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Review: 'Pokémon: The First Movie' -- cheesy kid stuff

Web posted on: Friday, November 26, 1999 11:18:19 AM EST

By Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- There's no inherent harm in allowing your kid to be entertained in unproductive ways. Yes, learning is fundamental, but it's not hard to imagine little Bobby or Susie eventually getting fed up with endless rounds of counting, reading and memorizing. If adults can spend millions of dollars watching Arnold Schwarzenegger blow up buildings to a heavy backbeat, children should be allowed to give their minds periodic rests.

But there must be a limit on how deeply their brains should snooze, and that limit is established in amazingly rinky-dink fashion by "Pokémon: The First Movie."

Theatrical preview for "Pokemon: The First Movie"
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Pokemon: The First Movie

The word "first" in the title should be taken as a harbinger of horrors to come. The machinery of modern mass marketing is so overwhelming that fads no longer are generated naturally. They're all but forced into action.

From Cabbage Patch Kids to Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers to Teletubbies, our children are being slapped on the rears like ornery mules until they finally succumb to the impulse to buy, buy, buy. Pokémon characters (it's short for "pocket monsters") have been around for quite a while, but the scientific introduction of an absurdly wide range of Pokémon-related products has created a feeding frenzy among the prepubescent disposable-income crowd.

A mother lode of money can be made if you tap into the proper wellsprings. So it was only a matter of time before this scourge seeped into our movie theaters. Considering the cooling-off rate for this kind of stuff (has anyone seen a Power Ranger lately?), it took a while to get around to it. But there's now an indecipherable film to accompany the indecipherable card game that's sucking up your child's brain cells like a dollar-generated cranial whirlpool.

May you survive 'em all

"Pokémon: The First Movie" is a dose of extremely low-budget "Japanimation" that -- were it only more proficiently executed -- would rival "Scooby Doo" as the most astounding work of art in the 20th century.

To say that the technique is rudimentary doesn't do its cruddiness justice. An occasional computer-generated cloud or steel door is the only break from a redundant torrent of herky-jerky creatures yelping, bleating and doing unfathomable battle with each other.

At 70 minutes, this is about as short as movies get. As a torture session, though, it's pretty lengthy. Theater managers should hand out adult-size straitjackets the way they were handing out barf bags for "The Blair Witch Project."

The "point" behind Pokémon is to collect as many of the 150 creatures as you can. The 151st, named Mew, is being advertised as available Friday. Through a series of card games -- or Nintendo battles, if that's what you're into -- you train the monsters to become more and more powerful. The goal, if you're a kid, is to school them with such pointless precision that you become a Pokémon Master. If you're on the marketing team, the goal is to become a Child's Money Master.

The so-called plot of "Pokémon: The First Movie" is that human pre-teen Ash Ketchum is training Pikachu, his Pokémon, to battle a scientifically engineered Pokémon named Mewtwo. Mewtwo is a surly little thing that looks like a floating cat, and he's none too happy that the people who created him view him as a little more than a science project.

So, just as you or I would do in the same situation, he uses his telepathic powers to rid the world of pesky humans and capture every living Pokémon. Mewtwo's hope is that he can take over the world after all the little monsters are under his control. That this ploy is the perfect metaphor for the business end of the movie itself seems lost on the animators.



Mewtwo lures a bunch of Pokémon Masters to his secret island getaway, where they unveil various creatures and make cryptic remarks about their super powers and Pokémon phyla. Then the creatures fight each other, over and over again, until parents either die of frustration or throw Cokes at the screen.

There's also a short film before the main attraction called "Pikachu's Vacation" in which Pokémon Pikachu -- who delivers ominous lines of dialogue on the order of "Peek. Ah. Chu. Peek. Peek. Chu. Ah. Peek." -- heads to an amusement park in which he and the other Pokémon creatures battle each other in a variety of crudely-drawn, nearly insane ways.

Whatever happened to Rock-'em Sock-'em Robots?

"Pokémon: The First Movie" is offensive, although there's no nudity or bad language. This is the perfect fad for the upcoming final year of the 20th century. Our kids, no longer content to be mere superheroes, now want to be personal trainers to superheroes. Consider buying them a book instead. Rated G, for "God help us." It runs 89 minutes, if you count the short film at the beginning. You probably shouldn't, though.

"Pokémon: The First Movie" is distributed in the United States by CNN Interactive sister company Warner Bros., a Time Warner property.

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'Pokémon' official site
Kids WB 'Pokémon' site
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