Posted on November 13th 2017
We recently decided to go back and re-watch (or see for the first time!) all the Pokémon movies, and along the way capture our thoughts about them. In the meanwhile, we started up Staircase Spirit, so, we will share our thoughts here with you!
We are going to skip the The First Movie for now, because that's the one with Mew and Mewtwo, and that's a whole other can of worms to open. The First Movie had such a big impact on our childhoods and on our adult lives as well, and it cannot really be fairly discussed without also spending massive amounts of energy condensing down the history of it and explaining the point in time in which it came out, on top of trying to explain all of our thoughts about it. Also, Denise already has her fansite Copy Cat to talk about The First Movie, and while she intends to indeed write even more about it in the future ✽, that will surely take a lot of time, and we wanted to be able to also eventually get to the other movies as well. Considering we've been screaming (positively and negatively) about The First Movie for like twenty years already, let's save an essay on that for later, and first jump into this series of articles with the second movie: Revelation Lugia or Pokémon: The Movie 2000 or The Power of One or... er... the one with Lugia.
Some rich asshole wants to make the Legendary Pokémon Lugia into the centerpiece of his Pokémon collection, and he has discovered that, in order to do so, he must first capture the three Legendary Birds of Kanto -- capturing them will disrupt the elemental balance, and Lugia will arrive to restore that balance. Meanwhile, Ash and his friends happen to be in the area and are participating in a small island's hokey festival based around their local legend of a hero calming the three legendary birds -- just as the rich asshole is indeed riling them up and unknowingly (or uncaringly) causing natural disasters the world over. With Lugia's help, Ash completes the ritual, saves the birds, and restores balance to the planet, with enough time left over to stop by Burger King for lunch.
So, a bunch of stuff happens in this movie, but the main plot is not much of substance. It's like eating cotton candy: it looks like a lot, but when you put it in your mouth, it is actually not much.
There's the island and the festival and a talking Slowking and the Legendary Birds sniping at each other and the villain in the flying fortress... and, in the end, the only part that is actually of any importance is that Ash has to participate in the island ritual and place three mystical orbs in the shrines. To do what exactly?
Throughout this entire ritual, he's accompanied by Melody, a girl who is this year's Festival Maiden; her part in this is that she has to play the flute at the end of the ritual - what she will play is a traditional tune that resembles the song of Lugia. When she does so, there's an entire scene in which the columns of the shrine glow and the green water flows through and it's all very pretty, really, but what was any of this for? We had misremembered the point as summoning Lugia, but no, Lugia had been summoned long ago by the villain. Was the ritual to make everything peaceful again? Somehow? How?
Now, a story can have a relatively loose plot and still be amazing. This usually happens in stories that are very character-centered rather than plot-centered, and so the point of interest is watching the characters interact and respond to events and so on. This movie... is not like that at all. There are a lot of characters and a lot of plotpoints, but, in the end, none of them seem to matter. The characters get very little characterization, and the plotpoints get very little explanation. To make an example - this is a movie that features Tracey in the main cast, and he's barely even there. He has about one minute of screentime, and nothing of importance to say. To make another example, we never learn what is the name of the villain in the movie - some side material refers to him as Lawrence III, but not all sources agree on what even is his name.
The sad thing - or, depending on how you want to see it, the saving grace - is that this movie is, for the most part, gorgeous. If you watch it without sound, you get to look at Pokémon doing stuff and lots of pretty backgrounds. This movie is best when viewed as an AMV: cut down to a few minutes of its most beautiful animated parts, and set to some exciting music as the Legendary Birds fly around. We highly recommend the "Pokémon Legendary" AMV that Gemma made back in the day. Denise saw this AMV long before watching the movie, and it made Denise really excited to finally see the source material... but, the movie itself is not as good as the AMV. Honestly, there is very little that is salvageable from the movie's writing.
On the island ritual and Melody
We can give the movie credit for one thing that it did that is pretty fun: the plot is centered around an island that has this "traditional ritual" which is actually bullshit meant for the tourists, and they know it.
At one point we see a shot of the table in the elder's house. He has a decorated cup and a chalice and a staff and... also a styrofoam cup and a remote control for the TV. He's got the decorated cup to drink from when the tourists are around, and the regular old styrofoam cup to drink from normally when no one is looking. Their traditional festival is, really, a big pointless parade, and all the islanders know it. But, since Shamouti Island thrives on tourism, every year they have this bullshit festival about this bullshit prophecy, and every year they rope in tourists and make their living off them buying souvenirs and food from the stands.
The great surprise is that the prophecy is actually real. I mean, for the viewer, that is no surprise, but we can see why Melody is surprised.
Melody is this year's Festival Maiden. She starts out portrayed as a bratty pre-teen who wants nothing to do with this stupid fake ritual, and are we supposed to think poorly of her for that? Think about it! She's spent her whole life on this intentionally hicky tourist-trap island, pretending to do old-fashioned rituals that she knows are bogus, so that they can get money from the tourists that come to be part of the festivities and maybe be selected as this year's Chosen One. She wants to be modern and dress in fashionable clothes and wear sunglasses, not dance around in an old-fashioned dance and in something of a degrading fashion as the "young maiden" honoring this year's Chosen One. I am sure she can't wait for the first excuse to leave this island and go out into the real world and make a living doing something else entirely, like journalism or fashion design or whatever, not this hokey bullshit.
Melody decides that, okay, she'll do the festival this year, ugh, but only because the Chosen One is at least kinda cute this time. She says Ash is the cutest Chosen One yet -- which, if she is saying that about Ash, what buttfaces must these other Trainers have been? No wonder she was so opposed to all of this.
Throughout the entire movie, by the way, Misty gets all jealous over the fact that Melody is even speaking with Ash. Geez. We hate this trope.
By the end, Melody has some newfound respect for all these rituals because she learns that they are indeed real. So, the premise of her character is interesting, but... it doesn't really feel like she has a complete arc. She doesn't get any real character development, and we don't really get to know who she is. She just goes from being a rebellious kid to being somewhat okay with her island's traditions, without the movie showing anything of what changed about her. And, what, is the moral that you should believe in all the hokey fake traditions because they might be real, and nevermind going out into the modern world and wearing sunglasses, how silly, that's wrong? Whatever.
On Lawrence III and his collection
The entire premise of Lawrence III being the villain is actually flawed for several reasons, not to mention hypocritical as all fuck.
The first problem has to do with the main characters reacting to him as if they knew him as a horrible villain, when they actually lack the information to make that judgment. Not that he's not a sick fuck; the viewers do see that he's totally getting turned on at Moltres's suffering, trash talking at the two birds in the cages, pretty much stroking his dick talking about how Lugia will soon be his... Wow. That's very villain-like... but none of the characters saw or heard any of that, so, while the viewer knows Lawrence is a sick fuck, the twerps have no real reason to start out being so hostile toward him or to even see him as a villain at all yet.
Their first meeting with him occurs during his capture of Zapdos. The twerps accidentally got caught too, so now they're in this room where Zapdos and Moltres are being kept in cages. Lawrence comes down to the place where they are trapped (in a way that is strangely similar to Mewtwo in the First Movie) and welcomes them to his collection room, introducing himself as a Pokémon Collector.
The characters are immediately hostile to him, even though they are not yet aware of what is even going on. In the dub, Misty starts ranting that you shouldn't just collect Pokémon as if they were dolls or stamps.
Which brings us to our second point: how hypocritical this premise is. This screed against collecting screeches horribly against the entire phenomenon of Pokémon at the time. This movie came out in the US in the year 2000, which was a time where Pokémon were on everything - people in the real world would literally collect Pokémon dolls and stamps and cards and macaroni & cheese and underwear. The theme of Gotta Catch 'Em All Gotta Catch 'Em All was inescapably everywhere. Why did 4Kids decide to make this dialog be a jab at the entire Pokémon phenomenon at the time? They were kinda spitting into their own food with this.
This is even ridiculously hypocritical in-universe. From what we see in the games and in the anime, everyone else is in this entire world is trying to catch Pokémon. You confront them, weaken them, and capture them. That's what being a Pokémon Trainer is all about. In Generation I, Bill is known as a PokéManiac with a famous collection of rare Pokémon. Other PokéManiacs appear as a class of trainers within the games. If that's not direct enough, there'a also another trainer class, first introduced in Generation III, known straight-out as Collectors. None of these trainers are considered to be particularly villainous, just very nerdy ✽. In addition to these geeks, Ash, as a Trainer with a Pokédex, is supposed to be catching as many Pokémon as possible - sure, he's doing a terrible job at that, but that is indeed supposed to be one of his goals. So, what, Ash can catch 'em all, but this guy can't?
It turns out that the original dialogue in Japanese is more in the theme of, why are you keeping Zapdos and Moltres in these weird cages instead of Pokéballs? To which Lawrence replies that he wants his collection to be visibly on display. And the characters are against him for this.
What is even their argument? Is it that it is cruel or something? That he is keeping them in cages? But how is that any worse than a Pokéball, when you think about it?
Is it because, okay, catching Rattata is one thing, but catching the Legendary Birds throws off the powers of nature and blah blah blah? Except that you do exactly that in the games. How does all of this jive with the plot of the games, where the player does indeed set out to catch the Legendary Birds? It's not like you catch Articuno and suddenly Professor Oak is there to reprimand you for upsetting the flow of nature. Actually, catching Articuno is a necessary part of completing your PokéDex.
Catching the Legendary Birds (and in Generation II, also catching Lugia) is playing the game right, and there is no way to spin this as evil without being a hypocrite, even in the original Japanese. So, the main plotpoint of this movie is bullshit.
Interesting side-note: the Pokémon Trading Card Game 2 for the Game Boy Color actually has the completely opposite message. The main villain of that game is King Biruritchi, the leader of Team Great Rocket. His prime motivating belief is that people should only have Pokémon cards if they intend to use them in battle -- merely collecting them regardless of their usefulness in battle and just having them displayed in a binder is offensive to him. By the end of the game, he learns that people are allowed to love Pokémon in all the different ways that people love Pokémon, whether that is by battling with them or just collecting the cards. So, the characters of this movie are espousing the same views as the evil villain of this game before his redemption arc -- they are not understanding that different people can love Pokémon in different ways. Lawrence is without question a sick fuck, and go ahead and shame him for that - but collecting Pokémon in general cannot possibly be presented as an inherently evil activity.
This aside, in itself we don't mind Lawrence III as a character, but how can he be the villain if he's just catching Pokémon? And, once again, he's kinda underwhelming and sorely lacking in characterization, except for the fact that he has the Stereotypical Floating Fortress of Compensation. The plot of the movie kinda implies that Lawrence III is actually really knowledgeable about ancient prophecies and so forth, and figured out what this ancient text about the Legendary Birds actually meant while no one else really gave it any attention - the whole island bases their entire tourist-based economy on it, but no one really thinks about it. But at some point, Lawrence III must have gone all Indiana Jones and found this ancient text and figured out what it really meant, when no one else had ever done so. Wow, that's pretty impressive. What is his backstory? Why don't we learn anything about him, and not even his name?
Does he even understand that catching the Legendary Birds will upset the balance of the planet? He may not care about much else but his collection, but, if what he's doing will cause terrible storms and so on, it seems like this would be of critical importance to someone who owns an airship. If he is only catching the Legendary Birds without realizing the consequences of his actions, then how can he be presented as such an unredeemable villain?
Also, why does he just leave the main cast unsupervised in his collection room after they already openly expressed their unreasonable hostility toward him and his entire hobby? He just leaves. And then he's so surprised that they started smashing things, released the Pokémon that he caught, and made a giant hole in his airship which thereby caused him to crash land in the middle of nowhere. While that was incredibly careless of him, we have to say that it is admirable that his reaction is mostly just an understated D: and he in no way ever freaks out or seeks any sort of revenge against any of the characters for having destroyed his collection, his vehicle, and left him stranded on some random island.
When you think about it, if anyone is the villain here... it's not really Lawrence III.
At the end of the movie, after Lawrence has come out of the wreck of his airship, we see him pick up something from the ground. This is revealed to be a card from the Pokémon Trading Card Game: the card in question is the mysterious Ancient Mew card, unique among all cards for its design being completely different than any other card and for its text being written in Futhark runes. A copy of this card was given away at the theatrical releases of this movie, and, in Japan, it was even inside a special booklet - which further cements our point about this movie talking out of both sides of its mouth in terms of its message: the villain is bad for being a collector - but come watch our movie, we'll give you a special rare card for your own collection, it's a limited edition, don't miss it!
Why are there Pokémon Cards in the Pokémon universe, anyway? What is the deal with this card? Lawrence says that he started his collection with this card, and that he'll restart it with it, too. That's ominous, somehow. Is the card possessed? It raises many more questions than it answers, honestly.
On Lugia and the prophecy and the dub edits
Disturb not the harmony of fire, ice or lightning, lest these titans wreak destruction upon the world in which they clash. Though the water's great guardian shall arise to quell the fighting, alone its song will fail, lest the earth shall turn to ash. O Chosen One, into thine hands bring together all three. Their treasures combined tame the Beast of the Sea.
This is the prophecy of Shamouti Island, or, rather, the way it was translated for the 4Kids dub. "Lest the earth shall turn to Ash". Get it? Ash Ketchum. Get it???
It would almost be clever and hilarious, if only it weren't so bad. The entire text of the prophecy is a soup of mystical words that barely make any sense together, and in some cases don't even mean what the dubbers thought they meant. Most notably, they used the word "lest" twice, and the second instance, they didn't even use it correctly! To the dictionary!
- for fear that; so that (one) should not (used negatively to introduce a clause expressive of an action or occurrence requiring caution):
He kept his notes by his side lest faulty memory lead him astray.
- that (used after words expressing fear, danger, etc.):
There was danger lest the plan become known.
So, that line of the prophecy in plainer words: Lugia will come to calm the birds, but alone it will fail, ...for fear that the earth will turn to ash? Isn't the fact that the world will seek Ash's aid a good thing? Wasn't that what the whole pun was about?
What they meant was just "and". It might not sound quite as prophetic and mysterious, but at least it's actually the right word. Maybe "and so" would have given them a more appropriate level of mysticism. Or maybe they meant "unless"; that could work too. But, seriously, this error ruins the entire joke. 4Kids should know the meaning of words, lest they mistakes of this magnitude.
Another major dub edit happened with Professor Oak's explanation of what was happening with the currents. If his explanation sounded wonky to anyone watching the dub (like it sure did to us), that is because, in the Japanese, he actually talks about the scientific theories about the origin of life from the hot molten elements in the ocean being struck by lightning giving rise to life. But there's no way you can say any of that in America with all the young-earth bible-thumpers!
We also must note that, in Japanese version of the movie, Ash was not any sort of Chosen One - he was just taking part in the ritual. The Chosen One thing was all amped up in the dub. 4Kids went so far as name the very movie The Power of One. There is also a scene where all the Pokémon from all over the world are trying to get to the island - in the Japanese, Lugia explains that they are all part of the world, and therefore they all want to do what they can to try to save the world, even if it's just by being as close as possible. Which is a lovely thought. In the dub, Lugia explains that only Ash can save the world, and Lugia doesn't say this out loud, but this means that all those Pokémon are pretty much just wasting their time. Ouch. So, one thing this movie had going for it was that its core message was that we're all part of the same world, and we should be careful with our actions and the way in which they affect the rest of the world... and the dub version replaced it with some junk about individualism, which is the exact opposite of what it was trying to say. Thanks, 4Kids.
Speaking of Lugia... Okay, we really like how they animated the Legendary Birds and how the backgrounds look, and there are lots of good things about the art style. But then Lugia arrives and... there's all this awful CG water and ugh, and if we recall correctly it does Aeroblast like once or twice, but its function is mostly to just ferry Ash around like some sort of glorified bus. Lugia is the star of the movie, but it gets so little screentime and does basically nothing. It fights with the Legendary Birds and loses pitifully to them, and then gets revived with the flute, and that's all. The best it gets is to look cool as it ominously swims underwater at the beginning of the movie (which is why we are using that as the header picture at the top of this page, heh).
Other characters who are barely there: Team Rocket. Looking back at this in comparison to every other movie, actually, this might be among those where Jessie, James, and Meowth get the most screentime - they have a cute moment in which they help Ash, and they are somewhat integrated into the main plot. ...Unlike some other movies, where they are just off to the side, getting their ice cream ruined.
The Power of One, or Revelation Lugia, or Pokémon the Movie 2000 or whatever the fuck is called is essentially a tech demo and good material for taking screenshots and making gifs and AMVs, but, as a movie, it's not very good. Its main problems lie in the fact that both the plot and the characters are weak and underdeveloped. There are other Pokémon movies with plots that have major problems, but that are begging for you to write decent fanfiction based on the ideas they presented and more deeply explore various aspects of the story - the Lucario movie comes to mind immediately here, for example. But, in contrast, we think that it would be really hard to make good fanfiction from the Lugia movie. Maybe you could explore Lawrence III's character, but you would pretty much have to invent his entire personality and backstory from scratch... And maybe you could explore Melody's character, but there's not much material to use there either.
This movie is generally loved by the fandom, though, and we can see why. It's good-looking and straightforward, flows and feels like an episode of the anime, and features some of the most beloved of Pokémon. If you're in for looking at some pretty Pokémon, this movie is probably the best of them all in this regard. Some people like it better than Mewtwo Strikes Back, even; and, as die-hard fans of that movie as we are, we have to concede that the Lugia movie is visually more appealing.
So, our final judgment is that, as a movie in general, the Lugia movie is not very good. As a Pokémon movie, however, it's still probably one of the better ones. If you're into Pokémon, you might want to watch it in a very light manner, without expecting much depth plot-wise, and you'll make a pleasant evening out of it. However, you'll probably also have the same experience by just looking at pictures or clips of it. All in all, we'd like to give our congratulations to the artists... and the writers should maybe try something else.
- Denise: In fact, I feel like the First Movie section on Copy Cat is old and under-developed, and I am kinda itching to update it.
- Denise: And nevermind my silly theories about Bill.