Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!
Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You! came out in theaters in Japan back in July 2016. It made it to American theaters for a brief time beginning on November 5th, 2017. It was only available on certain days and times, and only at certain theaters.
I was able to catch a showing of the movie and wanted to share my feedback — warning! The whole movie isn’t described in detail here, but there are spoilers. Read at your own risk!
Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You! retells the story of Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town and his first Pokemon, Pikachu. We are shown how their relationship started off being rocky, at best, then switched over to them forming a close bond as best friends while on Ash’s journey to become a Pokemon master. The 112-minute movie is pretty much an edited version of Ash’s life, with the fast-forward button pushed down, and released during key moments in the beginning of his journey.
Added to the story is the elusive Ho-Oh, the mythical bird Pokemon that was shown at the beginning of the original anime. Not much information was provided about Ho-Oh about until later. This is where the plot deviates from its ’90s origin. From there, we follow Ash and Pikachu as they meet new friends and rivals, and go off in search of Ho-Oh after it drops a rainbow feather, known as the “rainbow wing”, that Ash holds onto throughout the movie. The “rainbow wing” is said to only be given to the “rainbow hero,” someone who is destined to fight Ho-Oh while Marshadow, a shadow Pokémon, watches on.
As Ash travels to find Ho-Oh and fight him, he is joined by two new companions — Verity, with her Piplup, and Sorrel, with his Lucario. He also meets his rival for the movie, a trainer named Cross, with his Lycanroc. Cross trains his Pokemon with nothing but brute strength, finding success only with more power and victories. This is in contrast to Ash and how he trains and befriends his Pokemon, and is displayed repeatedly throughout the film.
Does Ash truly learn what it means to become a Pokemon master? How does he handle his battles, and his wins and losses? How does his friendship with Pikachu make or break his decisions and vision? Does he meet Ho-Oh, or does Cross have a point with his techniques?
If you’ve been a fan of Pokemon for a while, this movie goes through a lot of fan-favorite moments from the original ’90s anime. It was great to know more about Ho-Oh, and wonderful to join Ash at the start of his journey in an updated and modernized way, among other things.
- The bond and growth Ash has with his Charmander are depicted so well for what time they had to work with… This is constantly repeated in Pokemon lore, from the anime to the manga, and beyond. Charmander was found by Ash, Verity, and Sorrel, waiting for his trainer, alone, in the rain. They learned that his original trainer was Cross, and he had abandoned Charmander because he found the Pokemon to be too weak for his liking. The trio brought the ill Pokemon to a cave, where they tended to him until he was well again, which is when Charmander joined Ash’s team. As the movie progressed, Charmander evolved into Charmeleon and finally Charizard, a demonstration of not only how strong he really was, but of the bond that formed between him and Ash. This is a justification of Ash’s method of training Pokemon and becoming friends with them, rather than just focusing on winning and strength.
- Charizard’s personality and demeanor take a total 180 flip. In the original anime, Charmander was a cute, adorable young Pokemon. Charmeleon was kind of a bratty teenager, and Charizard was aloof and rude, listening to Ash only when he felt like it. In Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You!, that love and bond only grew stronger through each evolution. There was no brattiness or disobedience.
- Another favorite moment was one taken almost completely from the original source, with edits made to make it even more emotional — Ash saying goodbye to his Butterfree. Just like in the original anime, Butterfree saves a girl Butterfree and they begin a courtship, liking each other to the point that they must join the hordes of other Butterfree as they fly off to spawn. Instead of Ash running off crying without saying goodbye, Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You! has Ash asking his Butterfree what he’d like to do. He gives Butterfree permission to leave and bids the two a teary goodbye, requesting that they take care of each other. Somehow, an already sad moment is made even sadder, 20 years later.
- Team Rocket. They were there, offering one-liners and silly comments before they’d get thrown off into the distance as they always have. It was great to see and hear them again, and it was perfect for the writers to not make Team Rocket another adversary and roadblock for Ash on his journey. It would’ve made the movie even more jam-packed and rushed.
- Telling an old story with all 20 years’ worth of Pokemon was such a smart move. Sure, having only the original 151 would’ve been a nostalgic flashback, but having the hundreds of other Pokemon play roles and be seen throughout the film made it more realistic, because where would all these Pokemon have been hiding while Ash wandered through the Indigo Region? It’s a full celebration of 20 years of Pokemon, not just the original 151. It’s also great for viewers to see their favorites. Cross’ second Pokemon, Incineroar, was the final evolution of Litten — the new fire starter from Sun and Moon. The movie even ends with one of its final scenes being Litten, Rowlet, and Popplio looking up at the sky together. The mixing of multiple generations was a fantastic idea.
- The animation! Clean and crisp and bright… It looks amazing. The attacks, the scenery; the attention to detail in every frame is so visually appealing from beginning to end. Even the way the view and angles change is impressive, and beautifully showcases 20 years of improvement and advancement.
Despite many positives about the movie, it had its shortcomings as well. Parts that weren’t explored fully, or explained enough.
- In a movie, you can only do so much with the amount of time available. Aiming to fit Ash’s initial journey into 112 minutes is a big task that causes parts to feel rushed. We don’t get to know much about Ash’s new companions, Sorrel and Verity; they’re rather underdeveloped. Sorrel is fleshed out a little more — we learn that he wants to be a Pokemon professor and was trained in medicine, as seen when he mixes up an antidote for Charmander when he is hurt. We also get a peek at Sorrel’s past in a flashback scene with a Pokemon that he spent much of his childhood with.
- Verity tells us that “nothing is ever good enough for her mother.” In a scene where she is flipping through photos on her phone, a picture appears with who we can presume is her mother and a Pokemon at home. The movie ends with her saying she’s headed back home, and that is all we get to know of her and her story. It is said elsewhere that Cynthia, the Pokemon Champion of the Sinnoh region, is Verity’s mother. It’s never said in the movie, but there’s that photo on Verity’s phone… Would’ve been great if this was mentioned, even if only once!
- Toward the end of the movie, Ash protects Pikachu by forcing it into its Poke Ball. Just before that happens, Ash asks Pikachu why it won’t go into its Poke Ball and Pikachu answers — in English. Maybe it was Ash’s imagination? A hallucination? On one hand, Pikachu’s sad, squeaky voice and its answer tug at your heart and can really make you emotional. On the other hand, how the heck did Pikachu just speak words?
- Right after Ash gets Pikachu into the Poke Ball, the local Pokemon (that have all turned evil thanks to Marshadow) attack Ash all at once, ultimately turning him into particles of energy. All that’s left is his hat, which falls on Pikachu. This first part is a tear-jerker for sure, with Pikachu crying loudly, screaming and causing electricity to expand all over the mountain region they’re at. The next part is more confusing. Ash is in what could be inferred as an alternate universe, where he is in black and white while everything around him is in full color. He hears Pikachu, and when the two collide in an embrace, Ash turns to color again and returns to the present world. Is Ash just immortal? Did Ho-Oh resurrect him the same way legend says Ho-Oh resurrected the three Pokemon that turned into Entei, Raikou, and Suicune? This felt like a throwback to the first movie when Mew and Mewtwo’s attacks turned Ash to stone, which is a nice nod to the beginning of everyone’s Pokemon journey.
- Our new characters. Verity, Sorrel, and Cross brought a lot to the table, even though they weren’t expanded upon nor fleshed out with much backstory. But why were three brand-new characters brought to a 112-minute movie when we already had characters to work within Misty, Brock, and Gary Oak? Not to say that these new additions were bad, but their placement and roles felt rushed in such a stuffed plot. As a result, we didn’t get to learn much about them. That time could’ve been filled with characters we already know about, with backstories we’re already aware of. Why bring back some main characters and not all? Granted, Brock and Misty’s roles are very different in the game than in the anime, but with so many throwbacks to the original anime, it leaves one wondering why the writers chose to go about it this way.
Overall, it almost feels like maybe this movie should have been done in parts, or as a mini-series of a few episodes. This would’ve allowed the writers to flesh out our new characters and backstories better. It also would’ve helped avoid all the rushing through pivotal moments to fill as much as they could within the timeframe of the movie. It could’ve also explained scenes like Ash’s “death” and Pikachu “speaking”unless their goal was to leave it up to the audience’s interpretation. That doesn’t mean that the movie was bad as a whole; it just means that some parts hit the mark perfectly while other parts left the viewer confused or wanting more.
If you’ve been a fan of Pokemon for a while, Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You! will fill just about all of your nostalgic needs with many familiar characters, Pokemon, and relationships. Lots of nods to the past will leave you smiling or in tears. If you’re a newer fan of the series, the movie will still be able to get you excited and amused, and take you on a rollercoaster of emotions with new friends and maybe some old ones, too.
The mix of old and new material breathes fresh air into a familiar story, to make it brand new to viewers, regardless how long you’ve been a Pokemon fan. Ho-Oh’s story is detailed and explained is appreciated, while the incorporation of Marshadow is interesting and frustrating at the same time, toward the end.
My personal overall opinion: Despite my critiques of the movie, I loved it. I left the theater feeling a happy wave of nostalgia. It inspired me to go back to playing Pokemon Moon, and I have since I returned from the theater. Judge it for yourself — Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You! will be in theaters for one more showing on November 14th, then will be on Disney XD on November 25th. Be sure to check it out, and let us know your thoughts below!