[Screen It]


(2002) (voices of Veronica Taylor, Eric Stuart) (G)

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Children's Animated: Various kids try to rescue a rare Pokémon from a megalomaniacal Pokémon hunter who wants to use its power to his advantage.
In this 4th installment of the Pokémon series, Ash, his Pokémon, Pikachu, and their friends, Misty and Brock, have traveled to Arborville in search of rare Pokémon creatures. There, they meet an old woman and her granddaughter who talk of the Celebi, a Pokémon known as the voice of the forest that can travel through time. It's not long before they encounter this small, flying being when he arrives from the past with Sam, a boy who saved him from a ruthless Pokémon bounty hunter forty years earlier.

The kids manage to reinvigorate the small creature in the lake of life, but must then contend with another Pokémon hunter who possesses "dark balls," small cylindrical Pokémon containers that convert good Pokémon into evil and very powerful ones.

He eventually captures Celebi and uses his forces for his own megalomaniacal plans, and it's up to Ash, Sam, the others and another rare Pokémon, Suicune, to stop him, all while also dealing with their long time nemesis, Team Rocket (comprised of Jesse, James and Meowth).

OUR TAKE: 1.5 out of 10
Las Vegas and other gambling environs have made their riches from people who don't know when to quit, especially after they've made a fair amount of money. Kenny Rodgers knew that as he sang in his song, "The Gambler": "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away, know when to run."

Although I don't know how much the makers of "Pokémon 4Ever" or its new distributor, Miramax Films, put into the kitty regarding this latest cinematic gamble, it's certainly a long shot at best and proves that those involved don't know when to get out when the going's past good.

That's because this franchise has outlived both its welcome and the initial craze that fueled the original 1999 film to an $85 million take at the domestic box office. Subsequent releases - 2000's "Pokémon the Movie 2000" and 2001's "Pokémon 3 The Movie" - have drawn increasingly dwindling numbers of viewers ($43 and $17 million in grosses respectively) as the original fan base has outgrown the card game and everything related to it.

Of course, and to be fair, none of that should have any bearing on whether the latest film is any good from an artistic standpoint. That said, the series' track record and the fact that is volume number four should be a clear indicator of what's being offered.

In fact, about the cleverest thing the film has to offer is its title, and since that's not really that ingenious, you can imagine the quality of the rest of what's present. Like the previous entries in this anime offshoot, this one deals with human kids and their mutant Pokémon creatures that are pitted against each other in battle. The new addition here is a time travel storyline and a few new characters. Beyond that, however, it's pretty much more of the same old, same old Pokémon nonsense.

In short, the plot exists mainly as a means by which to pit one Pokémon creature against another (thus staying in line with the card game that started the craze). Despite the time travel angle, little is generated from that plot element, as must of the film deals with the standard collection of characters (Ash, Brock, Misty and Pikachu) trying to save the new and rare one, Celebi (coming soon to a toy store near you, if not already there) from the clutches of a megalomaniacal human. Old standby villains, Team Rocket (Jesse, James and Meowth) are thrown in for good measure and some intended comic relief, but little of the effort is good or funny.

Perhaps something has been lost in the translation from Japanese to English by writer Michael Haigney (who wrote and/or directed the previous installments) and director Jim Malone (making his debut), but little makes sense (particularly to a non-Pokémon fan) and even less is engaging. I'm always amazed at the disparity among kid-based feature films. Some, like the offerings from Pixar, are just as much fun from a story aspect as they are from a visual one.

The Pokémon films have always been dull in both arenas, with this film's sparse but obvious computer-generated animation not even remotely being congruous with the flat and crudely assembled, hand-drawn material.

I'd say that the film - despite its glaring faults and substandard story - would appeal to the core Pokémon fan base, but I'm not sure that even exists anymore. Certain to be booted from theaters toward home video - where it should have debuted - faster than you can say "Pikachu," "Pokémon 4Ever" rates as a 1.5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 4, 2002 / Posted October 11, 2002

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