Originally created 11/10/99

'Pokemon' has critic mystified



There are times here on the movie beat when I feel like I'm plain in over my head. This is one of those times. My assignment is to review Pokemon the First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back.

I have done research. I have even played a Pokemon card game with a 6-year-old Pokeman trainer named Emil. The rules of the game seemed to bear a suspicious resemblance to War. At the end of the game, Emil had all 52 cards. I do not know if this is because of his mastery as a trainer, or because he stacked the deck.

Pokeman is a major factor in the U.S.-Japanese balance of trade. It began as a Nintendo Game Boy game and has since proliferated into spinoffs, clones, ancillary rights, books, videos, TV shows, toys, trading cards and now this movie.

Here is the plot: A villain has found a way to genetically clone one of the Pokemon (Pokemen?), named Mew. His invention is named Mewtwo. He also clones other Pokemon. Each Pokemon has a different kind of power. The hero, Ash Ketcham (so called because he wants to "catch 'em all" and have a complete set of Pokemon), ventures with his friends to the villain's island, where battles take place between lots of different kinds of Pokemon (Pokemi?) and their clones. After an hour of struggle that shakes the very firmament, the Pokemon collapse. (They run down instead of dying.) There are a lot of speeches about how we now see that fighting is wrong. There will be a sequel, in which no doubt there will be another hour of fighting before the same lesson is learned again.

The animation is bright, colorful and vibrant. It's eye candy. The story seems very thin, especially compared to such other Japanese anime titles as My Neighbor Totoro.The story is idiotic. The individual Pokemon have personalities that make the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles look like Billy Crystal. Kids will no doubt love this movie because they can see action involving figures they have collected themselves.

I can't recommend the film or work up much enthusiasm for it because there is no level at which it enriches a young viewer by encouraging thinking or observation. It's just a sound-and-light show linked to the marketing push for Pokemon in general. On the other hand, I may have completely bypassed the point and misinterpreted crucial Pokemon lore. This may disqualify me from ever becoming a Pokemon trainer. I can live with that.

`Pokemon: The First Movie'
Rating: 2 stars
Running time: 69 minutes, plus a 20-minute short
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama
MPAA rating: G