What They Say:
When Ash Ketchum oversleeps on his 10th birthday, he ends up with a stubborn Pikachu instead of the first partner Pokémon he wanted! But after a rocky start, Ash and Pikachu become close friends and true partners—and when they catch a rare glimpse of the Legendary Pokémon Ho-Oh in flight, they make plans to seek it out together. Trainers Verity and Sorrel join Ash on his journey, and along the way, they meet the mysterious Mythical Pokémon Marshadow. When they near their goal, an arrogant Trainer named Cross stands in their way. Can Ash and Pikachu defeat him and reach Ho-Oh as they promised, or will their journey end here?
Packaging comes in a standard Blu Ray case with an O-card of the same packaging art to encompass it. What’s odd about this packaging is it’s been shrinkwrapped twice—once for the inner case, and once more for the O-card. Technical oddities aside, the packaging offers beautiful cover art for its front akin to Ken Sugimori’s original art for the games, and a straightforward synopsis on the back paired with some art that’s more reflective of what the movie itself offers. Some inner-art of the movie’s key Pokémon can be seen thanks to the Bly Ray case’s transparency, rounding out the packaging.
The Blu Ray menu takes no time getting you pumped with nostalgia, as the original American theme plays to clips of the movie. The menu itself is straightforward and easy to navigate as the statis options are clearly displayed to the left alongside a Poké-ball motif that comes off as decorative without too distracting.
Extras are sparse, with the only real notable thing to speak of being the English-language trailer for the movie. Interestingly enough, the opening audio from the trailer takes clips from the original English episode of the very first episode of the anime, making good use of the nostalgia factor that undoubtedly will peak the interests of those that grew up with the franchise from the start.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The Pokémon franchise has been chugging along strong, with a movie getting released yearly alongside its still-running TV anime. But for the most part, the public eye has become somewhat acclimated to the franchise’s existence by now, reaching the point that whenever a new movie comes out, there’s been little to no fanfare outside of any diehard circles.
Now 20 years since its initial boom, Pokémon The Movie: I Choose You!, the 20th film in the series, re-tells events of the original TV anime in a slightly different light. And that’s something that definitely works to the benefit as well as hindrance of the movie itself.
While an anniversary story re-telling how main character Ash Ketchum and his pokémon sidekick Pikachu came to meet is definitely something that will grab the attention of fans more familiar with the earliest episodes from the anime, its blending of past and present lore does come at a price. As episodic as the series has been, there have been enough changes to the games they’re based on to make the series feel significantly more different than it did at its onset. For one, the sheer amount of pokémon has increased from its already high count of 151, to a practically insurmountable 807 (as of this writing). And while that would suggest that the world the series inhabits is far more vast than initially thought, it also sweeps away this layer of unknown along with it.
The first 10 or so minutes of I Choose You! sums up the first episode of the original anime pretty concisely. We’re introduced to Ash Ketchum—the brash, headstrong, 10-year-old, and his reluctant pokémon partner in Pikachu. After some buddy-buddy hijinx in the form of being chased by a horde of Spearows, the two begin to trust each other just a bit more, and the scene closes out with the two spotting a mystical rainbow-colored bird pokémon in the sky. In the original anime, not even Ash’s pokédex (which is inexplicably absent in this iteration) was able to identify the pokémon in question. But now, after 7 generations worth of pokémon added to their endless encyclopedia, we know the pokémon to be called Ho-Oh. And that’s my initial gripe with the movie. At its core, adventuring is justified by exploring the unknown. But in a world where every nook and cranny has already been figured out, there’s not much meaning to the globe-trotting travels that made the series became so iconic in the first place. The exclusion of the pokédex from the movie further illustrates that our audience no longer needs to know the basics of the pokémon world because it’s been under the public eye for so long.
But hey. It’s a children’s movie based on a children’s videogame whose sole purpose is to systematically catch and catalog every known species of pokémon in existence. Clearly, it would be unfair to judge the movie on merits first established 20 years ago.
As a Pokémon movie, it actually sticks pretty closely to the formula established by the movies before it—focusing on a handful of legendary pokémon, and forming an adventure story around them. In this case, we’re not only focusing on Ho-Oh, but the legendary dog pokémon of Entei, Suicune, and Raikou (and maybe one from a newer gen just to throw people for a loop). And while the legendary dogs and Ho-Oh do share a history in legends told in the games, such backstory is treated more as world-building over an actual focus here. In terms of the movie’s plot, Ash and his new travel-buddies of Verity and Sorrel (our movie-only equivalents of Misty and Brock) are in search of Ho-Oh and just so happen to cross paths with each of the legendary dogs along the way. The movie does try to connect Suicune to Verity’s backstory, but for the most part each legendary dog pokémon just serves as a stepping stone towards Ho-Oh. As for exactly why the gang is so hellbent on meeting up with Ho-Oh, the only real reason we’re given is that Ash would like to test his abilities by fighting it—a simple enough reason that tends to get lost among all the battles, throwbacks, and unnecessary mythos of “rainbow wings” and a “chosen rainbow hero.”
Essentially being a road-trip movie, the gang’s journey is pretty varied, with the better chunk of its asides not even being all that relevant to Ho-Oh in the slightest. While we are treated to one gym match against Erika, we’re mostly treated to random trainer battles in which Ash either befriends another trainer, another pokémon, or ends up being unceremoniously curb-stomped by Cross—this movie’s Gary-equivalent. But as beautifully animated as the fights may be, they still come off as a string of oddly-paced moments strung together to lead into Ho-Oh’s inevitable reappearance. While there are some rehashed anime moments that merge well with Ho-Oh’s plot (ie: Cross being the trainer that leaves Charmander out in the rain works well enough), there are some rehashed moments that feel done simply for rehash’s sake (ie: letting Butterfree fly off with the pink Butterfree) or just don’t hit as hard as the original did (ie: a very similar scene that plays out near the end of the first Pokémon movie). Even the comedic standby of Team Rocket doesn’t feel as fun as they should be since we’re stuck in this odd limbo of the movie being a re-telling, but also knowing that its audience already has a pretty firm grasp of the world, thus disregarding things like a proper buildup or motivation.
All gripes aside, though, I will applaud the movie for a dream-sequence of all things. While under the influence of a certain pokémon, Ash has a dream in which he wakes up in a world without pokémon—our world. In it, he attends school like any other 10-year-old would, but admits to Verrity and Sorrel within the dream that he’s a bit listless. He yearns for adventure and wants to experience firsthand just what is beyond the confines of his dull and dreary daily life. It’s an oddly reflective scene that clearly defines Ash’s character so well and exactly why his archetype has withstood the test of time. I just wish such a key scene was played out closer to the end of the movie, so more critical nay-sayers wouldn’t fixate so much on Pikachu’s split-second moment of speaking human language during the movie’s climax (honestly, that bit isn’t as bad as the internet’s made it out to be).
As our travelers finally make their way to Ho-Oh, and a rather lackluster cliffhanger of a fight is had between Pikachu and the legendary pokémon, we’re soon met with the credits. And I know it’s incredibly snarky to say one of the better parts of the movie was its credits, but don’t take that the wrong way this time around. As incredibly middle ground as the movie as a whole was, the entirety of the end-credits sequence at least was able to leave me with a better feeling of nostalgia than any rehashed scene was able to. While the ending theme’s song ”I Choose You” plays, the slow-yet-powerful piano and vocals are accompanied by short glimpses of every one of Ash’s travel-buddies throughout the series. None of the companions are given any spoken dialogue outside of a simple gaze of curiosity, but to see every person Ash has traveled with over the course of the anime’s 20-year run was more than enough to get me a bit emotional. Even doubly so when I realized the song’s vocalist is Haven Paschall—dub voice of Ash’s current travel companion Serena.
And as the song transitions into a piano rendition of the English anime’s original theme song, that’s when you realize: that as utterly forgettable as this movie was, it at least has enough gravitas to underline that all journeys are best defined by the friends you make along the way. It’s cheesy and simplistic, but for Pokémon’s 20th anniversary, that’s the least I could ask for.
Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! is like every other run-of-the-mill Pokémon movie with the added brownie-points of being the series’ 20th Anniversary marker. Its plot meanders, and its cast isn’t nearly as characterized as their anime counterparts, but there are a handful of moments that make you stop and realize exactly why the franchise has been around for as long as it has been.
English 2.0 and 5.1 Audio | English Subtitles | Original Theatrical Trailer
Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: February 13, 2018
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1920x1080p High Definition (HD Native)
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 HD Widescreen
Samsung UHD 6700 64” Curved Smart TV, Sony Blu-ray player BDP-S6500 via HDMI set to 1080p