Movie Reviews

Pokémon's First Movie is Still its Best, Even After Two Decades

Despite being released over twenty-four years ago, Pokémon: The First Movie has been a staple for the franchise. Its themes have proven the test of time and it is one of the most popular Pokémon movies among fans. While it came in the series’ early days, there are many reasons it stands as the best film in the franchise.

Releasing in Japan in 1998, Pokémon: The First Movie aired in North America one year later. This came two years after the franchise began. Since then there have been a total of twenty-three films and twenty-five seasons of the Pokémon anime, as well as one live-action movie. Typically, each season is accompanied by a film matching Ash and his companions – as well as his current Pokémon team line-up for the season.

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Pokémon: The First Movie is one of only a few anime films to top the U.S. box office. It set the bar for future films and showed anime movies’ potential for the global market. With an impressive global box office, it is no wonder that Pokémon’s first movie has endured as long as it has. While there have been several amazing films released after since, the first has earned the title of best film in the franchise, largely due to its longevity.

Despite its strong debut, the film could have disappeared as later films were released, leaving it as beloved to only its first generation of fans. However, despite its many successors, Pokémon: The First Movie was still chosen for a two-day theatrical re-release to celebrate its anniversary. Considering the number of films and specials the franchise has produced, the company could have made a film to commemorate the anniversary, or another film could have been chosen. Similarly, the top anime film streamed on Netflix in 2020 was Mewtwo Strikes Back: Evolution – a remake of Pokémon: The First Movie with a different animation style. The first streaming platform debut of a Pokémon film was essentially just the first film retold twenty-two years later for a new audience with very few changes to the actual script and events of the film.

Additionally, every film after has followed the formula it laid out. Ash and his friends hear about a legendary or rare Pokémon that they end up meeting. A villain or conflict arises involving that special species that is then conquered by Ash’s will to save Pokémon and the power of friendship uniting others to the cause. This is a very basic formula and the only thing that tends to change is the location, the featured rare Pokémon, and the supporting cast. Yet this formula has proven successful for over twenty years across multiple generations of fans, with each generation having its own favorite animated feature. Nonetheless, the formula began with the first film and proved that it worked. It also has some of the franchise’s most iconic themes, music, and events, including Pikachu’s iconic crying scene which was repeated in I Choose You! and the turning to stone moment being reversed in Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction.

One of the most enduring aspects of this Pokémon film is that it requires no previous knowledge to enjoy. Viewers new to the franchise are able to meet the characters and know what the show’s big themes are without ever needing to watch a single episode beforehand. With such a long-lasting legacy, even if the story can appear basic on the surface, Pokémon: The First Movie has withstood time and remains Pokémon’s best film due to its foundation work, its global success, and its ability to be successfully resurrected for new generations to enjoy.

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