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Who am I? What am I? Where am I? Was everything before just a dream? Why?
These questions uttered by the legendary Pokemon Mewtwo in a semi psychic monologue within the opening moments of the film set a tone unlike that of most children’s films of the time. A tone that is pretty adult in thought and in questioning. A Pokemon questioning it’s own mortality is something not seen within the show as Mewtwo is the first to speak or at least express itself in the same language as humans. It’s quite a deep subject which is only emphasised when we see him floating in a laboratory like some test subject. He was created to be the strongest, but the big word here is ‘Created’, can he still have a normal mortality if he is genetically engineered and created in a test tube? With todays technology we can see how far it has come in genetics and how it is possible to birth life in a lab, but it wasn’t as known back when the film came out in 1998. We had had successes in the field with plants and the first cloned animal ‘Dolly the sheep’ but an entirely lab created organism that grows and questions its own being is something that was still quite new and worrying to many. Many authors over the years had tackled the subject of artificial life and the possibility of machines gaining sentient awareness but these ideas were not often put into the forefront of a kids film. Children may not notice the intricacies of such philosophical ideas but viewing the film as an adult I am impressed with the depth in which the writers go to with the subject. Questions such as who we are and why we are here have been some of the biggest mysteries of the universe and ones that philosophers and the like have searched for since mankind began, so presenting it in this fantastically conceived way at the younger audience is a remarkable feat and one that almost succeeds flawlessly.
Looking past the philosophical ideologies of the film, we are presented with a tale of power and the will to find ones place in this world. Pokemon trainers from around the world are summoned (including our heroes Ash, Misty and Brock) to a special tournament unknown to them, run by the power crazed and mentally complex Mewtwo as he tries to find out why he was created and if he is truly the strongest Pokemon in existence. Along the way our intrepid trio (quarto if we include fan favourite Pikachu) struggle to understand what they are to do and how they are to ultimately stop such a powerful being. The tournament style story is reminiscent of the seventies martial arts masterpiece ‘Enter the Dragon’ in which martial artists are summoned to an island to prove who is the strongest. Although different in style, the deep underlying tone is very similar which is impressive.
With such deep and powerful ideas its only natural for the makers of the movie to put in some comic relief in the form of the bumbling Team Rocket who in my opinion are one of the only flaws of the film. Seeing them failing in their task of stealing Pokemon detracts from the rich story and characters that are presented to us and especially from Mewtwo’s innermost ideals. I understand why team Rocket are here and I understand at it’s heart the film is aimed at children, but with such an adult premise I find them hard to like.
As the film progresses some of the ideas become much deeper and the way it handles death is remarkably powerful. Rarely in a children’s film have I found myself so emotionally involved with the characters where I truly worry about their wellbeing. It again could be the fact it is a children’s film and that I didn’t expect such deepness in such subject matters but it really did blow me away. The last children / family  film I remember that made me feel this way was 1991’s ‘My Girl’ which truly aimed to show children that death is as natural as life no matter how sad it may make us feel. The addition or the questioning of mortality is so well handled and so rich in content that the film raises itself above what one may imagine when going into it.
There is one big flaw within the final act which takes the film down a level for me and that is one which I entirely understand why it was done. For me it detracts slightly from the ideas pushed upon to audience up to that point and it becomes hard to warrant it from a story point of view. It is during this moment that the tone shifts to a slightly lighter tone. It’s not that this moment (which is obvious when you’ve seen the film) wrecks what we have seen before as it does initially feature one of the films most powerful moments, its just that if the creators had truly had the guts to go with it and stick with their decision it would have been near perfect.

pika
As a kid I remember seeing the film on the opening weekend (and collecting the limited edition Pokemon cards you were given with your ticket). I loved it then as a much grander representation of the characters that I had grown to love through the TV show and the games. As an adult I see the film in a different way. I still get that sense of joy of seeing the characters I enjoyed back then but I also see the depth and complexities hidden within the script. Its a remarkable film in how it handles some of the deepest questions in life and death while staying fun for children and fans of the franchise.
Pokemon the first movie is an absolute must see and it really holds up as well today as it did back then. The richness of the film is something that has been lost in all of the movies that have followed but this really stands heads and tails above its followers. It is a masterpiece of animation and is probably the best thing the Pokemon franchise has pumped out since the original games.
I have little more to say other than to give the film a chance and to open your mind to some of the films questions. You never know, you may walk away knowing a little more about yourself and your own mortality

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