Anime Film Review: Pokemon The First Movie

Pokemon The First Movie was released in Japan on July 18, 1998, and the dubbed English version of the film was released to theaters on November 10, 1999. When the movie was shown in Japanese theaters, there were three parts: the “Pikachu’s Vacation” short, a “prologue” piece that showed the origin of Mewtwo, and then the actual film. In the English version, the “origin of Mewtwo” was cut from the film, and was later included as a “bonus feature” on the DVD release of Pokemon The First Movie.

Pokemon The First Movie
Directed by: Kunihiko Yuyama
Written by: Takeshi Shudō
Starring: Rica Matsumoto, Ikue Ōtani, Mayumi Iizuka, Yūji Ueda, Satomi Kōrogi, Megumi Hayashibara, Shin-ichiro Miki, Inuko Inuyama, Masachika Ichimura, and Kōichi Yamadera
Run Time: 75 minutes
Rated: G

The “Pikachu’s Vacation” short runs for 20 minutes, and it focuses on Ash, Misty, and Brock’s Pokemon taking a break at a vacation spot specifically for Pokemon, while their trainers go elsewhere for some rest. While on their break, Pikachu and the other Pokemon have a run-in with a group of border-ruffian Pokémon; this group includes Marill and Snubbul, and this marked the first time these two particular Pokemon appeared in the anime. While fighting with this group of rough Pokemon, Charizard gets its head stuck, and the two groups end up having to put their differences aside to help free Charizard. Overall, I thought this was a cute and enjoyable short.

In the English version of the theatrical and DVD release, this is followed directly by the main film. In the movie, Giovanni, the leader of Team Rocket, wants a Pokemon that is stronger than any other to utilize as a military weapon for world conquest. A group of scientists are able to take DNA from Mew, a Legendary Pokemon, and create an improved version named Mewtwo.

When Mewtwo awakens, he becomes so enraged that he destroys the lab. Giovanni arrives and tricks Mewtwo into believing they are partners. After a short while, Mewtwo discovers Giovanni has tricked him. Mewtwo destroys Giovanni’s base and flies back to the remains of the lab where he was “born” and rebuilds it.

Ash, Misty, and Brock take a break from their journey and are about to have a bite to eat when Ash is challenged to a battle by another trainer. Ash is able to beat him rather easily, and it turns out that the battle has been observed by a third party through video images. Soon, a Dragonite appears with an invitation for Ash and his friends to come to “New Island” to battle against someone claiming to be “the World’s Greatest Pokemon Master.” Ash accepts the invitation.

However, when they arrive at the ferry dock, a violent storm has started, and Officer Jenny and the Harbor Master refuse to let anyone leave. A few Pokemon trainers, including Ash and his friends, defy the order and head out on their Pokemon, anyway.

Ash, his friends, as well as three other Pokemon trainers, manage to make it to “NewIsland,” where they learn that the individual claiming to be “the World’s Greatest Pokemon Master” is actually Mewtwo. The rest of the film focuses on Mewtwo and his attempts to create an army of clone Pokemon to eradicate humans and their Pokemon, and to repopulate the planet with his clone Pokemon.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie, and was particularly moved by a scene near the end of the film; the scene in question moved my then seven-year-old son to tears. The film makes the most of its one-hour runtime; when you watch the movie, you don’t feel as if they’ve added anything to it simply to stretch the run time out to an hour.

As an adult, one my favorite portions of the film came near the end of the film, when Mewtwo actually gets rather philosophical. From what I’ve seen of the Pokemon franchise, I can truly say that this is probably the deepest the franchise gets. I can also say that of the Pokemon films that I have seen, that this one is the best.

The DVD itself has two sections of special features: “Super-Extras!” and “Behind-the-Scenes.” “Behind-the-Scenes” is just 12 pages of text that you browse through that explain the origins of Pokemon in Japan and the United States, and also explains the concept behind Pokemon.

There are six items in the “Super-Extras!” menu. The first is a version of the movie that includes commentary by director Michael Haigney and producer Norman J. Grossfield. The commentary is actually rather interesting, and is worth a listen if you have an interest in learning trivia and background information about the movie.

“The Story of Mewtwo’s Origin” is the prologue piece that was removed from the English dub version of the film; this piece really helps the viewer understand what happens right at the beginning of the movie, and I honestly think it should have been left in.

Next in this menu is the music video for M2M’s “Don’t Say You Love Me,” which was the song that was promoted as a single from the Pokemon The First Movie soundtrack. The theatrical trailer for Pokemon The First Movie, and a preview of Pokemon The Movie 2000 are also included. The final extra is labeled “Ash’s Journey”; it’s a roughly one-and-a-half minute piece narrated by Brock, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this particular segment at the beginning of a couple of the other Pokemon films.

When it comes to the DVD, my biggest disappointment is the fact that there is no special feature so you can choose to only watch the “Pikachu’s Vacation” short on its own. Even with that disappointment, I would highly recommend that Pokemon The First Movie should be in the DVD collection of any Pokemon fan.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of Pokemon The First Movie that my husband and I purchased.

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