There’s been 20 years of Pokemon.
It’s almost hard to fathom just how long-lived and massive this franchise is. In just two decades it’s become the most financially successful franchise in the world and still stands as one of the most iconic anime and video game franchises of all time. In celebration of 20 years of success, they decided to do something a bit different for the 20th movie, Pokemon: I Choose You!
The film stands as a hard reboot of Ash’s origin story and tells how he met Pikachu for the first time. Once that’s finished, however, it moves into an entirely new story. After Ash and Pikachu’s encounter with Ho-oh, Ash receives a Rainbow Wing, a sign that Ho-oh has chosen Ash as a trainer whom he deems worthy of battling. Ash, Pikachu, and the new friends they’ve met along the way travel towards Ho-oh’s nest, meeting tons of new people and Pokemon along the way.
There are so many things that I love about Pokemon: I Choose You.
Most notably, it handles its nostalgia effortlessly. Rather than beat you over the head like Mastermind of Mirage Pokemon did, I Choose You’s nostalgia is mostly very subtle. One of my favorite points is how the two Pokemon League trainers battling at the very beginning are actually two of the trainers from Mewtwo Strikes Back. It’s the simple things like that that make the nostalgia work so well.
What’s more, all of the old story beats that the film reuses from the TV series are revamped without losing their original intent. It condenses Ash and Pikachu’s first meeting to about half its original size, but doesn’t lose any impact. As the story goes on, old friends show up again in different ways. Each nugget of nostalgia is retooled perfectly to fit the new story. I also liked that the goal for the film is much more personal for Ash. Saving the world is nice and all, but Ash actually choosing to go after Ho-oh makes the journey overall so much more satisfying.
I was very skeptical about the new characters that replace Misty and Brock, but they turned out pretty solid as well. They don’t really stand out much aside from brief glimpses of their back stories, but they’re not meant to. This is Ash and Pikachu’s story, and it absolutely nails that point. Not only that, but it adds in so much extra information to enrich both the main story and the Pokemon world as a whole.
I also really like the new antagonist for this movie, Cross. Yes he’s mean-spirited and cold, but his dialogue isn’t overly evil. He just doesn’t see being friends with Pokemon as having any value in their training. His dialogue reflects this really well without going overboard. This also creates a great ideological battle between Ash and him as they battle throughout the film.
Admittedly, there are a couple issues.
Marshadow’s role as the new legendary Pokemon is a bit odd. It works well at first, but then it does something at the climax that seems totally out of left field. It felt like they needed something to instigate the final climax and that’s just what they came up with. Granted, that climax is absolutely massive and incredible, so I’m not too upset.
My other big complaint is a low point that Ash has after a battle with Cross. It just felt like they went a little too far with some of his emotions. I get that he’s a kid and kids say hurtful things sometimes. It just felt like they went a little too far. Once again, however, the sequence that follows this more than makes up for it.
The animation for this film is simply stellar.
Great color work, fantastic Pokemon designs, and tons of moments that are just epic and awesome. There’s also a ton of detail put into the backgrounds and character designs. One of my personal favorites was how the Celadon Gym was covered in solar panel because Grass-types. There is still quite a bit of CG, but it’s mostly confined to the set designs like in X&Y. When we get CG Pokemon, the camera keeps them out of focus so as not to distract us.
As for the soundtrack, Shinji Miyazaki pulls out yet another fantastic score. The tracks reused from the TV series have new life imbued into them. The new tracks are just as strong and add new and powerful emotions to each scene. It’s just a great soundtrack overall.
This might be my favourite Pokemon movie so far. I’ve been re-watching all of the films for a large project I have planned. And yet none of them have come close to the raw emotions of I Choose You. The thing I love the most about this film is that it’s all about the thing that I personally love the most about Pokemon as a whole: interacting and having fun with Pokemon. The biggest appeal of Pokemon is being able to capture, train, and become friends with hundreds of different cool and powerful creatures, and this movie absolutely nails that point.
Pokemon: I Choose You! has set an incredibly high bar for all future films. However, if this is an indication of things to come, then I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years have in store!
Final Score: 8.5/10