Rated G - Running Time: 1:15 - Released 11/10/99

Cabbage Patch Dolls, Tickle Me Elmos, Beanies, Furbys. Every holiday season has its toy sensation. This year it's Pokémon, the Japanese cartoon/video game phenomenon that has schoolkids collecting trading cards and following the exploits of hundreds of characters with names like Pikachu, Squirtle, Psyduck, and Mew. These characters, each endowed with a few quasi-magical talents, cannot speak except to utter their own names. Apparently, Pokémon are trained and kept as pets by humans, occasionally being required to fight each other in a ring like gladiators. The Japanenglish name Pokémon, short for "Pocket Monsters," derives from the fact that they are kept inside pocket-sized round containers until they are called on to perform. I have obtained this information through an exhausting period of research, buying Burger King kids' meals, taking copious notes during the film, and, most importantly, asking my 7-year-old. He seems to be an authority.

Pokémon: The First Movie (a terribly depressing title for a movie critic) is directed by Michael Haigney and Kunohiko Yuyama. It begins with a cartoon short called Pikachu's Vacation, which is designed to 1) get the kiddies psyched up for the main event, 2) acquaint us ignorant parents with the numerous, task-specific creatures, and 3) sell Pokémon merchandise. Apart from occasional commentary by an unseen narrator, the dialogue of Pikachu's Vacation consists entirely of Pikachu, the most popular character (voice of Ikue Ootani, as if it mattered) and his friends saying their names over and over. I mean, this stuff is worse than the Smurfs. The animation is the kind of flat, jerky Japanese artwork we have seen for decades, exactly like the old Speed Racer cartoons of the '60s.

Then the feature begins. MewTwo Strikes Back involves a superintelligent Pokémon cloned from the DNA of a gentle puss named Mew. However, "Mewtwo" is an evil, angry cat who resents humans and their obedient slave-pets, so he decides to destroy everyone and rule the Earth himself. But he needs an army of super Pokémon clones (by the way, the plural of "Pokémon" is "Pokémon"), so he invites the world's best trainers and their pets to his island, promising a world-class match. This crowd includes Pikachu, his trainer, Ash (Veronica Taylor), friends Misty and Brock (Rachael Lillis and Eric Stuart), and Jesse and James of "team Rocket" (also Lillis and Stuart). A melee ensues.

As lame as it is (and it is), this film actually has a more coherent plot than I thought it would. Written by Takeshi Shudo (English version by Norman J. Grossfeld and director Haigney), it contains some mild violence, but its main theme of "why can't we all just get along?" is at least something parents can approve of. The kids in the audience at my showing were certainly enthralled, and I only fell asleep twice.

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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