[Screen It]

(2000) (voices of Veronica Taylor, Rachael Lillis) (G)

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Children's Animated: A human Pokémon trainer, his friends and their various Pokémon attempt to stop another collector from capturing the birds of fire, lightning and ice that, when combined, will release a powerful sea monster and possibly destroy the world.
In a world where humans own and train Pokémon creatures, legend has it that hree powerful Pokémon birds, Moltres, Zapdos and Articuno, maintain nature's balance by controlling the elements of fire, lightning and ice from their respective islands. Rumor has it that if the peaceful harmony and co-existence of the birds is disrupted, nature will go haywire, wreaking havoc on the world.

It's also believed that if the three birds are captured and brought together, they'll unleash the legendary, sea-dwelling Lugia, a rare and extremely valuable Pokémon. As such, Lawrence III, a greedy collector of the creatures, has set out to capture the three birds in order to attain Lugia. Having captured Moltres, Lawrence III is one step closer to his diabolical goal, but his plan has already begun to disrupt nature.

At the same time, human trainer Ash Ketchum, his friends, Misty and Tracy, and their Pokémon, including Pikachu, find themselves shipwrecked on Shamouti Island, where locals Carol and Melody are preparing for their annual festival and need someone to fill their hero role. Being game, Ash agrees to do just that.

Soon, however, the boy learns that his role will involve trying to save the world. As Lawrence III continues on his quest to capture the three birds, Ash must not only deal with that, but also various physical challenges, self doubt, and the intervention of his arch rivals, Jessie, James and their Pokémon mascot, Meowth (who collectively make up Team Rocket).

OUR TAKE: 1.5 out of 10
As professional films critics, those of us who sit in darkened theaters for a living are supposed to pay close attention to the films we critique, noting the quality - or lack thereof - involved in every aspect of the film and its impact on the audience. Yet, for various reasons, sometimes our minds will occasionally wander while watching a movie.

Perhaps we've seen too many films recently and feel burnt-out or it could be that it's a nice day outside and we hate the thought of being stuck inside. Then again, it could be others talking nearby who are distracting and thus causing us to think about ways they should be silenced. More often than not, however, the reason behind the wandering of a critic's mind is that the film is bad and/or one that we would otherwise have no inclination to watch if it wasn't in the line of our duty.

That last explanation certainly applies to "Pokémon the Movie 2000," the sequel to the abominable, but appropriately named "Pokémon The First Movie." With the first film being a commercial success (more than $85 million in the U.S. after a smashing $50 million five-day debut), there was little doubt another would follow, much to the bane of most every film critic in existence.

Thus, as I was sitting in the theater watching the sequel, subtitled "The Power of One," I couldn't stop my mind from wandering and the place it kept going to was a scene from Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange." Specifically, I was recalling the moment where a social deviant, Alex (brilliantly played by Malcolm McDowell), was to be reprogrammed in a Pavlovian experiment where he would watch various clips of anti-social and sexual behavior while doped up on nausea-inducing drugs that would make him sick.

The idea was that the visceral relationship between the sights and the nausea would eventually make an unconscious connection in his brain, thus causing the same feeling if he ever saw or wished to participate in such related behavior. While that film involved Alex being forced to watch various clips of all sorts of violence, sex and mayhem, they easily could have played this film instead - even without the drugs - and the effect would have been the same.

True, this film and its content only elicited a G rating and certainly isn't of the caliber one would normally associate with such adverse conditioning. Nonetheless, a several month marathon of these Pokémon films played to those incarcerated in prisons and jails around the world would certainly allay, if not cure, much of the world's criminal and otherwise antisocial behavior. Yes, that would probably be deemed cruel and unusual punishment, but hey, if we critics must sit through garbage like this, why not society's troublemakers?

In essence, this a lame and unimaginative retreading of those old Godzilla films where the reptilian hero would eventually emerge from the sea to battle a number of nasty and usually airborne monsters after they had wreaked havoc on the world. Of course, that gives more credit to the film then is due, since this Nintendo backed project is simply a marketing tool to keep the Pokémon card collecting craze alive.

In fact, if there's any film that's critic-proof, this is it. Beyond the obvious fact that its target audience of prepubescent kids doesn't read film reviews, the film has a huge built in following that will no doubt be drawn to the theaters once again to collect the new Pokémon trading cards being given out with each paid admission.

To be fair, the kids at our screening seemed completely transfixed by the proceedings, chattering noisily only upon their first viewings of newly introduced characters. Of course, I couldn't tell you who or what any of them were, especially since none are identified in any matter to the non-initiated. In addition, the film should be given some credit - no matter the infinitesimal degree of it - for doing something other than simply retreading the original's story (as so many other sequels purposefully do).

That said, the film is still quite awful. Its Godzilla-inspired story lacks any of the charm that at least made those schlocky films palatable, and it goes on way too long for a film of this caliber (and includes a denouement that has to be one of the longest and most boring/drawn out of any film in recent memory).

Although he gets a great deal of screen time, the obligatory villain (who's named only in the press kit) is essentially an afterthought and never directly interacts with the other characters who are otherwise flat and dimensionless in both characterization and visual appearance. Despite some moments of obvious computer animation - and just as was the case with the original - the low-end anime style of animation that permeates the film has a decidedly cheap look to it.

With only a few lame moments of attempted humor, the film - adapted by Norman J. Grossfeld and Michael Haigney from the original screenplay by Takeshi Shudo, and directed by Haigney (English version) and Kunihiko Yuyama (the original Japanese version) -- also considerably pales in comparison to most every other full-length animated effort of the past several decades. It certainly lacks the wit, charm and imagination that made cartoon shorts such as the original "Rocky and Bullwinkle" and all of those Looney Tunes shorts so appealing to both kids and adults alike.

It's a sad statement that this is the sort of "entertainment" that's being force-fed to today's kids, particularly since it doesn't engage them on any sort of imaginative level. Of course, the main film seems like an Oscar contender when compared to the 22 minute short, "Pikachu's Rescue Adventure," that precedes it.

Much like "Pikachu's Vacation" that accompanied the first film, "PRA" has to be one of the most inane and nonsensical pieces of film ever to see the light of a projector. It certainly doesn't help that the titular character can only express itself with variations of his name that grow increasingly irritating with each occurrence (of which there are far too many).

While one could have seen the short finding an audience during the heyday of experimental drug use back in the '60s (much like the original "Fantasia" did decades after its initial release), the short film simply makes no sense today (particularly in a sober mental state).

Of course, kids will line up around the blocks to see this one, a fact that inevitably will lead to box office success and the strong possibility of yet another sequel. While that's a sad and discouraging thought, at least it will create a trilogy of Pokémon films to be used when society eventually decides to use them in a bit of the old, adverse "Clockwork Orange" ultra-conditioning.

Certain to induce copious amounts of mind-wandering, brain lock or possible cerebral damage in anyone older than twelve, "Pokémon the Movie 2000" rates as a 1.5 simply for being a hair better than the original and for similarly serving to mesmerize kids long enough to give parents a short break in their busy lives.

Reviewed July 15, 2000 / Posted July 21, 2000

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