by Jeffery Bui
Around twenty years ago, almost every child’s dream was to become a Pokémon Master. The fantasy created by the Pokémon franchise acted as a safe haven for children—allowing them to both catch a break from the hectic life of long division as well as catch Pokémon while they were at it. When the franchise finally announced the 1998 release of their first feature-film Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back, the Y2K scare was put on hold as Pokémon fanatics could not contain their excitement to see a ten-year old boy and his furry yellow mouse at their local movie theater.
Although marketing to the hearts of eight-year olds, the movie did not disappoint. The plot begins with the backstory of a laboratory experiment gone wrong, Mewtwo. What Mewtwo does is exactly what you would expect in a children’s movie that explicitly includes “Mewtwo Strikes Back” in its title: it strikes back—getting revenge on the dastardly group of scientists at the expense of the entire Pokémon world. As a result, the stars somehow align and the naïve yet courageous protagonist, Ash Ketchum, is put in the position to save the Pokémon world from devastation and prevent Mewtwo from obliterating everything the Pokémon world knows and loves.
Of course, being a children’s movie, it is suited for the resolution to be nothing less than rainbows and butterflies. However, the beauty of Pokémon: The First Movie is not found in the “what happens,” but the “how it happens.” The idea of how Ash is able to be the underdog and halt what seems to be the most powerful being exposed to the Pokémon world seems almost impossible; Yet, it happens—and in quite tear-jerking fashion. Pokémon: The First Movie takes the juvenile concept of Pokémon and alters it into something a little more tenderhearted. Shinji Miyazaki’s choice in music paired with the cinematography of Hisao Shirai caused for elicited emotions that one would expect watching something along the lines of Titanic or Marley & Me, not Pokémon.
The most notable aspect to the movie that sets it apart from being an ordinary animation is Takeshi Shudo’s creation of multiple layers within the characters. In just 96 minutes, Shudo is able to develop the character of Mewtwo as a hostile psychopath while still causing the audience to sympathize for it and almost justify its actions. Intended to simply empower and glorify the scientists who made it, Mewtwo is tasked with issues everyone faces, whether it be during confusing teenage years or a mid-life crisis: self-worth and self-identity. As a result, Mewtwo, just like many of us, channels the confusion into frustration towards those around it.
There are only two plausible reasons that come to mind as to why I would not recommend this movie to anyone: I either strongly dislike them or they saw it right before I could recommend it to them. It may be the nostalgic toddler in me speaking, but the movie was a masterpiece. The fact that I have such firm support in Pokémon: The First Movie 17 years after its release means that the Pokémon franchise did its job. Even at a box office standpoint, the Pokémon franchise’s ability to net a revenue of $130 million in a 1998-valued economy speaks for itself.
The positive message entailed in Pokémon: The First Movie is both universal and eternal as it contributes to the progressive world we live in today. Regardless of the Pokémon’s origin, purebred or artificial, they come to an understanding that we can use in our daily lives: “Maybe if we start looking at what’s the same instead of always looking at what’s different, well, who knows?”