The Best and Worst Pokemon Movies Of All Timeby Callum May,
There's a lot to love about Pokémon movies. With twenty different big-screen stories told so far through this world-famous franchise, each movie has its own fun and exciting way to represent the ideals of the Pokémon universe. Friendship, teamwork, and courage are generic but universal virtues, and the unending optimism with which Pokémon embraces these ideals is infectious.
So on that note, this is my breakdown of every Pokémon movie in the franchise, from the most valuable stories that will bring a tear to any fan's eye to some the more disposable fare that offers little beyond a basic throwaway adventure. Since everyone's Pokémon experience is different, be sure to share your own favorites in the comments! But with no further ado, this is my personal list of the best and worst, listed in chronological order across three categories: "Must Watch," "Worth Seeing," and "Skippable".
Four legendary Pokémon, the Chosen One, and a flying palace. If there's one thing Pokémon 2000 succeeds at beyond all else, it's scale. Ash's journey is a simple one: collect the three glass balls from three different islands to complete the prophecy. But it's the many memorable moments that make this film so likable. The image of Ash and Team Rocket working together along with the intense battles between the legendary birds are unforgettable. Even 20 years later, we've never had a Pokémon film where Team Rocket gets to be so lovable.
Pokemon 3 - The Movie - Spell of the Unown
The first Pokémon film in Johto delivered a unique story of family bonds, bringing in Delia (Ash's mother) as a major character. Taking notes from the first movie, Pokémon 3 returns to a story with no true evil. Instead, we follow Ash as he tries to aid his assailant in escaping their trauma. Most of the film takes place inside a metaphorical locked heart, a crystal palace designed like a labyrinth that Ash and his friends must invade to save Molly, a young girl who lost her father. The emotional struggle that makes up the film's narrative core shows the franchise's capacity to tell emotionally powerful stories within the fantasy world of Pokémon.
Pokèmon Heroes: Latios and Latias
Just the first two minutes of Pokèmon Heroes lets you know that you're in for a fun adventure. The iconic scene of Ash racing through the canals of a Venetian-inspired city, aided by an invisible Latios and Latias, still remains one of the most engaging openings to a Pokémon film. The setting of Alto Mare provides an excellent backdrop for exciting action as the opening sequence comes back in the climax. Taking the time to develop strong new friendships is something that later Pokémon films attempt time and time again, but few are as emotionally engaging as the friendship between Ash and Latias.
Pokèmon Heroes' place as the movie with the most compelling setting didn't last long. LaRousse City is a technologically advanced city, mostly reliant on wind energy. Despite the film being released in 2004, some of the advances shown are commonplace today. This environment wasn't chosen just for the “cool factor” either. All of the time spent exploring LaRousse is used as a basis for the team's decisions whilst escaping from the menacing Deoxys. Like all the best Pokémon stories, it's not so much about defeating the opposing Pokémon as it is about forming a bond with them. It's part of the franchise's core ideals that Pokémon can always be befriended no matter what, and Destiny Deoxys' human and Pokémon cast gets this across better than ever.
The Rise of Darkrai
As the first entry in the Dialga and Palkia trilogy of films, this story starts strong. The Rise of Darkrai is a dramatic beginning to Ash and his friends' attempts to stop Dialga and Palkia from destroying all of space and time. Building new friendships is a core part of the Pokémon films, delivered here through an unlikely friendship between our protagonists and Darkrai, the nightmare Pokémon. Alongside an amusing side cast and a cheesy love triangle, it always remains grounded, never encumbering the audience with the bizarre concepts surrounding the many dimensions. Sadly, the sequels, Giratina and the Sky Warrior and Arceus and the Jewel of Life, struggle to entertain in the same way.
Genesect and the Legend Awakened
Following the uninspired Kyurem and the Sword of Justice, Genesect and the Legend Awakened was a welcome return to form for the Pokémon films. Set in iconic New Tork City (seriously), the movie's thinly veiled inspiration gives a new sense of familiarity when battling in Pokémon Hills (Central Park) surrounded by skyscrapers. While it draws similarities to Pokemon: The First Movie, it's not just the presence of a Mewtwo that connects these two films, but rather the a battle against isolationism and a fight for peace between two legendary Pokémon. It's also one of the best examples of 3D environments being used to make action scenes more exciting, as the camera zooms through the skyline of New Tork City. Overall, it's a callback to the first movie, but with a tighter structure and a more interesting world to explore.
I Choose You!
The 20th Anniversary of Pokémon was celebrated with the best Pokémon film yet. A return to the story of the first episode, it succeeds in both retelling the beginning of Ash's journey while also delivering important moments that settle narrative arcs from 20 years ago. Along with the best attempt at giving Ash proper character growth within a single story, it also delivers emotionally engaging moments between Ash and Pikachu. With moments of stunning animation and digital integration, it's the best Pokémon has been in terms of visual fluidity. Produced by the same team as the Pokémon XY and Sun and Moon TV series, the 3D and digital animation implementation has elevated the film to a new level, delivering important scenes in visually gripping ways.
Pokemon: The First Movie
The first film in the series remains the most recognizable among both Pokémon fans and the general public. Debuting at the top of box office charts during the Pokemania of the late '90s, there's a lot of nostalgia attached to this one. At its core, the film adapts a series of notes found in a mansion on Cinnabar Island in Pokémon Red and Blue, expanding it into a tale of anger and forgiveness. Looking back 20 years later, many of its messages feel awkwardly placed within the franchise. Mewtwo appears to fight for the freedom of Pokémon, but he then kidnaps and clones them. It's an odd story of revenge, but if you can overlook Mewtwo's shaky logic, there's a lot to love about its emotional drive and the concluding message of friendship.
Much like Pokémon 3, Lucario and the Mystery of Mew is an adventure story taking place within a labyrinth, with characters fighting for the emotional conclusion at its heart. Reintroducing Mew as a playful friend to the heroes, along with a talking Lucario, this film benefits primarily from its Indiana Jones-esque adventure. It's a weirdly heavy film in moments, but the adventure itself is an exciting one. The encounters with Regice, Registeel, and Regirock are constantly tense, and the way in which the tree labyrinth blocks intruders makes for a unique setting. Ultimately, it's a successful attempt at an adventurous Pokémon film.
Pokémon films get released for two reasons: to promote the Pokémon brand overall and promote a new game release. Normally, this is a main series title that focuses on legendary Pokémon exclusive to the newest versions. But in 2006, Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea set out to introduce the concept of Pokémon Rangers from the newest spinoff game. Settling into the traditional framework of protecting a small legendary Pokémon, this movie takes the chance to relax. Sadly, much of the film now appears dated with awkward CG rocks and Pokémon that are poorly integrated with traditional 2D animation.
Zoroark: Master of Illusions
Pokémon villains with truly dastardly plots are a good find. Too many baddies seem to take the obvious approaches to their goals, but Grings is an intelligent and calculating businessman with a cruel plan. Introducing Zoroark's ability to transform and create illusions, the premise works well as Ash tries to free it from Grings' grasp. Unfortunately, the second half of the film doesn't deliver in the same way as the clever setup.
Hoopa and the Clash of Ages
Be prepared for 80 minutes of unapologetic fanservice! With eleven different legendary Pokémon on screen, this movie sets records for large-scale action. Hoopa's power to summon Pokémon from anywhere ends in crisis as the city of Dahara (based on Dubai) gets filled with the most powerful Pokémon in the world going head-to-head. With new technologies available at OLM, the camera is able to follow the action in new ways, portraying the most exciting battles within the Pokémon universe. However, if this isn't appealing, there isn't much narrative left to speak of outside of using this premise for action scenes.
Volcanion and the Mechanical Marvel
The character dynamic between a grumpy old man and a sweet young girl who opens up his heart is a familiar one, but it's made all the better if you substitute these roles with Pokémon. The general plot of thieves trying to steal legendary Pokémon to utilize their power has been borrowed time and time again, but the character dynamics between the heroes elevates Volcanion and the Mechanical Marvel beyond previous weaker attempts. Its story has been retread time and time again, but the action scenes and personalities involved make it far more watchable.
There's not much to like about the infamous Pokémon film in which Ash meets Professor Oak as a child. Although it was memorable for its time, it's badly dated with the luxury of hindsight. To its credit, the backgrounds and world of the forest are beautiful, but the animation offers very few impressive moments for a theatrical release. Tragically, the film climaxes with a battle against a comically off-putting 3D plant creature, further alienating modern fans. With a simple story showcasing Ash and a young Professor Oak escaping a Pokémon bounty hunter, it's little more engaging than any given episode of the TV series.
If you ever thought Max was annoying in Pokémon - Advanced Generation, then I'm afraid you're out of luck with Jirachi Wish Maker. A film focusing on Max's relationship with the legendary wish-granting Jirachi, the conflict itself fails to present anything particularly unique within the Pokémon universe. There's just a legendary Pokémon and the bad guy wants to catch it. Unlike other films with similar plots, however, it lacks a creative setting. With the previous film, Pokèmon Heroes, using its canal city location to great effect, it's disappointing to stage this movie's climax in some random cliffs.
Giratina and the Sky Warrior
As the follow-up to The Rise of Darkrai, Giratina and the Sky Warrior doesn't have the same sort of creative setting and engaging character moments that its prequel boasts. As a part of the undying format of Ash travelling with a small cute legendary Pokémon while being attacked by a fearsome larger legendary Pokémon, Giratina and the Sky Warrior is tragically forgettable. Offering few unique elements across its comparatively lengthy runtime makes it feel less like an individual film in its own right and more like the awkward middle of an unfortunate trilogy.
Arceus and the Jewel of Life
Pokémon sometimes has a habit of getting so involved with one plot mechanic that everything else seems to flounder on the side. Sadly, this is the case for Arceus' debut film, which sends the heroes back in time to save their future. In a quest to find the true history, it feels no more bizarre or well-executed than some of the TV series' more creative episodes. Sadly, it's another example of a Pokémon adventure where Ash and his friends don't feel very relevant within it.
Black and White: Victini and Reshiram/Zekrom
Congratulations! You found the Pokémon movie with a battle animated by famed Studio Trigger animator Yoh Yoshinari! Unfortunately, that's about all there is to see here. In its most brazen commercial move yet, Pokémon: Black and White is two different films with slight differences between them. But at its core, both films feel too derivative of previous entries. Victini is just an orange Mew, and the floating castle used in the climax feels overly familiar for Pokémon film showdowns. There's very little to gain from watching just one of these films, and only more time is wasted in trying to watch both of them.
Kyurem vs. the Sword of Justice
Pokémon already isn't renowned for its narrative structure or pacing, but Kyurem vs. the Sword of Justice can be a real struggle to get through. The movie follows Keldeo's attempt to pass a trial in which he must battle the legendary Pokémon Kyurem, after meeting up with Ash. Throughout the film, Keldeo attempts to escape out of cowardice, eventually being inspired by Ash's bravery to fight. There are some nice moments, but Keldeo's personality struggles to make him likable at any point within the film. There's little emotional resonance as Ash and his friends appear more like bystanders to a conflict than people with their own connection to it.
Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction
Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction struggles to break convention as it tries to showcase as many parts of the new Pokémon games as possible. With appearances from Xerneas, Yveltal, Diancie, and three new Mega Pokémon, it leaves the film with very little story left after so many superficial interactions. Pokémon can do simple stories well, but there's little to like about Diancie and little to fear from Yveltal or the Pokémon thieves. There are a scattering of cool action scenes, but Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction was released at a time where the TV series was better than ever, and this release especially failed to compare.
So with 20 Pokémon movies to choose from, what are your own personal favorites? Share your favorite big-screen Pokémon moments with us in the forums!
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