Pokémon continuity is… problematic, particularly with regard to the long-running animated series. Ash Ketchum, in his persistent bid to “be the very best,” is the eternal tween—always struggling to succeed but without ever managing any genuine growth. Such is the curse of many a Saturday morning cartoon protagonist.
After some thousand episodes stretched across 20 seasons—not to mention dozens of shorts, specials, and feature films—2017’s Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! at last tries to do the impossible, to collapse decades of Ketchum canon into a single digestible narrative. At its tight 96-minute runtime, there’s a lot of ground to cover, but I Choose You! manages to touch on many of the franchise’s highlights in a distinctly modern style that will both appeal to younger, newer fans and hit old school Pokémaniacs squarely in the nostalgia bone.
Released earlier this year from VIZ Media, Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! is a relatively barebones offering, at least with regard to bonus content, on Blu-ray and DVD. But what it lacks in extras it more than makes up for in action, adventure, and, of course, Ash Ketchum.
Opening with a brief retelling of the very first episode of the Pokémon anime, Ash oversleeps, misses his one chance to select a proper starter, and is instead left with no other option than a particularly moody Pikachu. Further echoing the original Pokémon: Indigo League pilot, their partnership is solidified when they’re attacked outside of Pallet Town by a flock of Spearow, only to later catch a glimpse of (and a feather from) the mythical Ho-Oh, which seems to serve as a portent for the epic journey ahead.
From there, Ash encounters the requisite rival trainers, makes his first proper catch (a Caterpie), and befriends an abandoned Charmander. While all that may sound familiar to longtime viewers, there are a number of differences and updates that help make this seem like a more contemporary chapter rather than simply a ’90s throwback. For example, it is heartless trainer Cross—rather than the original player, Damian—who’s left the feisty fire type to suffer the elements, and his prized Midnight form Lycanroc is a seventh-generation Pokémon that was likely not even a twinkle in some creator’s eye during the original gen-one adventure.
I Choose You! continues in this style, combining classic content with that new Pocket Monster hotness, throughout the film, with old-school Team Rocket shenanigans showcased alongside newer material like trainer Sorrel and his Lucario (not to mention a peculiar little Marshadow that plays heavily into the film’s ultimate resolution). This makes for some interesting thematic choices that may or may not appeal to seasoned fans.
For example, while Ash’s Caterpie does eventually evolve into a Butterfree only to leave his stable of Pokémon to
pursue carnal relations find love among his own kind (a la episode 21, “Bye, Bye Butterfree“), other series touchstones, like Ash’s longtime traveling companions Brock and Misty, are noticeably absent save the briefest of appearances during the closing credits. Instead, the plot is wisely streamlined to focus on Ash’s destiny as the Rainbow Hero—as evidenced by his receipt of that fateful Ho-Oh feather—with Cross returning as the third act’s big bad, who, while doubtlessly a more savvy trainer than young mister Ketchum, is seemingly unwilling to learn from his past mistakes or even admit defeat.
Even on the surface level, Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! is a beautiful, competently produced feature that, while certainly not particularly challenging, is a solid reimagining of past Pokémon mythology properly packaged for a new generation. But deeper than that, its streamlined approach helps to smooth over many of the series’ rougher edges, from those tedious, slow-burn 1990s anime plotlines to the unfortunately accurate meme that Ash Ketchum is, despite his continued “success” in the arena, a pretty crappy Pokémon trainer.
Most importantly, though, I Choose You! is exactly the sort of cross-generational, family-friendly production that begs to be shared between Pokémon-loving parents and their children. In short, Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! is an easy entertainment choice for fans of all stripes.
Review materials provided by: VIZ Media