It is undeniable that pop-culture shapes us as we grow and mature. Imagine that you were a sprawling mansion and that who you are now was built by what you consumed in your formative years. How much of you is made up of any one particular piece of pop culture? A few planks of wood adorned with Power Rangers and Captain Planet along the floor? A small shrine to Jurassic Park in the form of a backyard playground? Or possibly an entire room devoted to Star Wars and Star Trek with a clash between The Enterprise and The Falcon adorned the ceiling ala the Sistine Chapel? For a lot of 90s kids (such as myself) I’d imagine that in our mansion there would be an entire wing devoted entirely to Pokémon because for how deep and pervasive the fandom was to the point of devotion. I loved Pokémon. I used to wake up early every day so that I could sneak out to the living room and watch Pokémon and Zoids with the volume alllllll the way down to make sure my parents never woke up. I collected the cards, played the games, and yes watched the movies. I remember being in the theater opening day with my best friend and it was packed. Leaving the theater I was probably the happiest I had ever been. I was truly blown away.
20 years later I still love Pokémon. I still play the games, collect the cards, and watch the show (admittedly not as much as when I was 8). I consider the Pokémon XY and Sun and Moon to be excellent shows in their own right and probably some of the best programming for kids in terms of animation. When I found out we were doing a retrospective, I jumped at the chance to talk about Pokemon the First Movie because it really did impact my life in a way similar to how I hear a lot of people talk about Indiana Jones or Star Wars. On rewatch I have to admit…it’s a wholly uneven movie and honestly there are parts that are boring and cringey to my now fully formed adult brain. But the magic is still there and that is what surprised me the most.
The Moment I Fell in Love with “Pokemon the First Movie”
In the theaters there was a short just before the actual film; Pikachu’s Vacation. It’s a super cute short and I was sold immediately. On rewatch it’s 20 minutes of essentially-silent slapstick comedy. TWENTY. MINUTES. No one wants 20 minutes of slapstick comedy. Parents must have been so bored and confused I don’t blame them for hating Pokémon. The cuteness factor really what redeems this because mah god watching Charizard get stuck in a pipe, Togepi get into all sorts of mischief and Pikachu fighting with Raichu are all adorable. Fun fact. I asked for Pokémon cards for Christmas and instead got promotional cards with scenes from this short on them. At the time I was pretty disappointed, but now they are pretty cool and unique and show them off to anyone who even looks interested. Thanks to which ever parent fucked that up (Love ya :D).
Most Watchable Scene
The movie essentially doesn’t even start until 30 minutes in (out of the 75 minute run time Y.I.K.E.S) so all of the interesting things happen in rapid succession. Ash trying to get Pikachu back is a great sequence and you can really feel the tension in that scene. but the obvious answer here is the battle against Mewtwo. The climax of this film makes the rest of the film worth it as the fight is incredibly entertaining. Mewtwo’s telekinetic powers and throwing Ash around like a ragdoll really hit home the helplessness of the situation. Plus watching all the cloned Pokémon kick the shit out of the real ones was great fun. It even has probably the most giffable moment where Universe A Pikachu just kinda gives up and Universe B Pikachu just goes to town smacking the ever loving shit out of him. Both with tears in their eyes, with a sad instrumental playing overhead.
It. Is. Heartbreaking.
Here it is on loop for your enjoyment.
Speaking of heartbreak. If there was a way to harness children’s tears into power I’m pretty sure Ash’s death would have powered the Earth for a decade. Even now, watching Pikachu run over to the petrified Ash, tears rolling down its face, has to be one of the single saddest things I have ever seen in a film. Luckily the tears of the Pokémon are enough to raise Ash from the dead (sure) and Mewtwo drops an impassioned speech about why violence and racism is bad.
Why You Should Rewatch Pokemon The First Movie
For a lot of us who grew up in the 90s this is a necessary nostalgia trip that puts our entire being into perspective. For those born too late to “get” Pokémon it might be nice to watch it and see what the hubbub is about. For those on the younger side this might be a chance to appreciate where the fandom originated; an ancient relic of a not-so-forgotten era. Plus Pikachu is adorable and that is worth the price of admission.