If you’re looking for some anime to keep the kids entertained, you really can’t go wrong with the Pokémon movies – that’s assuming you can get over the slightly dodgy premise of cute critters beating seven bells out of each other in duels at the behest of human masters. But hey, no franchise is perfect. This 20th outing is a reboot of sorts, going back to the beginning but doing so with an entirely new storyline. Worried that sounds like fixing something that ain’t broke? Fret not, because for everything that’s changed, much has stayed the same.
Structurally, I Choose You follows the trusty template laid down by other recent Pokémon movies. Just as he’s done so many times before, our hero Ash Ketchum comes to the aid of a Pokémon in need. In this case it’s a hapless charmander (a sort of lizard with a lighter for a tail) who has been ditched by his previous trainer Cross for being too weak and wimpy. Ash is initially outraged by Cross’s ruthlessness – the guy believes in tough love, minus the love part – but a taste of defeat on the battlefield makes him start to question his own soft-hearted approach.
Pokémon films are as much buddy movies as they are action adventures, so Ash doesn’t have to face this moment of crisis alone. Don’t look for original sidekicks Brock and Misty though, because they haven’t been invited to the party. As disappointing as this is for anyone who fondly remembers Misty’s Daisy Dukes and braces combo, their replacements Verity and Sorrel aren’t all bad. Sorrel in particular seems like a keeper. A professor of Pokémon in training, he’s good at fact-finding and knows how to light a camp-fire, all of which makes him handy for a road-trip.
None of this greatly affects the film’s overall feeling of familiarity. What is unexpected, though, is its strong, Miyazaki-esque sense of mysticism. Guided by a magical feather, Ash is on a quest for the legendary Ho-oh bird, the creator of the first elemental Pokémon. Regular director Kunihiko Yuyama makes a surprisingly good fist of this uplifting theme, aided by animation which is impressive even by the generally slick, proficient standards of the franchise. Low camera angles, lens flare and other neat tricks lend a genuinely cinematic wow factor to the key story beats, and it’s all topped off with a bubbly orchestral score.
It’s a shame the film’s creators didn’t take the opportunity to reboot recurring baddies Team Rocket, too. Instead, as in other recent outings, they’re treated as hapless, accident-prone buffoons and relegated to a few moments of knockabout humour (if plummeting down a sheer cliff-face counts as knockabout). It seems a bit harsh, but given what’s happened to Brock and Misty, we’re probably lucky they’re around at all. Otherwise, I Choose You is as light-footed, well-paced and charming as we’ve come to expect, and this time the sparkle is matched with spectacle. Reviewed by Julian White
Release: 5 November 2017
From: CinEvents/Fathom Events
Format: Theatrical Release
Age Rating: PG