Movie Review: Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!

The new film looks back at Ash and Pikachu’s early days, but should the past have been left well enough alone?

By Marc Deschamps. Posted 11/06/2017 19:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Nice emotional moments; great animation; good twists on major moments from the show
Poison Mushroom for...
Lack of Misty, Brock and Gary; Team Rocket seems rather redundant; no Veronica Taylor

There are few duos in popular culture as iconic as Ash and Pikachu. For more than 20 years now, fans of all ages have watched the pair journey to different regions, forming a bond not only with one another, but the viewers themselves, as well. The latest Pokémon film, Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!, revisits the earliest days of Ash and Pikachu’s journey together, taking classic moments from the anime, while adding some new twists along the way.

The film opens with a fairly faithful recreation of the first episode of the anime. Shortly after the opening credits roll, however, things start to take on a much different approach. When Ho-oh appears in the sky, this time, the legendary Pokémon drops a Rainbow Wing, leading Ash on a brand-new journey. Along the way, Ash and Pikachu run into a plethora of Pokémon making their anime debut, some new human characters, and some familiar faces, as well.

While several characters return for the film, Ash’s original traveling companions Misty and Brock do not appear, outside of a tiny cameo. Instead, Ash is accompanied by two new characters, Verity and Sorrel. It’s a bit of a confusing choice, and one that led to quite a bit of controversy among older fans. The film itself doesn’t provide a whole lot of reason for either Brock or Misty’s exclusion. A small appearance by one of the other Kanto Gym Leaders only makes the duo’s disappearance all the more noticeable. The choice to add two brand-new characters instead doesn’t make a whole lot of narrative sense, either. Given the fact that I Choose You! is, essentially, an out-of-continuity story, the odds seem slim that we’ll ever see Verity or Sorrel appear again, making it hard to truly feel invested in them. They aren’t bad characters by any means, but there isn’t enough room for either character to get much in the way of development.

Brock and Misty aren’t the only characters missing in action: Ash’s longtime rival Gary is also relegated to a small cameo. As far as other antagonists are concerned, Jessie, James and Meowth appear but, like in previous Pokémon films, the trio’s role is mostly confined to slapstick relief. On one hand, as an older fan, I was happy to see them, but on the other, the movie didn’t gain all that much from their presence. The film doesn’t provide much of an introduction for them, either, leaving new viewers left wondering just who these behind-the-scenes bumblers are. I hate to say it, but they might have been better off left on the cutting-room floor.

Not all of the film’s new characters are disappointing. One of the movie’s central antagonists is Cross, a reimagined take on the original owner of Ash’s Charmander. While that particular character played a minor role in the anime, here, Cross is a recurring thorn in Ash’s side, taunting Ash and Charmander with his far more intimidating Lycanroc and Incineroar. Though the film’s focus is on Ash’s relationship with Pikachu, his relationship with Charmander gets a heavy amount of focus as well, as Ash struggles to discover just what kind of trainer he wants to be. The end result is a far more compelling arc for trainer and master than anything we got to see in any of Charmander’s original appearances, and a strong highlight of the film.

Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! has a lot going on, but the focus on Ash and Pikachu remains strong throughout, and while the start is familiar, the story eventually takes some very surprising turns, as well. I was curious to see just how many references to the early episodes the film made, but all of the changes and omissions seem to be a pretty deliberate attempt to keep the story as fresh as possible for longtime fans. Not every choice is a successful one, but I came into the movie knowing very little about the plot, and found myself frequently surprised by the beats of the story. As an older fan, I not only got to experience some truly surprising (and rewarding moments), but the story came across as very accessible for new fans, as well.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film looks and sounds terrific. There are two new takes on the original theme, including a terrific piano version that runs through the end credits. The film maintains the current voice cast, which will likely also disappoint some older fans. Veronica Taylor lobbied hard on Twitter to reprise the role of Ash, but it’s hard to argue when Sarah Natochenny has been doing a fine job in the role since 2006. At this point, it would be much more unfair to younger fans to make the switch.

Pokémon fans are likely to find themselves a bit torn on I Choose You!. The film is very much intended to be a love letter to the early days of the anime, but the fact that this is an out-of-continuity retelling makes for a bit of an odd final product. That said, the movie does deliver some strong heartfelt moments, beautiful animation and some truly interesting new takes on classic moments from the series. As a thirty-two-year-old fan from the very beginning, there were several moments that filled me with the same joy I felt when I saw Pokémon: The First Movie in theaters an astonishing 18 years ago. A lot has changed since those days, but it’s nice to see that the relationship between Ash and Pikachu remains as endearing as ever.

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