23 October 2003

Many thanks to my parents for digging up this copy of the actual Pokemon movie review that I wrote for Student.Com way back in 2000, or thereabouts. Note that when this article originally appeared, the editors attempted to switch it from the present tense back into the past, but somehow only changed every other verb, making it sound incredibly retarded. If it weren't for that, this article would probably have ended up in my clip portfolio:
As I enter the theater for the preview screening of "Pokemon: The First Movie" a wave of indescribable melancholy sweeps across my heart. The auditorium before me is packed with hundreds of children and their reluctant parents, and as I attempt to survey the crowd with the dispassionate eye of a critic, I realize that I'm getting older. Pokemon is the first kiddie craze that has left me completely in the dark. I've survived Cabbage Patch Dolls, Care Bears, Smurfs, even the tail end of the Power Ranger phenomenon. But Pokemon? I know nothing about Pokemon.

Desperate for insight, I decide to interrogate the kid in front of me. Ben is almost eight years old and cute enough to inspire his own line of cuddly merchandise, but I'm not deceived by appearances. Beneath his innocent exterior, I sense the steely-eyed presence of a Pokemon fanatic. So I switch on my tape recorder and pump my source for information. "Pokemon is short for 'pocket monsters,'" he says, "and there are tons of them, like, there's tons of Pokemon, and I can't even explain everything. I don't know everything yet, and that's why I'm watching this movie."

Well, great. Guessing that there may be a Pulitzer in store for me if I can get this kid to talk, I prod him further and finally emerge with a refreshingly coherent explanation of Pokemon. Apparently these creatures, which are collectible in card or video game form, wage feverish battle under the command of their trainers, who gain experience points for successful fights and are thus enabled to train more lethal and/or fuzzier monsters. The hero of the "Pokemon" TV series is ten-year-old Ash, who travels the world searching for various kinds of Pokemon, whom he then proceeds to enslave (or something like that — my notes are a little hazy on this point).

And so the movie starts. First the audience is treated to a fifteen-minute short subject entitled "Pikachu's Vacation," which stars the cutest and most ubiquitous Pokemon of them all, that puffy yellow thing you've probably seen before. As I settle into my seat, I become aware of a number of obstacles lying in the way of my comprehension of this movie: 1) there are several billion characters, and 2) all of them speak in indecipherable gibberish. Looking back, I can't recall too much of the experience. (At one point, according to my notes, I scrawl the phrase "My brain is dying.") But it's all very bouncy and harmless, and adorable in a creepily Dadaist kind of way.

And the "Pokemon" movie itself? Well, let's see. Ash and his friends get an invitation to visit the fortress of the world's greatest Pokemon trainer, who turns out to be a brooding, ominous figure who was cloned from the most ancient Pokemon of all and now bears a bitter grudge against man and Pokemon alike, hoping to conquer the world with a legion of superpowered Pokemon clones, and there's a big laboratory and explosions and a thing and oh, never mind. I could discuss the film's audacious disregard for three-act structure, and its refreshingly minimal concern with characterization and meaningful plot development. Or maybe not.

The kids seem to enjoy it, though. The appearance of each new Pokemon is greeted with a smattering of applause from the audience, and at one point — as Pikachu narrowly evades a threat to his cuddly well-being — I hear a seven-year-old voice squeal "Thank you, Lord!" I will admit to being impressed by the movie's ability to espouse a message of nonviolent resistance even after an hour or so of its characters pounding on one another. And I exit the theater with a feeling of newfound respect for my parents, who, in my own foolish youth, had accompanied me to everything from "The Chipmunk Adventure" to "Masters of the Universe" without a word of complaint — although I suspect that none of the treasured films of my childhood managed to reach the level of insipidity that "Pokemon: The First Movie" achieves. This is "Fight Club" for preschoolers.
God, I miss being a film critic.

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