It’s better than the first one. That isn’t saying much, especially since the prime audience for this film doesn’t really care much about niceties like character, dialogue, or quality of animation. If you’ve got a little Pokemon fanatic in your family, you’re going to this movie, whether it is any good or not.
And it’s not, by any adult standards. But there are a few moments of interesting animation and what passes for a plot is a bit more coherent than it was in the first one. A bad guy (we can tell he is a bad guy because he has an English accent and because he is a Pokemon COLLECTOR not a Pokemon TRAINER) plans to disrupt the “harmony of fire, ice, and lightning” by capturing the birds that control these elements of nature. Once that harmony is disrupted, he will unleash the monster currents of the ocean, and that will enable him to capture the ultimate treasure, Lugia, for his collection.
Meanwhile, champion Pokemon trainer Ash and his friends arrive on an island just in time for the annual re-enactment of an ancient legend. The girl selected to be the star of the re-enactment calls it “dorky” and thinks it is all a little silly. But then she realizes that it is more than a legend, and that by paying careful attention to the words and music of the old ceremony, she will have the key to restoring the balance of nature, protecting Lugia, and preventing catastrophic weather conditions that could wipe out all living things. According to the legend, “the world will turn to Ash” if the harmony of nature is disturbed. And Ash needs help from everyone, even the usually dastardly Team Rocket, to save the day.
As in the first movie, there is also a short film at the beginning, “Pokemon’s Rescue Adventure,” featuring the Pokemons on a human-free, and almost dialogue-free frolic. Pokemon fans will enjoy the line-up of favorite characters, and may even learn something about loyalty and teamwork.
As I have noted before, anyone who has ever seen the TV series, played the game, or bought the cards knows what to expect here. Every generation of children has some hideously annoying cartoon series to provide parents with much agonizing and many, many buying opportunities. The characters usually undergo some transformation or make use of a secret to attain power. This theme is endlessly interesting to kids who can feel overwhelmed by a world built on a scale that is often too large for them.
Kids, especially those ages 6-10, also love to memorize and sort endless facts, whether about Pokemons, dinosaurs, cars, or Beanie Babies. It gives them a sense of mastery, especially because they can do so much better than adults. And it becomes an important part of their social development, creating a shared language with their friends. This can be particularly meaningful for kids who are insecure about talking to other children.
Still, excruciating as it can be for parents to endure, it may be worthwhile for kids to see the movie. If it makes it any easier, remember that before too long, this will be over and by the time the next one comes along your children will be past that stage.
Parents should know that the movie features a lot of cartoon-style action, with characters in peril, but no one gets hurt. Like Harry Potter, Ash and Misty are at a point where there are some uncomfortable boy-girl feelings. When Misty is accused of being Ash’s girlfriend, she bristles. But she does not allow the fear of acting like a girlfriend prevent her from acting like a friend, and her special water skills turn out to be just what Ash needs. There is also some mild potty humor.
Families who watch this movie should talk about the importance of loyalty and teamwork and how Ash sometimes feels that he is not up to the task (“Training Pokemons is tough enough, but saving the world is way too hard!”). Ask kids why Team Rocket decided to become good, and whether they think they will stay that way. Kids may also want to talk about how Ash’s mother feels. She is proud and scared at the same time when he is risking his life to save the world. She is sorry that his life as a Pokemon trainer takes him so far away from her, but when she tells him, “You’re my hero every day,” she lets him know that she is proud of him for who is is as well as for what he does.
Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the first one, “Pokemon: The First Movie — Mewtwo Strikes Back.”