Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Pokemon: The Movie 2000 (2000)
Studio Line: Warner Bros. - One Person Can Make All The Difference

The Power of One: Get set for an unforgettable adventure featuring all-new Pokemon! An Ancient legend comes true when Pokemon Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres are disturbed after centuries of harmony. As the very forces of nature come unbalanced, life on earth depends on the unlikely teaming of mythical Pokemon Lugia and a mysterious "chosen one" foretold in the legend. Can Ash Ketchum summon the courage to save the day? See how one person can make all the difference.

Director: Michael Haigney
Cast: Veronica Taylor-Ash Ketchum, Mrs. Ketchum; Rachael Lillis-Misty, Jessie; Ted Lewis-Tracey Sketcher; Eric Stuart-James, Charizard; Addie Blaustein-Meowth; Ikue Ootani-Pikachu
DVD: Fullscreen 1.33:1; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround; subtitles English, French; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 20 chapters; rated G; 102 min.; $24.98; street date 11/14/00.
Supplements: Soundtrack Live Music Video Gallery featuring Donna Summer, Alysha’s “Dreams”, Dream Street’s “They Don’t Understand”, and “Pokemon World” by Youngstown Featuring Nobody’s Angel; Sneak Preview of Pokemon 3; Theatrical Trailer; Pokemon Card; Pokemon Coin; DVD-ROM Features.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/B/D+

God help us all, but I must admit this: I love Squirtle. Before I watched Pokemon: The First Movie last spring, I was almost totally ignorant of all things Pokemon. Oh, I was more in tune than the average childless 30-something - I work with kids for a living, so some of their culture inevitably rubs off on me - but I only knew the rudiments.

Frankly, I’m not exactly sure why I decided to screen P:TFM, but I did so nonetheless, and while it clearly wasn’t a very good piece of work, I didn’t feel it was objectionable or bothersome. Most of it didn’t stay with me, but I found myself drawn to water-spouting Poke-turtle Squirtle. The little guy’s so cute, and something about his raspy cries of “Squirtle!” - as far as I can tell, all Poke-speech restricts the critters to utterances of their own names - seemed awfully charming.

Okay, I admit it: I’m a sucker. The crass marketing machine got to me - I won’t deny it. But Squirtle still rules!

When the powers that be award Squirtle his own film, then I’ll firmly be able to endorse one of these offerings. Until that time, I can only provide very lukewarm support. Pokemon: The First Movie was a fairly weak piece of work, but I thought it had a couple of moments, and my affection for Squirtle kept me interested. The sequel follows a very similar path but doesn’t seem quite as interesting; I can’t actually say what has changed, but the second film simply came across as less compelling to me.

Most of the elements remain unchanged. Essentially both films have a life-and-death struggle against a nearly-omnipotent force, and it comes down to featured Pokemon-trainer Ash to fix everything. Along the way a slew of Pokemon come together, and we inevitably involve some new critters.

And blah blah blah. P2K isn’t a sequel; it’s just another episode of the series, really, albeit one that lasts longer - the main film runs a little more than 80 minutes - and that includes slightly improved production values. The core animation remains absurdly crude; many times we find completely static images on screen, and even the smoothest movements are ridiculously awkward and stiff. However, at least P2K tosses in some attractive computer art at times; the animation itself stays unconvincing, but the images themselves look fairly good.

At the end of the day, however, this ends up with a very mediocre film that appears to offer little that one couldn’t see on TV. Based on the common reaction adults have toward Pokemon, I should have felt suicidal by the end of the movie, but Pokemon the Movie 2000 inspired no thoughts of self-immolation. Actually, it inspired just about no thoughts whatsoever, except “Why didn’t they show more of Squirtle?” Poke-fans will likely enjoy P2K, but it seems extremely unlikely to inspire any new converts, even those as reluctant and single-character focused as myself. Bring on Squirtle 4Ever! and we’ll talk.

In addition to the 80-minute feature film, another shorter Poke-program appears on the DVD. This is a nearly 21-minute piece called “Pikachu’s Rescue Adventure”. I mention this here instead of in the “supplements” area simply because “PRA” appeared theatrically prior to the longer “The Power of One” film. Since it was seen alongside the movie proper, it can’t be considered an “extra”.

Anyway, this short resembles “Pikachu’s Vacation”, the nearly-incoherent piece that prefaced P:TFM. Actually, “PRA” never approaches the hallucinatory buzz of “PV”, which may offer the most accurate representation of an acid high ever seen. “PRA” is just silly and goofy, but at least we get to see Squirtle.

The DVD:

Pokemon the Movie 2000 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As was the case with the first Pokemon movie, this one definitely does not appear in either its original theatrical aspect ratio - which appears to have been 1.85:1 - or in an “unmatted” transfer. The latter case refers to films that are shot so that the entire 1.33:1 frame is exposed but cropped to different dimensions for theatrical screenings. In these instances, the images are intended to be seen at the matted size; although unmatted transfers fill your entire TV screen, the extra information is not supposed to be seen.

On its DVD case, the first Pokemon film touted that it indeed offered an unmatted transfer, but I and others felt otherwise; it seemed too cramped on the sides. P2K makes no similar claims and indeed states “this film has been formatted to fit your screen” on the back of the case. I found that statement to be undeniably true; the cropping that occurred on the edges of the frame seemed very obvious much of the time and I also noted a few pans.

Why studios think that kids will explode if their movies don’t appear fullframe is a mystery to me, but that seems to be the rationale for this transfer. Frankly, I doubt that P2K suffered much from the lack of original aspect ratio, but that’s not the point. All films should appear in their theatrical dimensions no matter what; no exceptions should be made.

Despite the lack of correct framing, P2K presented a strong image. Sharpness usually looked crisp and detailed, but a few scenes appeared oddly soft. Characters occasionally were surprisingly unfocussed and fuzzy when seen in shots with roughly three or more participants. This problem seemed to stem from the shoddy quality of the original artwork and not due to transfer concerns, but the end result remained the same: sharpness that periodically was less than satisfactory.

Neither jagged edges nor moiré effects presented any substantial concerns. Print quality also seemed very strong. The first Pokemon movie displayed more flaws than one would expect from a brand-new film, but none of those issues affects P2K; I detected no signs of grit, speckles, grain, scratches, hairs, blotches, tears or other defects.

Colors generally appeared very bright and bold, but they also tended to show some noisiness. Once again, that quality mainly stemmed from the crude artwork. The hazy nature of some hues seemed present mainly when we got a fairly static look at characters; for example, the problem was most noticeable when I saw semi-long shots of Pikachu. As a whole, colors looked strong, but this weakness caused some minor concerns. Black levels appeared entirely solid and deep, and shadow detail was clear and appropriately opaque. Overall, P2K displayed some minor defects but it generally was very clear and watchable.

Also fairly strong was the film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Throughout the film we’re treated to a nicely active and engaging soundfield. All five speakers received a lot of usage and kept the action lively. At times I felt the affair seemed overly “speaker-specific”; although the different channels offered a great deal of discrete audio, it occasionally blended in a less than satisfying manner. However, this concern only occurred a few times, and I generally thought the mix combined the different elements in an involving and pleasing manner.

It may sound dumb, but my favorite sonic moment happened during “Pikachu’s Rescue Adventure”. Whenever a group of Pokemon lined up next to each other and spoke, I could clearly hear the individual names, all of which appeared in the proper spatial location. Hey, this let me hear Squirtle talk more than otherwise could have been the case, so I’m happy!

Audio quality seemed fairly solid. Dialogue didn’t always integrate especially well with the action - perhaps this issue resulted from changes between this track and the original Japanese issue? - but the speech sounded crisp and distinct with no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects and music largely came across as clear and accurate, but they lacked much heft; the track boasted some fairly adequate bass but never showed very deep or rich lows. I also mild distortion from some explosions. Overall, the track seemed acceptably clean and involving, but it showed some minor concerns.

Unlike the DVD for Pokemon: The First Movie, we find very few supplements on P2K. Unsurprisingly, they’re all promotional in nature. We get the theatrical trailer for P2K plus a teaser for Pokemon 3.

Another area relates to the movie’s music. “Soundtrack Live” provides a few performances from a promotional show. We get “They Don’t Understand” from Dream Street, “Dream” from Alysha Antonino, and “Pokemon World” from Youngstown featuring Nobody’s Angel. Dream Street are the first real boy band I’ve ever seen; each member appears to be around 13 or 14 years of age. They also seem completely talentless as judged by their off-key singing and lousy dancing. The guys of Youngstown aren’t much better, but at least the babes of Nobody’s Angel were attractive. 12-year-old Celine Dion wannabe Antonino might have some talent, but it’s hard to tell from this miserable little pop tune she warbles. Even if she can sing, her worship of Dion creeped me out to a large degree; we’ve finally (allegedly) gotten rid of the original so we don’t need a pre-teen clone to haunt us.

Antonino’s segment also includes a cutesy clip that shows how she got her start in the business. Finally, we find the “Making of” the soundtrack, a two-minute and seven-second waste of time that shows contributors like Donna Summer and Weird Al Yankovic. Yikes!

Inside the DVD case, I also found one Pokemon card and a special Pokemon coin. The card featured Pikachu, while Lugia appeared on the coin. According to the movie’s website, every DVD will include the same characters on their cards and coins.

Finally, P2K included a few DVD-ROM materials. “Special Web Events” sends you to the same site where all other Warner Bros. “web events” appear. This site doesn’t seem to have been updated for months, unfortunately; the most recent DVDs listed are spring 2000 titles like P:TFM and Three Kings. This may change soon, however, and I’ll check the site again to determine if any updates occur.

“Pokemon Web World” offers links to the P2K and “WB Kids” websites. The former lets you download “a cool poster for your computer” and also makes available four different sets of images that could be used as “backgrounds” on the computer. “Special Events” just advertises the DVD and VHS and it also allows you to watch the video for Alysha Antonino’s “Dreams”.

“Pokeshop” advertises a few different bits like the Squirtle talking clock, while “Activities” provides two different games. “Pokematch” is just a Pokemon-flavored variation on Concentration that forces you to match pairs of images, while “Pop Quiz” tests your Pokemon knowledge through 10 questions. Both are rather tough for folks not fluent in the world of Pokemon. “Pokematch” requires you to pair pictures of critters with their “evolved” selves; that means you need to know what they look like when they change (I didn’t). The “Pop Quiz” can be muddled through with some logical guesses, but logic has little place in this world, so unless you know your Poke-stuff, you’ll probably have to make a lot of blind stabs (I did).

The “Soundtrack” area lets you look at the album cover - wow! - or check out a listing of songs. “Preview the Movie” includes the theatrical trailer and a few galleries of photos.

Another feature on the DVD is the “Game Guide”. This just provides details about a few different Pokemon games. Yeah, more advertising is bad, I suppose, but we get a nice shot of Squirtle, so I won’t complain!

Lastly, the DVD includes a “DVD Sampler” of other WB titles. These relate DVD details and also each film’s trailer. We get listings for Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Jack Frost, Scooby Doo and the Alien Invaders, P:TFM and Space Jam. The DVD also provides web links to WB Online, the WB Studio Store, and Warner Home Video.

Pokemon: The First Movie charmed me just enough to warrant a lukewarm semi-endorsement, a factor enhanced by the nice quality of that DVD. Such issues don’t interfere with my judgment of Pokemon the Movie 2000. While the film itself seemed roughly on a par with the first one, I liked it less for reasons that appear unclear. In any case, the DVD offers solid picture and sound but skimps on the extras. Leave this one for already-dedicated Poke-fans. Bring on 2001: A Squirtle Odyssey!

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