This movie is a CGI remake of the very first Pokemon movie. And that’s where the problem lies. If this were an original movie, then I would say it’s good (seeing as it’s a remake of the original, and I liked the original, it wouldn’t make sense to say anything else). However, this is being rated as a remake to that original. It is for that reason that I would say that this doesn’t quite hit the heights that it could have.
If a remake is going to be made, we need a reason to watch it. For instance, an HD remake gives a good incentive to rewatch an older classic, with the only difference being improved graphics (and maybe an added scene or two). In that scenario, there isn’t really too much to complain about. However, this remake completely changed the animation into CGI, and I would say that for the most part… it looks ok. There are some things that clearly don’t look too well, but overall, it doesn’t look bad. They also kept the music in each scene more or less the same as the original, and with the exception of a few added lines of dialogue and a few small changes, it is exactly the same as the original movie. In other words, the incentive to watch this movie is simply the new animation, which is fair enough. But there’s just something about this that doesn’t quite seem right. For one thing, the first movie is something that holds a special place in many people’s hearts. Many of us have been a part of Satoshi’s journey from the beginning, from the days where we only knew him as Ash. To us, these older movies let us see the original trio that made us fall in love with the world of pokemon in a nostalgic way. This weight that this title carries needs to be supported well, but this movie unfortunately doesn’t do it justice. It’s likely the CGI itself that’s to blame as well. As mentioned before, this contains all the same scenes, with all the same soundtrack but it doesn’t work in the same way. I feel as though this new animation detracts from the darker mood that the original movie had, which ultimately works against the ‘darker’ themes that the movie covers (you could argue that the topics aren’t exactly dark, but to me, something about the CGI makes the animation fit less than the animation of the first movie).
Overall, the animation change was too much. With this large amount of change, it was necessary for the movie to be an improvement to the original in order to justify making it. As it stands, it does not serve enough of a purpose.
So in the end we are left with this: Is this movie worth watching? If you’re interested in the animation, then sure, go for it. But overall, I would argue to watch the first movie instead. You’ll be getting the exact same story, so you don’t have to worry about missing out on anything, and you won’t have any CGI to complain about either.
Does Pokémon really need an introduction at this point? It's been around for over 20 years, it's a monolith in the world of marketing. But it was a huge hit in Japan when it first came out, and in 1999, it took the rest of the world by storm. So much so, that on November 10, 1999, the first film, “Mewtwo Strikes Back”, came out a year in America after its debut in Japan, with a second film having already been in Japanese theaters for months. But children outside of Japan didn't know about that, the Internet was still young at the time. All we knew was that Pokémon made it to the big screen, and it was going to be epic. And it was.
So naturally, to celebrate 20 years, OLM had been making plans to make this important milestone a big deal. The 20th anniversary already had a movie by the title “Pokémon: I Choose You” to a rather positive-to-mixed response. But Pokémon has multiple milestones in its history it wanted to celebrate, and therefore, it really wasn't out of the ordinary to give the first film its own anniversary celebration—but with a twist. Barring 2019's “Detective Pikachu”, this is the first time the Pokémon anime has become fully CGI. An announcement that made many people immediately skeptical and brush it off with an apathetic scoff.
Not this animation fan. Spoilers for a 20-year-old film.
I'll admit that when this was first announced, before the first teaser image was ever shown, I wasn't amused. I could still feel the scars of 2013 start to ache, and I cringed in my seat as I read about a new film with Mewtwo. What more could they do with him at this point? Why even bother? I wanted to reject this, to say I didn't want this. But the moment it was clear this would be a CGI film, albeit a shot-for-shot remake, suddenly I was excited. I wanted to see what OLM could do with technology that advanced in 20 years since the first film came out. Recall that they ended up dabbling in CGI for the first film because reasons, I suppose, and look how dated those clouds and that giant pair of doors have become. But now, with computers running faster than ever, the clouds and giant pair of doors in this film are gorgeous, and are only a small part of this 90-minute work of art.
This is a beautiful movie to look at, it's such eye-candy that so much is lost by reading subs. The environments alone are screensaver-worthy, a lot of shots should be framed and put on the wall. The detail on everything from the water to the clouds to the clothes to the fortress itself is oozing with detail. This alone is what will guarantee multiple viewings and a frame-by-frame analysis with fans, as well as a dub. Even the animation itself needs to be studied because of the body language of a lot of characters, Mewtwo especially. This is the most animated Mewtwo's ever been since “Detective Pikachu”, just every time he's on screen I loathed having to glance down to skim the subs because it meant missing out on some subtle touches to his expressions. I could literally stare at his model all day.
In fact, to go back to Mewtwo's fortress, this is exactly why I supported this going CGI. There's an insane amount of detail to the design that wasn't included in the original (and there's additions, too, such as a stained glass window to give it an appearance of a cathedral), and we almost have ourselves a tour of it down to the texture, pretty much, I literally want this model file to just study and scroll through. I love this castle, I always have, and that love deepened with this redesign down to the last paint-job. It's amazing that this is never touched upon again (especially in the 2000 TV sequel where guess all Mewtwo does is carve out a simple table and chairs), but we have ourselves an architect in the Pokémon world whose talents and precise attention to detail is going unnoticed. Like damn, Mewtwo, just throw on a human disguise and get out there to make your mark on the world. Design some really kick-ass theme parks or something.
The Pokémon do look really good (I've never wanted to hug a Pidgeot more, and one of my favorites, Wigglytuff, is so plush), but I have unfortunately been spoiled by “Detective Pikachu” and so it's kinda hard to distance myself from that. The human models are hit or miss, for sure, but I can appreciate the different touches to their designs like how you can tell Brock's a little slouched from his knapsacks, Misty's ponytail bobs, and Jessie and James must be going to some salon in between episodes or something, they should be supermodels instead of grunts. Some moments were weird because you can tell they were still trying to put on anime exaggerations, but it wasn't working with these models. If it was a bit more cartoony, particularly in the faces, I think they could've gotten it with no issues, but I suppose they didn't want to stray from them looking not Japanese. I know there were folks out there saying they couldn't take a leering Ash too seriously, but he's ten, he still has some baby fat on him. You could still feel the anger coming off of him.
In terms of if they improved upon the scenes... eh, I'm afraid nothing sticks out. Well, actually I chuckled over the Lapras boat scene (one of the few changes made when it was originally a Viking motif) because Team Rocket had a song and danced in the back row, and I really like the shot when they fly out of the water and saw the castle and the surrounding clouds for the first time. That was actually a cool shot, and that's why I'm kind of bummed by this camera. It needed to slow down, for one thing, take the time to take everything in. I know they're showing off the 3D space, but it also should've been shot in different angles or positions, too, like in the laboratory in the beginning, for example. It's not like I want it to be an exact shot-for-shot remake with the camera, but there were shots that needed more “oomph” in terms of the camera angles, or to get some much-needed close-up shots or quick edits. I'm not sure where people are getting at by saying there's "padding", though. Yeah, I suppose because of the CGI, things feel "slower", like there's actual weight to them, but if anything, I thought it moved too fast in some areas, the beginning especially. I just wanted to take in the Amazon, the fields, the underwater sequences, dammit. The extended scenes in some places, especially the clone battles, I honestly enjoyed because it just meant seeing them be animated more. Mew I think was my favorite to watch in that regard in how super floaty it is.
In terms of extending scenes, the battle with Mewtwo and his starter clones was one example where I can tell they were showing off, but it doesn't take away from the film. While I think the Pokémon being one-hit KO'd in the original hits home a lot harder, it's actually still nice to see them still get back up to fight back. Bruteroot—I mean, Bernard being slammed into the doorway and dropping like thirty feet or something (how tall's that entranceway, anyway?) was pretty brutal, actually. I was thinking about how unfortunate it is that they toned down the brutality from the original, but that one hurt.
Oh, and thank God Mewtwo and Mew didn't play bumper balls with each other. They still charged at each other and were psychically repelled, but they didn't look like they were about to play Super Monkey Ball rolling around in their glowy hamster balls.
When it comes to the soundtrack, most of it reprised from the original OST, it's just kinda there, and unfortunately has a muted organ, Mewtwo's leitmotif, that you can hear strongly in the original version. That said, "Inochi Aru Mono" was still beautiful to listen to, but the scene still played out too differently (another extended sequence) that the beats still kinda didn't hit. But when the stadium lights went out and Mewtwo and Mew flare up with psychic energy and hiss at each other (yes, Mew was hissing, let that sink in), and then Ash runs out and BOOM!... there's no music. There's no sound, just Pikachu calling out Ash's name and trying to shock him back to life, just to cry, and cry, and cry oh my God they drew that one out. This actually makes me curious about what the dub might do with the soundtrack in this instance. My biggest wish was for "Tears of Life" to be trumped, to see if this was something that could have more impact to it, but I guess nothing will. Oh well, not that I'm complaining because I adore the dub soundtrack.
Oh, since there still has been no word of a dub as of this review (which is unusual), I have to bring up the voice-acting briefly. I'm honestly not all that familiar with the Japanese voice actors and actresses in their famous roles in Pokémon, but I know them from elsewhere. So while it's honestly rather rough due to the actors' ages, they still did their best in returning to an old script. But for sure the real star was Mewtwo himself, Masachika Ichimura. He is still fantastic, it's really like he never stopped being his character and being his vicious, cold self. Special mention goes to Kenta Miyake as Giovanni, for as small as the character's role is, he did his best in still hitting the same beats his predecessor, Hirotaka Suzuoki, hit 20 years ago. The ending song is a reprise of the original “Kaze to Issho ni”, but includes a duet with Sachiko Kobayashi and Shoko Nakagawa. It's a lot quieter and softer than the original's celebratory orchestra performance, but it was accompanied by some beautiful pieces of artwork that makes you long to be a child again.
So with that said, why don't I think this is up there with the first film when it's still the same film? It's not because of nostalgia, I can promise you that, and it's not because I think the cel animation is too vintage to top. Is it a soulless cash-grab? Not really, they were really pushing how important it was that Pokémon was going fully CGI for the first time. They wanted to show just how far the series and technology has come that they could make these characters look more alive.
I think it still falls a little flat because the script should've been altered a bit to match this new style. The movie is still Mewtwo's story, it's still about him hogging the spotlight like the prima donna he is and it's still him showing his disdain toward mankind for bringing him into a world he didn't ask to be born in. Which is why I think it's still a damn shame they didn't bring in the entirety of Mewtwo's origins because his beginning questions to Dr. Fuji still echoed from his long-lost childhood memory. Yes, it was there from the very beginning in 1998, but that's still a context that's eerily lost and confusing to those who aren't aware of his story. He was just born, what does he know about a mother, a father, of a God? He didn't know who he was, even still seemed to question his own existence to the very end, but yet he knows about birth like that? It's still something to make one's head spin, which fits Mewtwo's confusion, but still.
But the script still could've benefited from tweaks to make it stand out differently from its original, even could be upgraded a bit or changed up some things, especially in Mewtwo's decision at the end to go "Meh, only I can learn this valuable lesson about one's life being as equal to another's. Humans can suck my dick." Perhaps it really should've followed the current AU set up with the 20th movie, so that while it still hit the same beats and still kept Mewtwo the same character, it still would've felt a bit more of a fresher take on the same tale whether with new characters or just a slightly different motivation. So even though I still liked how Mewtwo, Ash, Mew, and even Team Rocket were portrayed in this film, things should've gone differently.
Anyhoo, in closing, I honestly want to see more Pokémon movies go CGI. I think OLM collaborating with Sprite helped a lot in how it looks overall, and I hope Motonori Sakakibara sticks around for future projects or gave them some pointers. I think if they do some slight tweaking on the humans, it'll look much better, but I'll take what I can get. This was a good effort, but I fear this movie may not have done well enough to call for more CGI. And that's a shame.
However, I don't have regrets watching this, even if it was just for completion's sake. I'll still go back to the original take due to better availability and also admittedly some familiarity, but I'm glad this was a new way to reincarnate the film and show off how far Pokémon has come. Mewtwo continues to persevere as a character no matter what medium or format you show him in, and I think that says a lot about how much of an impact he's left on the fandom and name brand 20 years later.