Reviewby Carlo Santos, Nov 4th 2006
Pokemon: Lucario and the Mystery of Mew
Ash, Pikachu and friends travel to Cameron Palace, the center of a kingdom with a rich history. One legend in that kingdom tells of an ancient hero, Aaron, who saved the land from being torn apart by war. Accompanying that hero was a powerful Pokemon named Lucario—who suddenly emerges from a historic relic when Ash gets his hands on it! At the same time, however, Pikachu is kidnapped by a mischievous Mew and taken to the "Tree of Beginning" where Aaron supposedly saved the kingdom. Ash wants Pikachu back, and crusty old Lucario wants closure with his former master, so off they go on a quest to the Tree where they will discover some very ancient history and ecology.
It's easy to dismiss Pokemon as the figurative black hole of anime, every critic's favorite punching bag, and the fandom's source of infuriation when regular folks see anything remotely Japanese-looking and ask, "Is that Polka Man?" Certainly, a lot of that fury is well-deserved: endlessly repetitive TV episodes, insufferable cross-media promotion, rowdy kids stinking up the comic shop on Pokemon Card Game day ... the phenomenon has mellowed out over the years, but it still has the power to annoy.
Then along comes something like the latest Pokemon movie, and you start to wonder if that fury is misplaced. (Surely our hate would be better spent dishing it out on the fake Americanized One Piece?) Despite all the knee-jerk reactions that the Pokemon name incites, the Lucario movie proves that this can still be solid children's entertainment—solid enough that even "old folks" will enjoy it.
What stands out the most is the epic premise. This is not just another Pokemon adventure, kids; this is a Pokemon adventure with hundreds of years of history behind it! A totally fictional history, sure, but with enough weight to sustain an hour and a half of action. The entire opening of the movie is a departure from the franchise: full-out fantasy with massive warring factions and earth-shattering sorcery. Historical parallels between Ash and Aaron, flashbacks cleverly told through "time flowers," and the gigantic chip on Lucario's shoulder all add substance to the story. (It should be noted that Lucario is one of the few Pokemon that can communicate in other words besides its own name, and boy does it have some harsh things to say.)
Despite the ambitious setup, though, the execution falls flat midway through. That's when it reverts to being just another normal Pokemon episode, trundling through the wilderness and watching the supporting cast fade into irrelevance—it basically becomes the Ash and Lucario show after the first half. Once everyone arrives at the Tree of Beginning, things get more exciting, albeit predictable: before the quest is over, there will be a shocking revelation, a heartbreaking sacrifice, and a handy-dandy deus ex machina. To be fair, it's the easiest way to tie up an adventure story in a way that kids will understand. The denouement also brings out the usual morals in the series: the value of friendship and respect for all living things. Basically it's the lessons learned from a regular episode, except with a touch of gravitas.
So, what does the franchise do with all the money it makes? Funnel it into the feature-film budget, apparently, which in this modern day means splurging on CGI. Fancy computer tricks abound—sweeping 3-D landscapes, large moving crowds—but most viewers will spot the unnatural textures of computer-generated work. The simple character designs are easier to handle, though, and show consistency from scene to scene. Animation is smooth throughout, with a handful of genuinely thrilling action scenes: Ash's reunion with Pikachu is a particularly heart-stopping sequence that rides on the adrenaline of being 500 feet above the ground. And of course it wouldn't be a Pokemon world without flora and fauna; the scenery at the Tree of Beginning is vivid enough to be worthy of Miyazaki, while the brightly colored Pokemon should appeal instantly to younger viewers (although the newer-generation creatures lean more towards "stylized" than "cute").
In true 4Kids style, the Japanese theme songs in the movie have been replaced by third-rate pop-rock productions with stock lyrics about training and winning and being the best. Fortunately, the background music suffers from no such mediocrity; a full orchestra provides a strong, familiar-sounding film score that captures the spirit of adventure.
Also customary for a 4Kids production is that viewers of the movie will have to settle for English-dubbed audio. Fortunately, it's a consistent, competent dub—if you're used to the voices from the original TV show, this has everyone exactly in character. The bonus disc is another matter entirely, however; this 40-minute special (a forgettable 10th anniversary piece packed with "Poke-fanservice") features the new voice cast from Pokemon USA and all the controversy that entails. Aside from the bonus disc, other extras include a slideshow of character designs—mostly featuring the fantasy costumes worn in the first part of the movie—and a kid-friendly making-of feature showing the basics of animation. The DVD packaging also contains various peripheral goodies, including a Mew card for the collectible card game and an "ani-manga" booklet.
So maybe Pokemon deserves a fair shake after all. Lucario and the Mystery of Mew isn't out to change the face of animation forever, but it's set to entertain, which it does with its fantasy flavor and strong back-story. Kids will get to see their favorite characters, while anyone who's babysitting them will get to see a fairly decent adventure. Heck, even someone who's dropped out of the craze and is wondering how things are going now might want to check this out (and marvel at how many new Pokemon there are, and how they still haven't run out of names). Fads come and go, but what themes could be more timeless than friendship, challenge, and victory?
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : N/A
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : C
Music : B
+ Expands on the Pokemon world with a bit of history, plus solid production values.
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