Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! Review

I’ll be perfectly honest, I only went to see this film originally to humour my partner (who is a big Pokémon fan, and so going to see this limited edition release meant a lot to her). I guess I owed her, after all, I’d dragged her to see countless films in the past. Plus, it was me that discovered the film would be shown in our local cinema upon browsing upcoming releases on its website. I did feel bad at first because upon its release day I was more excited to go to the “all-you-can-eat” buffet opposite the cinema rather than the film itself. But, needless to say I’m glad I participated in this monumental occasion.

Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! is definitely a film made for the hard-core fans. I guess that’s why I didn’t feel very welcome to such a screening because I wasn’t exactly a big Pokémon fan. Sure, I dabbled with the original anime back in the 90s (who didn’t?) and I’ve only seen bits and bobs of the games from watching over people play them over the years. I didn’t experience Pokémon for myself until Pokémon X and Y, to which I came to more appreciate the series as a whole but couldn’t fully endorse into the franchise on the account that I just suck at strategic Role Playing Games, and there’s a lot to learn when it comes to Pokémon, i.e. the different types and how their moves will aid or hinder your progression as a Pokémon Trainer.

But, what helps with Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! is you don’t really need to understand the ins-and-outs of the franchise in order to fully appreciate it. Sure, it really helps to be a massive fan of the franchise, but since this is a re-tread of the show’s origins it allows you to jump on fairly easily, but a little knowledge about the series is sort of required. Since I’d seen a lot of the earlier episodes I felt almost at home with this film as it rekindled my love with the franchise and why I tried so desperately to tune in whenever I could, eventually watching it on repeats many years later.

This film certainly has heart, and that’s one of the magical elements of its narrative and the world within it. Sure, it can get quite soppy in places, to which it can become distracting and almost numbingly simple in its “get-out-of-jail” free cards, but overall its a pleasant experience to thrill the fans that have stayed loyal and true to this magnificent specimen that seems to only grow stronger as each year goes by. Heck, there are genuine heart-felt moments in this film, ones that made me feel sad, or happy inside, along with feeling a strong connection with the characters and Pokémon onscreen.

It drew me in and made me give a damn, And, above all, it made me feel welcome, to the point where I couldn’t get enough of this wonderful world and everything worked within it, from the expansive lore, to the strategic nature of being a Pokémon Trainer, to the beauty within this world and how man and Pokémon come together in their special little bonds of friendship. Friendship is definitely another key element to this film’s narrative and it makes it feel very strong and clear throughout. This adds into what I said earlier about this film having a lot of heart, which is built upon the relationships built within the narrative.

Of course the key relationship is that of Ash and Pikachu. Who’d have thought all those years ago when the anime started that Ash and Pikachu would still be as relevant and beloved today as they were back then? And it just shows for the franchise’s 20th Anniversary that we can have a retelling of how that wonderful journey began. But the neat thing is it’s not just a simple re-tread. It’s much more than that. It’s a complete new story based upon the original episodes, granting you a whole new experience which feels both fresh but familiar. It’s the same story but it’s also brand-new, to the point were you could call it a soft reboot which could start the journey all over again and I’m totally fine with that.

Sure, some die-hard fans are going to absolutely hate certain aspects of this film, i.e. the lack of Brock and Misty. They are completely absent from this retelling in order to make way for two brand-new characters to help with the new direction of Ash and Pikachu’s origins. At first this took me by surprise but I quickly grew attached to the new characters and actually found them to be a pleasant addition, adding greatly for the need of something new otherwise this film would have no real meaning. It needed new elements in order to make it stand-out against the original tales and allow it to stand on its own two feet.

It’s hardly a betrayal and rather a respectful executive decision to make this film feel even more special by undoing the past and retelling it for a new beginning. I think if you’d had everything the same this film wouldn’t have felt as special, or unique, because it would’ve been a complete scene-by-scene rehash without any real substance. Instead, it did the smart thing by celebrating the past by moving it forward. Other neat ways they did this was by including different generations of Pokémon in order to make this world, and Ash and Pikachu’s journey, feel very large from the off-set, thus showing the many horizons ahead and how far the series has come all in the space of one film. That’s certainly impressive.

I really enjoyed the development between Ash and Pikachu. Ash is about to turn 10 and begin his journey to become a Pokémon Master but finds himself in a pickle when the three starting Pokémon (Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle) have already been taken by fellow Pokémon Trainers, leaving Ash with Pikachu. But despite Ash being left with the handy-down he’s really excited to gain Pikachu as his starter Pokémon but Pikachu, on the other-hand, is rather reluctant to accept Ash as his trainer. This leads to many funny moments of Ash being shocked by the stubborn Pokémon who tries to make his feelings of disobedience very clear.

However, it doesn’t take long for Pikachu to gain mutual respect for Ash upon him sacrificing himself to save him, and in this moment of bravery, and dedication towards his Pokémon, Pikachu rises to the occasion by returning the favour and takes out an entire flock of angry Spearows, thus their friendship is cemented. I will admit that I found this happened far too quickly in order to speed up the plot, discarding many more wonderful moments of the two characters trying to get along, but it still felt fitting and somewhat earned.

Things speed up with a montage of Ash and Pikachu’s journey and how they progress as both friends and a team, capturing new Pokémon to add to their team and advance their technique. Like I said, the added addition of the new characters was very welcomed and their eventual inclusion added greatly to the plot to add-in a new dynamic for Ash to compliment himself with. Sure, you could’ve just brought back Brock and Misty but honestly (and I know a lot of you are going to hate me for saying this) I found Sorrel and Verity to be better characters.

Sure, their backstories felt a little forced in order to give them more depth but they were both heartfelt tales which perfectly explained their present-day characteristics, along with their particular bond with Pokémon. Verity never felt like her mother (a fellow Pokémon Trainer) never took much notice of her and she was always caught in her mother’s shadow never fully being able to live up to her abilities. Sorrel had a truly depressing tale to tell in which he got lost in the snow only to be rescued by his families pet Pokémon who happily sacrificed itself to keep Sorrel warm. It’s even tear-jerky when you see the Pokémon still has a smile on its face, meaning it gladly died knowing its human was safe and warm from the cold. Powerful stuff.

Another memorable moment which added a lot of heartfelt was Ash’s meeting with Charmander. Surprisingly they never went down the route of Ash’s Charmander evolving and eventually becoming disobedient, accompanied with tons of fun moments where the giant orange dragon would burn his master’s arse and sleep rather than aid in the battle at hand. They remain loyal friends throughout the narrative despite a sharp blip within their streak of winnings which could’ve easily knocked Charmander’s confidence and faith within his master, thus begin the tale of his disobedience.

Despite being seen before Charmander’s origins is just plain depressing because you feel so sorry for the little guy. Cross, Charmander’s original Trainer within this film’s version of events and Ash’s rival, cruelly tossed Charmander aside because he deemed him weak and pathetic. The worst part was he told Charmander to wait for his return and the cute little dragon did just that, now sat in the cold and rain, alone and saddened by his master not returning for him.

It’s the same tragedy of a dog owner abandoning their pet and the dog in question not realising what’s happened, only that they now don’t have a home anymore and no longer have a master to look up to for protection and love. The unique bond of friendship has been severed and it’s not the animals fault but rather the cruel and selfish nature of the human. Luckily Charmander comes into contact with Ash and is given a new home where he can once again be appreciated and loved. That’s the lovable thing about Ash, his compassion. Sure, he has his obvious flaws but he’s totally aware of them and these flaws are made up for by his quickening nature of learning and his massive heart.

Throughout the film you see how he opens up to people and changes the way they look at the world by showing them what he sees. This is demonstrated by the strong friendships throughout, from the humans he encounters, to the Pokémon he catches, they all become part of his family. And this eventually stumbles upon Ash’s reasoning for journeying across the lands. It’s less to become the greatest Trainer, and rather to make new friends. Each Pokémon he encounters he tries to understand, befriend, and naturally treats them with respect and honesty, making the clear definition that there’s no difference between Pokémon and humans, they are all alike in this massive world.

I guess that’s the charm I loved about the original anime in that each Pokémon was treate like a friend and each felt loved in return, adding to the unique bond Ash and his friends had with their individual Pokémon. It’s really heart-warming seeing this idea develop naturally throughout the course of the film, even to the point of showcasing one of Ash’s greatest lessons, saying goodbye.

That was always a gut-wrenching moment in the original anime when Butterfree found love and was conflicted with staying or finding a new path for itself, thus leading to Ash respecting his friend by letting him go. It’s still incredibly emotional because both characters don’t want to say goodbye but their respect for one another is what gets them through the emotional moment, made more poetic by the fact that they will never stop being friends and will never forget one another.

It’s a shame we had to have an annoying moment in the middle where Ash acted all childish about losing, but it led to a really dark moment in which Ash’s mind was warped, re-sharped into a negative world where his darker impulses surfaced and caused him to almost lose himself by a manipulative Pokémon, i.e. Marshadow. But in the end his friendship to Pikachu releases him from this terrible trance and returns him home, showcasing how strong their bonds are, it can literally break through the walls of reality.

This element carries over towards the climax when Pikachu does whatever he can to save his master from Marshadow, who manages to release its dark powers upon the world when Cross screws up Ash’s chance to meet Ho-Oh, one of the legendary Pokémon (whom Ash was destined to meet due to obtaining one of its colourful feathers, thus creating a large sum of the narrative’s quest). There’s a very powerful moment, reminiscent to the conclusion of Pokémon: The First Movie where Ash is struck down and Pikachu’s love manages to bring him back.

Sure, it felt cheap and lazy to repeat this formula but I feel this time round it was done so much better and felt more emotional, particularly since Ash completely fades away after sacrificing his body to save his best friend, and of course getting a better understanding of Pikachu’s bond with Ash. We discover why Pikachu refuses to go inside his Poké Ball, it’s because he always wants to be next to Ash because he loves his friend so much. What made this reveal more beautiful was Pikachu finally speaking so that both we and Ash could hear him. It was a powerful moment and it was certainly earned, and above all, truly appreciated.

Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! was a great film to watch and I seriously recommend it to anyone who is a Pokémon fan. There’s a few weak moments, but they’re mostly nit-picky, and sure, the ending is somewhat predictable and clichéd with its concentration on love and its infinite power conquers all, and the fact that Cross never fully got a comeuppance despite sort-of learning his lesson about being a cruel Trainer that didn’t understand the meaning of bonding with his Pokémon.  But at the end of the day it’s still a family friendly picture and has to have some kind of symbolic message for the kids to take home. Plus, it’s Pokémon, it’s supposed to be light-hearted fun filled with some serious undertones and emotional meaning.

I guess the only thing I can really question about this entire film is the inclusion of Team Rocket. Why were they included? They added nothing but cheap fan-service and even then it was utterly pointless through their lack of presence and involvement. Literally, if you deleted every bit of their screen-time you wouldn’t change a damn thing about the film’s narrative, it’s that bad. Plus, it’s a joke to have them there purely for cheap jokes and unearned moments of being blasted off into the stars. They didn’t even encounter Ash or Pikachu once. Just why were they there?

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