Ash Ketchum has just turned ten years old and is about to embark on his Pokemon journey. Late on the day of his depature, he misses out on a chance to choose from three starter Pokemon, and winds up with the reluctant electric rodent Pokemon, Pikachu, as his partner. After Ash saves Pikachu from a flock of angry of Spearow, Ash and Pikachu witness the legendary bird Pokemon, Ho-Oh and form a stronger bond with each other. Pokemon The Movie: I Choose You celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Pokemon anime series that has taken the world by storm. Since it’s debut in 1997 in Japan and a year later for North America, Pokemon has dominated the scene as the most popular children’s anime in the world. The series has been a major influence on children’s anime, jump starting the monster battle genre that influenced later beloved series like Digimon and Monster Rancher. The series has also been a major gateway series for many kids around the world that helped introduce them to the world of anime. I Choose You is an alternate retelling of the events of the TV series, focusing more on Ash and Pikachu’s friendshsip and their journey to find Ho-Oh than on Ash’s quest to become a Pokemon master and win the Pokemon league.
Much of the movie is more of a series of recreations of some of the more famous events from the anime, like Ash letting his Butterfree go after it finds a mate, and Ash rescuing an abandoned Charmander from an abusive traine that eventually becomes Ash’s Pokemon. Being only a 97 minute feature film, the movie doesn’t have enough time to retell everything, so some aspects end up being compressed or changed entirely. Everyone’s fan favorites; Jessie, James, and Meowth from Team Rocket, are still in the movie, but their motivations are changed that they follow Ash and Pikachu by coincidence when they hear about the legendary Pokemon Entei being nearby which of course Ash wants to check out. Although Professor Oak is still in the movie, his grandson and long time rival to Ash, Gary Oak, is replaced with the new original character, Cross, who cares more about winning battles and getting stronger than making friends with his Pokemon. Cross isn’t as memorable of a rival as Gary, but he serves his role in the plot well enough and we see how he isn’t all bad as he learns from his mistakes over the course of the film. Perhaps the most controversial change to the film is they replace long time popular characters, Brock and Misty, with two new original companions for Ash; Sorrel and Verity. As a long time Misty fan, I’m still disappoitned she was left out of the movie, but I understand the reasons why since they wouldn’t have enough screentime to cover both her and Brock’s story in a film format. Verity and Sorrel are likable enough characters though I think Verity is more fleshed out than Sorrel. I liked how they showed Verity is concerned about being overshadowed by her more famous mother and how she’s always trying to impress her. Ash has a good relationship with his mom so it’s nice to see a main character where she an her mom don’t always get along and how she works through it in the story. Sorrel’s backstory about his his Loxray freezing in the snow to protect him causing him to be afraid of Pokemon until he meets Lucario is also a surprisngly dark story that was very sad. One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Ash has a dream about what it’s like to live in a world without Pokemon and we get a glimpse of what it would be like to see Ash as an ordianry school student and living in the real world until Ash remembers how important his bond witth Pikachu is. Directed by Kuniko Yuyuma and animated by OLM, the animation looks a lot more smoother and refined than the old school Indigo League episodes and there’s a lot of visually impressive scenes, like when Ho-Oh first appears in front of Ash and Pikachu.
The English dub by The Pokemon Company International replaces all the Japanese score with it’s own soundtrack. It’s your typical dub music score but it’s decent enough. And while I wish they had more of the classic soundtrack, I appreciate they at least brought back the original Gotta Catch ‘Em All Theme song with a new updated cover, and the ending theme song has a nostalgic melancholic feeling to it that I think is really fitting for the film. The biggest issue I had with the movie is there’s no overall connecting narrative and it does feel like a bunch of random events loosely based on the original series and Ash just happens to stumble across Ho-Oh at the end. I also wish Team Rocket played a larger role in the plot as they mostly exist for the sake of a nostalgia cameo and comic relief. But Team Rocket never once directly confronts Ash and taking away the motivation to capture a rare and powerful Pikachu makes Team Rocket’s inclusion feel more like an obligation than an actual relevance to the story. The infamous “talking” Pikachu scene didn’t bother me as much as most fans because it makes more sense in the context of the film where it’s a scene Ash is imagining in the heat of a battle that demonstrates how deep their bond is rather than Pikachu is literally talking. If you grew up with the original anime and you want to revisit the Indigo League without investing in the entire season again, Pokemon The Movie I Choose You works as a fine alternative. But it works better if you view it as a celebration of 20 years of Pokemon nostalgia rather than as stand alone retelling of the Indigo League arc. This movie would also be a good way to introduce younger fans to Ash and Pikachu’s origin story and get them interested in the classic Inidgo League episodes if they’ve never seen the classic episodes before. I give the film a four out of five star rating. Pokemon The Movie I Choose You is licensed by Viz Media and The Pokemon Company International and is available on DVD and BluRay. You can also purchase the movie digitally on iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play and YouTube Movies.