Assembly-line 'Pokemon' sequel another anime embarrassment
If these shoddily animated, dialogue deficient, trite and mind-melting Pokemon movies are going to become an annual ritual, I may be forced to look for a new line of work.
For the second time in only eight months, this regrettable kiddie cartoon phenomenon has spawned a feature film that is nothing more than a glorified and heavily padded episode of the el cheapo television program -- written, animated, scored and dubbed assembly-line style in Asia and unleashed like a pet store puppy on parents without the will power to tell their kids no.
In "Pokemon the Movie 2000," the endless menagerie of surreal, superpowered and collectably cute critters -- traditionally trained by teenage masters for cartoon adventure and pet-fu cock fights -- face a potential apocalypse brought on by the abduction of the pokemon fire god and the pokemon lightning god. Along with a pokemon ice god -- they're all birds that live on adjacent islands -- these two keep the Earth's elements in harmony and an now a world-wide weather disaster is looming.
Since the movie makes up its own mythology as it goes, the natives of a fourth island near by have a legend about a "chosen one" who can save the planet in just such an event. Said chosen one turns out to be Ash, the tentative young pokemon trainer who is the hero of all these cartoons. (He's also the one who owns Pikachu -- the cutesy-poo yellow cat-like thing with the rosy electric cheeks and lightning bolt tail you see gracing innumerable kindergartners' back packs and lunch pails.)
To save the planet, Ash must to free the divine birds, entreat the help of an even more powerful pokemon from the sea and unite three magic orbs that will restore the world's meteorological balance.
Got all that? You should have heard all the confused kids at the preview screening asking their even more perplexed parents what was going on.
This convoluted and sorry sequel has a few high points, like the intentional irony that finds these pokemon gods snatched by an evil pokemon collector who just wants to keep them as a prize. What a droll dig at the cut-throat adult collectability culture that has sprung up around "Pokemon" and other children's toys.
Just as clever is the computer-animated, H.G. Welles-inspired, castle-meets-Ferris-wheel contraption the nefarious collector flies around in. Driven by scores of propellers and featuring flying buttress architecture and mural-adorned ceilings, the craft is so cool -- and animated so much better than its surroundings -- that it's almost enough to distract grown ups from the insipidness of the rest of the movie.
But it's also indicative of the primary problem with the "Pokemon" phenomenon: Taking kids to see this movie is tantamount to saying "Look at the shiny thing! Look at the shiny thing!" as if they were nothing more than monkeys.
"P2K" hints at storytelling potential that is forever undercut by factory-style production. Like all anime, "Pokemon" plots are littered with abstract themes built into fully-imagined fictional realities. But like too much anime, the creativity stops there. Generic life lessons are tacked on to hackneyed solutions for a barely-realized plot. The picture is populated by unimaginative characters who can scarcely form a coherent sentence -- fully one-third of the movie is ingenuous teenagers with saucer-sized eyes saying "Huh?" As if listening to Pikachu communicate by incessantly repeating his name isn't grating enough.
"Pikachu! Pika, pika? Pikachu-pikachu-pikachu. Pika-CHU? Pi-KA-chu!"
A note to those who willingly make this kind of parent-torturing kiddie fare: If you're not at least aiming for the ingenuity of "Toy Story" or "The Iron Giant," you should be ashamed of yourselves.