For the second consecutive week, our friend, the talented Mark Batalla of PixelDrip Gallery, delves into the realm of animation. This time, it’s the wide world of Pokémon.

Logline: When Molly’s father, Professor Hale, goes missing, the strange pokémon that he was studying come to the little girl via the power of strange ancient blocks. These pokémon, the Unown, recreate the Legendary Pokémon Entei to act as Molly’s father. Entei kidnaps Delia Ketchum, mother of protagonist Ash, to serve as Molly’s mother. Ash and company go to the Hale mansion to stop Entei, Molly, and the Unown before they can further warp reality and encase the land in crystal.

In Japan, it’s fairly common to create a movie entry that takes place at some point between the midseason and the season finale of an anime show. While the movies for some franchises did not fit into their respective television series’ canon/timeline, like Dragon Ball Z, the Pokémon films did. The third film, which is composed of the Pikachu and Pichu short and the Spell of the Unown feature, takes place at some point during Pokémon: The Johto Journeys (Seasons 3-5 in the U.S.). You can tell because of the appearance of pokémon species from the Silver/Gold/Crystal generation of games. Poké-mania was still at its height, so of course I watched this movie.

The short about Ash’s Pikachu and two mischieveous Pichu (the less mature form of Pikachu) is like watching classic Disney Silly Symphonies. It starts off with Ash, Brock, and Misty taking out their pokémon on a rooftop courtyard and telling them to behave and enjoy themselves for a couple hours while the three trainers go do some errands. All is going well until *record scratch* Pikachu notices two Pichu precariously playing on a building ledge across the street. Pikachu makes his way across but the three of them end up falling down into the alley. Pikachu is introduced to the feral pokémon roaming city and their playground made of junk. They’re chased around by an overly aggressive Houndour, causing the junk playground to start collapsing. All the pokémon, including the Houndour, come together and frantically repair the playground. Pikachu notices that it’s getting late and makes his way back to the rooftop. Upon returning, Ash reveals that he set up a party to celebrate the anniversary of the first day he met his best friend, Pikachu.

Pikachu and Pichu walks a fine line between adorable and overly saccharine. The majority of the pokémon creatures that appear are of the cute variety. However, the problem with devoting a significant amount of time to these particular types is the nonsensical and often high-pitched chatter between the creatures. I was tempted to watch this entire short on mute. Despite this, it’s still a fun little romp. Seeing all the pokémon dance and play in their junky clubhouse still manages to bring a smile to my face.

Spell of the Unown is a straightforward adventure that continues Ash, Misty, and Brock’s journey into the Johto region. There’s nothing that really makes it stand out from any of the other twelve Pokémon movies, so I’ll get the bad parts out of the way.

Every Pokémon movie to date featured one or more Legendary Pokémon. I definitely wanted to see this movie because the poster and previews showed Entei, one of the franchise’s Legendary Pokémon, and Charizard, Ash’s best pokémon. A fight between the two of them would have been spectacular. The audience finds out within five minutes of Entei’s appearance that he is just a psychic projection of the Unown (the real deal would show up in the series at a later point). That false advertisement knocks the movie down a couple points.

Another thing I didn’t like about the film is the superfluous inclusion of the Team Rocket trio of Jesse, James, and Meowth. In the series, they’re often trying to capture Pikachu or some other rare pokémon. They take a backseat to the Molly storyline. They follow Ash into Molly’s crystal fortress because that’s what they always do. However, they make absolutely no attempt to capture either Pikachu or Entei. If they didn’t appear at all, chances are they wouldn’t have been missed. The only thing they do is come out of nowhere to rescue Ash from falling off a ledge. If their deus ex machina-like actions don’t jar the audience, then their breaking of the fourth wall does. They justify the rescue by remarking that there won’t be a Pokémon series for them to appear in without the protagonist.

Speaking of which, Ash is an awful, awful protagonist, especially in the early parts of the Pokémon series. In a franchise where people rely almost entirely on pokémon to do the grunt work, Ash still manages to be more passive than a majority of the characters he encounters. He wants to be the best pokémon master in the world but a majority of his victories in the early seasons come from dumb luck. The various badges of honor that Ash “earns” are given to him because he often unintentionally rescues the character of the week from Team Rocket’s plans. Keep in mind that despite being the series’s antagonists, the trio of Jesse, James, and Meowth are a bumbling comic relief trio that have NEVER been a legitimate threat to ANYBODY.

Now, despite my criticisms, both Pikachu and Pichu and Spell of the Unown are actually pretty enjoyable to watch. That’s mostly due to me being ten years removed from Poké-mania.

Is It Better Or Worse Than I Remember?

It’s better. My initial watching of Pokémon 3 was filled with disappointment. That’s mainly due to me expecting to be blown away by the latest Pokémon film and wanting to see Entei in all his glory.

What Makes It Better?

Both Pikachu and Pichu and Spell of the Unown showcase Ash’s few redeeming characteristics. In the short, Ash shows his appreciation to the pokémon that’s saved his ass from embarrassment and danger in every single episode of the series. Pikachu is his best friend and he’ll always cherish their friendship over glory and success. In the main feature, Ash takes initiative by dashing straight into danger to rescue his mother. Delia Ketchum is his only family and Ash will do anything, even put himself in harm’s way, to keep her safe. Even if Ash is the biggest loser in the Pokémon world, he’ll always have his relationships with Pikachu and his mom to keep him happy. The movie is taking steps to show that Ash may have hope yet in becoming a better protagonist.

I also enjoy this movie more now that I have a better eye for animation and design. The Pokémon movies had better production values than the series and it’s evident in every scene. The Unown are CG but they blend pretty well with the rest of the animation. None of the show’s recycled animations are used. The pokémon battles look great and feel nothing like the turn-based combat found in the games.

Free-Floating Thoughts

– In Pikachu and Pichu, notice how the camera is framed during shots that contain human characters. At no point do you have a full on shot of Ash, Misty, or Brock’s face. It’s a real subtle effect but it helps emphasize that the short is seen through the POV of Pikachu.

– Pikachu and Pichu would not be as adorable if you were actually seeing real world animal counterparts of these pokémon skittering around the city. Or maybe it would. People did like Ratatouille.

– Australia is actually pretty close to the Pokémon world. It’s full of exotic animals that can even be found in the cities.

– Pokémon really are the slaves of this world. Meowth is one of the few talking pokémon and he’s stuck washing windows in addition to working for Team Rocket!

– Like the use of the Pokémon: Johto Journeys theme during the opening battle/credits of Spell of the Unown.

– How the hell does Ash keep ending up with all the starter pokémon from each region, when a player can only choose one in each game?

– Has Ash even caught any pokémon? I think a good portion of them joined him out of pity or as a debt of gratitude.

– For her first time being exposed to the Unown hieroglyphs, Molly sure knows how to understand them. I supposed this is explained away as a result of the Unown psychically feeding off Molly’s emotions and manipulating her.

– Delia reacted pretty strong after hearing about Professor Hale disappearing. He could be another possible candidate for Ash’s unidentified father.

– There’s an interesting theory that a great war is the reason why there are so many missing fathers in the Pokémon world. Considering Japan’s history, that wouldn’t surprise me if it was true.

– There’s something disturbing about how Molly envisions her father as Entei and her mother as Delia. Did she never emotionally connect with her parents?

– Ash’s mom reminds me of Eric Cartman’s mom. Seriously, who is Ash’s father? It still hasn’t been revealed yet!

– What happened to Brock and Misty after they lost to Molly?

– Molly was just lying in Delia’s lap the entire time? This whole crystallization fiasco could be stopped by simply snapping her little kid neck! What? Too much? Try watching more anime!

– Ash’s Charizard is hands down his strongest pokémon. Of course, it’s gotten that way because Ash had no input in its training. He just left it at the Charizard academy.