The world of Pokemon can be a strange, wonderful, and often terrifying place. Along with humans and a select few diminutive and unimpressive animals, this world is inhabited by a race of peculiar creatures known as, of course, Pokemon. These creatures come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny moles and worms to giant whales and rock-snakes, and while some of the smaller ones might make good pets, almost all of them are capable of devastating feats. It’s understandable that some people may give Pokemon a wide berth, avoiding them at all costs, but there are a few brave souls among us who dare to encounter them up close and personal on a regular basis, bettering themselves in order to overcome any obstacle the world’s Pokemon might put forth. We call them Pokemon Trainers, and the very best among them, who’ve captured or at least owned one sample out of every known Pokemon, are considered Pokemon Masters! Of course, realistically, there can only be one Pokemon Master, as a select few Pokemon are one-of-a-kind, and capturing just one of them destroys the chances for anyone else to achieve said accolade. Seriously, what’s up with that?
Among these unique creatures are the legendary birds, Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres. These Titans of unimaginable elemental power live on a series of islands near Shamouti in the Orange Islands region, engaged in an ancient stalemate over their territory, unknowingly guarding the dormant beast of the sea. Should any one of those three be captured and removed from the scenario, that beast will roar to life and throw the world into chaos. This legend has attracted the attention of Lawrence III, a Pokemon collector with a hunger for the rare and valuable. Using his incredible technology, he has every intention of capturing these titans in order to lure out the beast of the sea… Who he believes to be the legendary Lugia. Unfortunately for him, an old prophecy states that when the balance of power taming the beast becomes perturbed, a chosen one can step in and make things right again! And as it just so happens, Ash Ketchum and his friends are passing through the area on the way to their next Orange Islands gym battle, when they wind up getting dragged into the conflict. When the world turns to ash, will one of these brave souls step up and take the world’s fate into their own hands? Or will humanity become the next one-of-a-kind species?
Remember in my review of the first movie, how I said it struck the right balance between CG and 2D animation, and that the balance would get progressively worse with each passing movie? This is where it starts, and oh boy does it get off to a noticeable start. Right off the bat, we’re shown Lawrence’s Castle in the Sky, a giant floating base somehow kept in the air by slowly turning propellers. If this movie had come out a few years later, it would probably be paired with Feel Good Inc as it’s pop song BGM. Anyway, this thing is the most obvious, out of place computer-generated construct since the tongue beasts in the first Resident Evil movie, and two dimensional characters appearing in the same shot look about as real and natural as paper dolls taped to a very expensive child’s toy. It’s also pretty obvious how much money went into this thing, because about half of this movie’s animation is about as low quality as the show, with talking heads moving and freezing on still canvases, and barely any background movement in shots that have lots of people on them.
If that’s not bad enough, there’s a scene very early on where the team is traveling by boat, and they’re hit by a storm that causes some turbulence. There is a shot where Pikachu is standing nervously on the rocking boat in a close-up, and I swear to Arceus they just took the still image and shook it around to give the illusion of movement. Characters often seem to freeze into the background whenever they’re not talking, some of the scenes are very poorly shot(like Ash’s arrival on Shamouti), and a lot of the movie is distinctly out of frame, due to 4Kids’ decision to convert the film from widescreen to fullscreen. Another obvious CG effect is an entirely pointless scene where hoards of Pokemon are stuck on an ice sheet staring out into the water, but can still be seen moving from a mile away, including Kangaskhan doing her little sumo stomp. The only moments where the CG and 2D elements blend nicely to the tune of a decent budget, and thus the moments that differentiate it from future movies, are the action scenes, most notably when the legendary birds are fighting either Lawrence’s devices, each other, or both. The animation for these moments are breathtaking, fast paced, and over-all a joy to watch, to the point that I’d actually say it’s worth sitting through the rest of the movie’s animation to get there.
The music, however, is a step up from the first movie. The score is powerful and epic, particularly with the music that accompanies the action set pieces. Rather than a Danny Elfman sound, like the first movie utilized, this one has more of a John Williams sound, which is equally appropriate. Where the first film had a dark and ominous tone, this one plays out more like a grand, sweeping adventure, so the music has to be a lot bolder and, well, for lack of a better term, bigger. This does unfortunately result in a lot of the tunes sounding a bit homogenized, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as this type of movie kind of calls for it. It only tends to get annoying when it comes to what I can only describe as the musical motif of the film, a certain wind tune that a new female character introduces us to. She never states what she’s playing, and I can’t identify it by ear, so we’ll just call it an Ocarina. It’s important to the plot, so I can’t harp on it too much, but suffice to say it gets old pretty quick. Thankfully, with Lugia’s Song as an example, it rarely ever plays in the background without evolving into something far more awesome.
The soundtrack in this movie is nowhere near as embarrassing as the first one, as it seems to have been put together with a much better focus than it’s pop-song grabbing predecessor. The Ocarina motif that I mentioned before gets expanded into a full song by Donna Summer, which was based off of one of this movie’s three names, The Power of One. It’s a pretty great song, not gonna lie, but it’s very nature carries one of the most unfortunate problems with the english version of the movie, which I’ll get to later. The pop version of Pokemon World is also pretty awesome, even though it’s being sung by two nineties bands that haven’t been mentioned by living people for over ten years. Yeah, the song itself is fun, but it only really becomes cringeworthy if you watch the two bands performing it onstage, which is totally a thing on the DVD extras. Those poor teen bastards. Even the actors from Pokemon Live came away more dignity than that. Flying Without Wings by Westlife is a pretty decent song… well, at least the cut the movie used… And for a bit of unexpected weirdness, Weird Al actually pops up in the credits to combine the Pokerap with his own Polka trend.
It’s not what I’d call a perfect soundtrack, but at least they tried to keep things relevant this time around. But much like the first movie, there are tunes on the CD that didn’t make it into the movie… Dreams by Alysha Antonino has the makings of a pretty good song, but the production features the absolute worst flavor of the late nineties. The lyrics themselves are almost poignant in their message, but the orchestration is just butt ugly. The Extra Mile by Laura Pausini is really generic, and could easily be placed in the credits of almost any film without feeling out of place. I hate to get mean over a song that’s been lost in time, but when I buy a CD and load the songs to Itunes, this is the kind of song I leave off. The same could be said by One Heart by O-Town, which probably the most memorable forgotten band in existence, and With All Your Heart by Plus One. The only songs present that are as entertainingly bad as the last CD are Chosen One by The B-52s, which almost seems to be making fun of the movie’s prophecy, and They Just Don’t Understand, a song by a bunch of twelve year olds called Dream Street about their love of the franchise. This one also appears on the DVD in all it’s cringey glory, you’re welcome.
For the most part, there isn’t much I can say about the english dub without talking about the series, as the acting in this movie is pretty much the same as the series at it’s best. I’ve always felt that the acting was the best part of the 4Kids dub, with the writing always being more hit-or-miss, heavy emphasis on the miss. I will concede that Ed Paul as Tracey is slightly less annoying than Eric Stuart as Brock. That, and while it might just be my imagination, Addie Blaustein was putting forth a bit more effort than usual as Meowth. Another performance of note comes from Veronica Taylor, who we’ve all gotten used to hearing as Ash, but also gets to play Ash’s mother in this film, and she gets a really heartfelt exchange with him later in the movie. Eric Rath was a bit on the forgettable side in his turn as Lugia, and despite having just as little voice acting experience, Neil Stewart was quite a bit better as Lawrence. Nathan Price, who’s done a bit more than those two, does a great job as Slowking, making the character sound like a slow, dim-witted person who’s somehow come upon great intelligence but still speaks like he used to.
The worst thing about this dub are the changes it made to the material, of which there are far too many. There was at least one plot point that I hoped was a rewrite, but no, it wasn’t… The rewrites that do exist are way worse. The relationship between the Legendary Birds and the Beast of the Sea is given a much better explanation in the Japanese, although it’s still a work of fantasy, so it’s not THAT much better. There was originally a moment when Tracey was allowed to shine by helping his friends to science their way out of a jam, but that got cut, so he’s basically as useless as his Venonat was in the opening short. Much worse than these, and probably much more shocking to westerners who’ve never seen both versions, is the fact that the whole “Power of One” idea was entirely a dub-only concept. In the Japanese, not only was there no such thing as a ‘chosen one,’ but from what I’ve been told, there was no prophecy, either. The film actually had a heavy emphasis on teamwork, which makes more sense considering how much help Ash needs throughout. Much like the pacifism of the first movie, this just goes to show how confused 4Kids can get when it comes to teaching western-friendly morals. If you can, stick to the sub.
If you knew me around the turn of the century, you’d know that I was a huge Pokemon fanatic. If you were also a member of the Pokemon fandom, you probably also knew that I was a huge fan of the Orange Islands arc. To this day, it’s still my favorite season of the original series, and the only season that I own on DVD. It was just so different from anything that came before, or that’s come out of the series since. As far as I’m aware, it was the only season to not be connected to the games, although I did at least attempt to run the fan-made Pokemon Orange-version on my piece of crap MacIntosh. I loved how much creative freedom it had, as it wasn’t tied down to the formula of the Kanto region, as they didn’t have to dedicate each episode to revealing a new Pokemon, and they could just write episodes revolving around new concepts of older, already established Pokemon. Some very popular iconic Pokemon got to take center stage, like Lapras and Snorlax, and the battles didn’t have to be actual battles, and there was a lot more material for Pokeshippers. It was a breath of fresh air, and the news of an upcoming movie finally got my ass into theaters.
So how did it hold up? Well, you hardly need me to tell you how popular it is. While the critics were notoriously tough on it, giving it only a one point advantage over it’s predecessor, it is one of the most common fan favorites among the actual Pokemon fandom. It’s lowest review score on Myanimelist is a 6(until now), and none of those reviews lasted more than a single page(until now). It’s not hard to see why, because this was the first Pokemon movie to feel like an actual movie. It had a more epic, theatrical feel to it, with higher stakes and arguably a more ambitious story than most other Pokemon films. It introduced two Generation 2 Pokemon, not counting Elekid in the opening short, and the ones it did introduce in the main story were actually important to the plot, not cannon fodder in a random opening battle. It’s not often considered the best movie in the Pokemon line-up, that honor often goes to the Entei and Lucario movies, but it is a generally respected and highly regarded movie… Which is why it might surprise you to hear me say that it really isn’t THAT much better than the first film.
Now, credit where credit is due, it does a much better job following the traditional three act structure. In the first act, we meet the villain. We learn about who he is, what his plan is, and what will happen if said plan comes to fruition. We also get introduced to the main character, why he’s in the area, and how he gets drawn into the conflict. We get all the backstory we need, and then some, as well as intros of basically every single plot point that’s going to matter. In the second act, the plot picks up, and we see the main character set out to resolve the conflict as quickly as possible, even though the conflict is way bigger and more dangerous than he initially thought, and his inability to solve the problem leads him into a worsening situation, where things basically hit rock bottom. Finally, in the third act, the worst case scenario happens, the main makes a much grander stand, and it all builds to a climax that delivers on everything that set it up. Power of One follows the three act structure so well that it’s almost like the writers made a conscious effort to do so, and it’s ultimately the reason that the movie feels so much more like, well, a movie.
Having said that, a three act structure doesn’t guarantee the movie will be good, and for all of it’s grandeur and epic nature, this movie has just as much stupid, lore and continuity breaking material in it as the last one. First of all, harping on the English dub, the prophecy is completely pointless. Not only does it feel mind-numbingly stupid that some ancient prophecy knows who Ash is and decides that only he, one of the most incompetent heroes in anime history, can possibly set the world back to right, but there was nothing in the prophecy about Lawrence starting all of this conflict. It also doesn’t work in terms of the story, because Ash doesn’t need a prophecy to tell him to go into action and save the world… He’s a good person, he’ll do it anyway! Hell, I wouldn’t even make that point if it wasn’t for the fact that (mild spoilers in this sentence) Team Rocket, the show’s signature antagonists, decide all on their own to turn over a new leaf and act heroic for the sake of saving the planet. Ash needed a prophecy to call him out by name(In an oh so clever pun that fooled absolutely nobody), but Team Rocket are the altruists in the scenario? Bull to the motherfucking shit!
Going right back to act one, not only does Lawrence have a Pokemon trading card… Which just throws all kinds of logic out the window, because this isn’t Digimon Tamers we’re watching… But the exposition he gets from his computer makes no sense. It identifies the prophecized Titans as the legendary birds, which means he likely didn’t know that yet, and since the prophecy mentioned nothing about Shamouti, how the hell is he already in the area? And why are Ash and friends taking a ferry, when they usually just ride on Lapras’s back? It would make sense in a Pokemon game, but they never had random encounters on her back before. Also, how did Lawrence and Ash move into position on the exact annual day that the island was expecting this exact catastrophe to occur? Then in the second act, we get such gems as Tracey being useless, a flying sailboat, Ash trying to tackle an electrified cage, and to top it all off, there’s a strong implication that in order to catch all existing Pokemon… Or to “Catch’em All,” which is explicitly the catch phrase of the series, you would have to destroy the world as we know it in the process. I don’t think they really thought this through.
Then the third act happens, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it damn near justifies everything. In the first movie, the “third act,” if you could call it that, is where it failed hardest, as it used it’s climax to crawl right up inside it’s own ass. This, however, is what a third act is supposed to be. Every single plot point, even the worst ones like Misty bantering with Melody over her crush on Ash, comes to a satisfying conclusion. Even though there’s well-animated action scenes throughout the movie, this part of the story upstages all of them, as it should, with Lawrence being largely written out of the story so the birds themselves can fight among themselves, and it’s as awesome as it sounds. That’s not to say nothing stupid happens… Bulbasaur and Squirtle are shown to run as fast as Charizard flies, in a scenario when he really should have tried to call out Lapras, and the dialogue between Melody and Misty ends in an exchange that doesn’t make much sense… I’m assuming only one person in that group has any idea how to play the Ocarina… But it doesn’t matter, because every moment leads to something great. Does that make all the stupid crap that we had to sit through to get to that point okay? No, not really, but at least there’s something at the end worth sitting through it all for. It’s not much, but it’s something.
Pokemon the movie 2000, also known as The Power of One and Revelation Lugia, is available from Viz Media in both single format and a three-pack with the first and third films. . You can also find the out of print original DVD from Warner Home Video, albeit at a much more expensive price. Unlike the first movie, you can also find the soundtrack and score on the same CD, although brand new copies are quite a bit more expensive. Netflix generally has about four or five different Pokemon movies available for legal streaming at any given time, and this is occasionally one of them.
Despite my criticisms, this is my favorite Pokemon movie, and it’s the one I have the most nostalgic feelings for. There are at least two scenes in it that make me cry… One involving Team Rocket, the other involving Ash’s mom… And that’s something no other Pokemon movie can say. It also expands upon the lore in a lot of interesting ways, such as giving a few characters first names for the first time. Of course, just because it’s my personal favorite doesn’t make it one of the best ones. I wouldn’t even call it one of the top five. Looked at as a sequel, it just barely surpasses the first movie in terms of scale and execution, but the story is still based on coincidence, there’s still a lot of dumb and inaccurate material, and it breaks the fourth wall more than any Pokemon movie should. It doesn’t fall into the trap of pushing a confused and hypocritical moral, but it only pulls this off by not trying to push ANY moral… Which is probably the smart way to go, but it still doesn’t convey the kind of growth that a sequel should go through. It’s sense of pacing, structure and emotional resonance, as well as it’s killer third act ultimately saves it, but doesn’t vindicate it. I give Pokemon the Movie 2000 a 5/10.
Well, it’s the last Saturday of March, and you know what that means.
Starting next week… It’s Studio Gainax month!