exposed to the vile substance. Begin pikachu’s odd courting of obviously disinterested kid. Who needs boundaries here?!
Pikachu has amnesia, a bad coffee habit, and determination to solve the case he is sure got his partner pancaked and his own memory wiped. He won’t take no for an answer. I’m sure an INSURANCE WORKER who has zero interest in what you’re doing and is, ya know, grieving his dead father, will be the perfect person to make insightful deductions and help you solve a case. Rather than any other actual police officer or detective. Or a random but not grieving stranger off the street.
I won’t give away the full movie, but you can bet that pretty girl (and her ultra creepy psyduck) stick around. There’s a fairly ridiculous villain with a plan that makes as much sense as exposing young children to Southpark (but it’s a cartoon, right??), and a bunch of pokemon battles and chases. Lots of action. Lots of weird, weird pokemon.
There are funny scenes – watching Mr. Mime try to get away from our intrepid detectives by mime-running then mime-motorcycling, for one – but they tend to go a little weird most of the time. Ever wanted to watch mimed-torture? It plays with your head a little; great (?) for adults, maybe not for my two year old.
Overall, this is NOT the 1st movie I would have taken my daughter to, had I really known. And that is 100% my fault. I really should have done my research. She watched, she laughed at the obviously-humorous bits, but she kept asking, in a very confused tone, “Pika-chooo?” I guess she didn’t recognize these pokemon as the same as the ones on her cartoon. And that reaction pretty much sums up my own reaction. Pikachu? Where are you? What happened to all your friends? Who are these drug-taking weirdos wearing your skins? Why am I laughing when I’m so confused? I’m just gonna blame Psyduck’s psywave. It must have hit me harder than I thought and inflicted me with confusion. And I’m all out of cure-alls.