Pokémon: The First Movie
Am I gonna get this movie if I don't know anything about Pokémon? ''Probably not,'' answers my 8-year-old friend, Jeffrey. So, he proceeds to give me a rundown on the species: There are Electric Pokémon, Land Pokémon, Water Pokémon or Bug Pokémon. They compete against one another using various attacks. If they lose, they faint. There are 151 in all. ''Psychic Pokémon are good to have,'' Jeffrey says.
Armed with this knowledge, we settled in to watch ''Pokémon: The First Movie,'' a highly anticipated big-screen adaptation of the phenomenally successful Nintendo game, television show and card series. First released in Japan last year, Warner Bros. bought the rights to the film and translated it into English for its U.S. debut.
Anyone who is not well-versed in all things Pokémon will probably be lost during the following synopsis, but in the most basic terms, the film opens with a scientific experiment gone awry. In a rip-off of ''Jurassic Park,'' scientists attempted to clone a Pokémon (pocket monster) through the DNA of a supposedly extinct species, called Mew. The new monster is bigger, more muscular and speaks in a menacing low voice through psychic energy. (Remember, psychic is good, so we're talking a pretty powerful Pokémon here.) Angry at the idea of being enslaved to humans, Mewtwo, as he is called, destroys the lab and seeks to rule the world.
Meanwhile, happy-go-lucky Ash, with his friends Misty and Brock, enjoys his days training Pokémon and playing with his favorite, a yellow, marshmallow-chubby mouse creature named Pikachu. He and other Pokémon trainers are invited to a tournament on a remote island to determine the world's greatest trainer. Once there, they realize they've been trapped by Mewtwo, who intends to capture all their Pokémon to clone into more powerful, menacing soldiers.
What none of them realizes is that Mew, the creature from which Mewtwo was cloned, does exist, and inevitably leads to a showdown between the two supercreatures -- the Pokémon vs. the clones, good vs. evil, what have you.
But wait. The message of the movie, blatantly narrated at its conclusion, is to accept one another's differences, cease fighting and live together in harmony. Good thing the film went ahead and said it, too, because its fighting scenes may have kids believing otherwise. Pokémon get slapped in the face, bitten, throttled and knocked into unconsciousness. They don't die, but it's still pretty gut-wrenching to see Pikachu (and any of the others, for that matter) cry in suffering. And when Ash's life teeters on doom, it scared some of the younger moviegoers into tears.
The animated short, ''Pikachu's Vacation,'' that preceded the film is frightening for a different reason. While tame in its Discovery Channel-like content (''Pokémon by nature are friendly creatures and prefer cooperation to competition,'' a man's voice booms as the critters giggle and play), the scenes are separated by a flashing pattern of Pokémon species, moving in unison. This montage seems to be a way to stabilize kids' short attention spans, but the effect is psychedelic and quite disturbing.
There isn't anything to draw anyone over age 12 to ''Pokémon: The First Movie.'' This film is catered to young fans only, as its sole attempt to explain the Pokémon concept lies in the film short. And unlike many Disney films, there's no stunning animation, emotional weight or memorable characters (as cute as that Pikachu is) for adults to appreciate.
But it doesn't matter. The film is baffling, amateur and somewhat contradictory about violence, but it's still a successful extension of the video game and television show. Fans hoping for a one-victor battle between Mew and Mewtwo will be disappointed, but they'll keep coming back, especially for the brand-new collector cards given out with each ticket.
As for parents, who'll inevitably be dragged to this movie, a word of advice: Think twice about it, but if there's no stopping your child, get a primer on Pokémon before you go. Thank goodness I at least had Jeffrey.
*MPAA rating: G. Times guidelines: Pokemon fight one another; attacks on human protagonist; villain threatens mass destruction.
'Pokemon: The First Movie'
Veronica Taylor: Ash Ketchum
Rachel Lillis: Misty
Eric Stuart: Brock
Philip Bartlett: Mewtwo
Kids' WB! presents a 4Kids Entertainment production. American adaptation by Norman J. Grossfeld, Michael Haigney and John Touhey. Voice direction by Michael Haigney. Produced by Norman J. Grossfeld. Directed by Kunihiko Yuyama. Produced in Japan by Choji Yoshikawa, Tomoyuki Igarashi and Takemoto More. Japanese version written by Takeshi Shudo based on characters created by Satoshi Tajiri. Distributed by Warner Bros. Family Entertainment. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.