The concept of Pokémon will forever remain completely baffling. Having had some experience, through playing the original Gameboy games and owning a large talking Psyduck, I’m not quite sure how it’s got through the political correctness net. At its most basic level, children capture exotic wild animals and keep them in tiny plastic spheres, only letting them out to ‘battle’ each other in some brightly-coloured parody of an illegal cock-fight down the back of a pub in Barnet. Each video game – and we must be up to “Pokémon Boron” by now – brings a new set of creatures and several dozen more dumb names, including Wigglytuff, Poliwag, Bellsprout and the highly dubious Lickitung. There are now 493 Pokémon species, approximately 212 more species than have survived the destruction of the Brazilian rainforest.
For the avoidance of any doubt, Charmander kicks the arse of every other Pokémon going, and I don’t care if you’ve got a Level 72 Squirtle. However, neither feature in a film which centres around Ash, Brock and whatever the girl’s called going to Alamos Town for a scrap in the town square. On arrival, they discover that the idyllic settlement is apparently being vandalised by a Pokémon called Darkrai. Meanwhile, in the sky, two other Pokémon are having a domestic and hitting each other with big bolts of lightning. To cut a very long story that your kids will explain to you later short, there’s some glitch in the space-time continuum and the whole place starts to disintegrate. Will the ‘evil’ Darkrai actually save everybody? You get five points for guessing what the rest of the story is.
The flippancy above actually does no justice to a film which is very well structured, less-than-obviously scripted and has an impressively epic orchestral soundtrack. It’s not difficult to see that stuff like this is popular in Japan, and production values are rightfully high. The biggest problem lies in the animation itself. The rendition of the special effects and scenery are excellent, but jar terribly with the rather more basic drawing employed for the characters and Pokémon themselves, which seem to have been lifted from the original creations. While changing the latter massively would lose the simplistic appeal they hold (think Homer Simpson in 3D), they can look laughably out-of-place when fireballs are being thrown around and could do with some kind of an overhaul. Having recently reviewed Eighties classic Thundercats, itself hardly a model of superlative animation, it’s quite worrying to see that twenty years has apparently altered very little.
The stars of the show are, of course, the Pokémon themselves, and plenty are shoehorned in. Pikachu is, naturally, top of the bill, followed by the aforementioned Lickitung and a strange thing that looks like a Pepperami with green snooker balls for hands. Anyone used to playing the older games will love the idea of Pidgeys flying around in the wild. Meowth gets an amusing cameo role as a cameraman (cameracat?) for a news crew, there’s a purple monkey, and a thing that I think was a squirrel…what? There are nearly five hundred of the things. Irritatingly, they all talk by repeating their own name over and over again in different ways.
Despite its aesthetic faults and somewhat clichéd elements, The Rise of Darkrai is absorbing and entertaining – even if nobody over the age of eight will have any idea what’s going on by two-thirds of the way through. I could go into an academic diatribe how the effect of the music playing from the Space-Time tower is a parallel of the spiritual teachings of Ramadahn and his understanding of the ways in which light and sound can be used as a way of accessing a higher level of existence for a more peaceful world, but you wouldn’t read it. Take this for what it is: uplifting and fun.
The DVD extras, sadly, are awful – three trailers of ever-decreasing lengths (the same trailer with more and more bits cut out of it). Shocker, especially considering the potential for Pokémon-related shenanigans.
Film:Extras: (not really any but I work in a tyrannical environment where I can’t give things less than minimum)
Pokemon: The Rise of Darkrai is out now.