Full disclosure: part of the reason I started this blog was because of the overabundance of the “caustic critic” online, where true criticism is passed over in favor of screaming about how much a piece of media is ruining their life. Although I’m snide, I try to be somewhat good-natured in my ribbing, and I try to judge things objectively.
And I was excited for this movie. It’s absolutely adored by the fandom, it has the highest ranking in the series on IMDB, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.
So what the hell happened?
I’d like to take a moment to express that everything stated here is my personal opinion as opposed to a statement of fact, and if you disagree with me then you can feel free to start a conversation or swear a lot and aggressively insult my sexuality in the comments below.
Lucario and the Mystery of Mew is clearly an advertisement. I mean, they all are, but this movie primarily exists to show off a bunch of the Pokemon they had designed for the fourth generation but hadn’t actually released yet.
Also, this is the last production released by 4Kids, of “invisible guns” fame. Make sure to eat a jelly donut in their honor.
The film opens several years in the past, where Lucario (Sean Schemmel) is jumping around from boulder to boulder and in general looking kinda cool. It’s when he actually starts talking that the trouble starts. Schemmel didn’t actually do too bad when he reprised the role in the fourth Smash Brothers game, but in this movie he growls all of his lines through approximately three layers of reverb and it doesn’t sound good, to say the least. Most of his lines are about the aura, which is a mystical power that he is capable of using.
If you’ll allow me to temporarily segue, Lucario appearing in this movie was kind of a big deal. It wouldn’t make an official appearance in the video games until the introduction of the Mystery Dungeon side series a few months later, where it quickly established itself in the overrated halls of history. But let’s be honest, it’s friggin’ awesome. It’s a martial arts Anubis voiced by Goku. You can make an entire movie of that thing punching people and it would be satisfactory.
We also take this time to meet our second major supporting character, Sir Aaron (Jason Griffith). Aaron is white and conventionally attractive, so naturally he’s the fandom’s favorite character. There’s not really much to him beyond that. At the moment he’s in a meeting with Queen Rin (Erica Schroeder) when Lucario contacts him through some crystal thing that’s never explained.
Come to think of it, maybe it’s something to do with the aura. They bring it up a lot in this movie without properly talking about what it is. Research indicates that the concept stems from depictions of Indian and Middle Eastern religion, so we’ll just go with that.
As armies are preparing to convene for some reason or another, Lucario implores Aaron to help. After showing up in the area, Aaron informs him that he has abandoned the palace and proceeds to trap Lucario in his staff. As Lucario screams in betrayal and Aaron heads to the nearby Tree of Beginning, the apparent war starts.
Normally this sort of grand battle occurs about an hour and a half into a film, where we’ve had time to actually meet and like the characters. Instead, we get no explanation on who these people are, why they’re fighting, or what relation they have to Aaron and Lucario. Maybe the real mystery of Mew is why we should care.
Not to mention that this is our first indication of the amount of quality we can expect from this film’s visuals. These armies aren’t marching to battle; they’re practically gliding. Furthermore, pretty much every scene with an old-timey feel (which is to say most of the movie) is accompanied by this really awful MIDI pan flute which takes you completely out of the scene.
As the armies meet and the staff is delivered to Rin, Aaron heads over to the nearby Tree of Beginning to meet with Mew (Satomi Kōrogi), who morphs so often it may as well be the God from Mind Game. From what I’ve heard, this isn’t the same Mew as the one in the first movie, which is a good thing because its voice sounds completely different. But more on that later.
We return to the present day through the reveal that the entire prologue was a story being told to a little girl in the town. Like most terrible people, Sir Aaron’s reputation has improved considerably with time (to the point that he’s credited for stopping the war) and the kingdom celebrates his exploits every year.
The area is ruled over by Queen Ilene (Erica Schroeder). You can tell that she’s a descendant of Rin because she looks exactly like her, to the point the only rational explanation was that the kingdom uses the typical amount of inbreeding for European royalty.
Camaran Palace, where the celebration is located, is based off of Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, a choice that seems oddly specific until you realize that it’s been in a lot of films.
As is usually the case with the reality-inspired elements of the later movies, it looks nice, but in this case it’s pretty much the only thing that does. It’s particularly jarring next to the corium formation that they refer to as the Tree of Beginning, but free-form design is hard you guys.
Our leads arrive to participate in the festival, and waste no time in appreciating the culture of the Renaissance Faire. They all get dressed in appropriate clothing, particularly Ash given his resemblance to Aaron, and the trainers participate in a tournament.
We actually get a theme song for the first time since the original series, and you better appreciate it since it’s the last good one that they had for at least five years. It’s inspiring enough to Ash to lead him to win the tournament, marking the first time in like nine seasons that he’s achieved something like that. However, since this is the worst game show ever, all he wins is the scepter and the title of Guardian of Aura.
Ash’s final opponent from the tournament is revealed to be a girl, Kidd Summers (Rebecca Soler), in a twist that hasn’t been entirely surprising since 1987. She proceeds to spend the next three scenes acting unnecessarily suspicious, but we’ll get to that in due time.
First, we’ve got a winter’s ball to sit through, where Brock dances with Kidd, May dances with a disguised James, Jessie dances with some random rich guy, Max gorges himself at the buffet, Ash sits there, and the audience dies of boredom because nothing is happening.
I’m not exaggerating, this scene goes on for about twenty minutes. We get to watch this convoluted mixture between Beauty and the Beast and Phantom of the Opera for far too long, and they don’t even add some much-needed catharsis by letting the chandelier fall on the crowd.
It doesn’t look good, either. The animation is far from great and the background couples are clearly just poorly rendered 3D models spinning on an axis. It’s supposed to look like a grand dance, but instead it comes across as a bad music box.
This ennui is alleviated somewhat by the appearance of the still constantly-transforming Mew, who leads most of the party’s Pokemon (and some of Team Rocket’s) up to the attic to play. Kidd notices this and sneaks to the castle’s roof, guided by her aide
Mr. Banks (Pete Zarustica). Sending in her Weaviles to apprehend the legendary proves futile, however, as Mew takes Pikachu and Meowth and teleports to the Tree of Beginning.
I have no idea if the official statement for the series is that there’s only one of each legendary or if they’re just incredibly rare species, but comparing this movie to the first strongly suggests the latter. While Mew in the original movie actually got things done, this one only seems to want to play with its newfound friends the entire time. There’s nothing wrong with that in particular, but it renders its scenes kind of pointless.
Meanwhile, the ball is still somehow going on. As Ash is instructed to imitate Sir Aaron as part of the ceremony, the staff releases Lucario, who immediately mistakes Ash for Aaron and tries to attack him before being placated. Apparently the two have similar aura signatures or something, meaning that Ash may have the potential to use aura. More on that later.
It’s here that Shimmel’s performance really becomes a downside. While his approach to the role would work in a more action-oriented film, this movie is about to become an angstfest. Having Lucario mope about while still sounding like he’s going to rip someone’s throat out at any moment doesn’t bring the same sort of gravity to the situation that would come from a more nuanced performance.
And at the same time, they don’t really do too much about Lucario’s situation. Having an ancient Pokemon in Queen Ilene’s court could potentially be interesting, but the writers don’t do much about the time displacement other than the initial exposition. Rather than discussing the effect that being placed in an entirely different world could have on Lucario’s psyche he just immediately starts complaining about Aaron and sticks with that for the rest of the movie. It’s a waste, really.
It’s also around this point that everyone notices that Pikachu and Meowth are missing, but Lucario is able to sense where they are because of the aura or something. They talk about the aura a lot in this movie and I can safely say that none of it matters. Please shut up, Lucario.
We also get an actual bit of backstory for our obligatory supporting character, and this is officially the point that I lost patience with Kidd. I’m not really the kind of person that really buys into the criticism of “Mary Sues” (mostly given the sexist connotations, but also because it’s usually used to shame young teenagers), but if your character holds the world record for holding the most world records I’m calling BS.
These aren’t the lame records that they use to make the book longer, either, this is a character that is stated to be a trained pilot, diver, and astronaut. It may be meant to come across as a really capable character but more than anything it stands as a testament to lazy writing.
Kidd has actually been using her skills to research Mew, and is able to give the rest of the group a ride to the Tree of Beginning. Team Rocket stows away as well because the comic relief needs to come from somewhere. They’re also joined by a Bonsly for no reason in particular, but a lot of screen time is devoted to it anyway.
Nothing in particular happens (you’re probably noticing a pattern), so I’m gonna streamline this part.
Throughout the roadtrip, we’re treated to flashbacks detailing Lucario and Sir Aaron’s past and I’m not saying they were screwing on the down-low but they were definitely screwing on the down-low. The Pokemon series has not had a good record in portraying completely platonic relationships and it’s sure as hell not gonna start now.
We also get introduced to the concept of the Time Flower, which can replay events that happened in the immediate vicinity. Nothing is explained about how this is possible (yet another pattern), so there aren’t really any specifics, but it’ll come into play later.
One night while camping, Ash decides to tell the story of how he and Pikachu first met, a phrase which here means “the animators literally give us a bunch of clips from the first episode”. Lucario objects to this touching tale because there’s no way that Pokemon and people can truly be friends and this whole journey really would have gone a lot smoother if Lucario wasn’t there with them. At this point he’s just being difficult for the sake of being difficult. My notes for this film have Lucario as the villain because let’s be honest he’s the closest thing this movie has to one.
After a brief fistfight with the Pokemon, Ash gives up on him ever being a decent character. Max and Lucario also bond over some chocolate, because it worked just great when they did it in ET. And Mac and Me. And Pod People. I was going to say something snarky about the possibility of this really being a new experience, but chocolate didn’t come to Eurasia until the 1500s, so you win this round, movie.
Lucario is able to show the prologue to everyone else through the usage of a Time Flower, because apparently nobody has ever touched this unique wildlife that’s been growing on the side of the road for hundreds of years, and everyone begins to realize that Sir Aaron has been given the same treatment as pretty much every historical figure before the 1800s. As they prepare to head to the tree, they’re ambushed by Regirock (Eiji Miyashita), Registeel (Atsushi Kakehashi), and Regice (Kunihiro Kawamoto).
The Regis are dubstep. I’m not even joking or using slang incorrectly, their voice clips are all distorted like deadmau5 was given free reign over the sound mixing. It’s awesome, but that doesn’t answer the question of why. Clearly they’re there because they haven’t been in any of the anime at that point, but there’s no reason for them to be present from a plot perspective.
The group manages to escape into the tunnels connecting the mountain to the Tree of Beginning, but Team Rocket is taken by these weird blob things that swallow them whole. I’m through with the fetish jokes, but this is what, the third movie in a row where characters have been literally eaten one-by-one?
Coming across two separate caves, they decide to split up, because these people learned nothing from that one Mystery Skulls video. It’s quickly determined that the blobs are essentially the tree’s immune system, and are only after the trainers in the weirdest adaptation of The Fantastic Journey ever. Basically everyone except Kidd and Ash is taken and we get to watch it all in unnecessary detail as they make their Pokemon watch their untimely demises.
The remainder of the group, having caught up with Pikachu, Meowth, and Mew, gets ambushed by the Regis and the white blood cells alike, resulting in Kidd’s capture. Ash manages to evade them for a little bit, but is also devoured. It’s been a few movies since Ash has undergone a pointless sacrifice, so his Pokemon cry about it for awhile until Mew notices the pain that it’s causing them and somehow undoes all the damage by hacking into the tree or something.
Bringing them back has severely weakened Mew, however, and it spends the rest of the climax stumbling around like it’s had an absolutely terrible time at the bar. Apparently the crap that’s been going on has severely weakened the tree’s immune system and can only be restored with the power of (you guessed it) aura.
In the core room, Ash and Lucario find Aaron cryogenically frozen in one of the crystals. Judging by the context, we can easily determine that Sir Aaron gave his life to restore the Tree of Beginning and had trapped Lucario to keep him from rushing in and ruining everything.
No, wait, as it turns out, there’s another goddamn Time Flower in the tree, so technically speaking somebody was in the room where it happened. In a scene as touching as it is unnecessary, we get to see Sir Aaron sacrifice himself by freezing himself in the crystal (something that we already know happened) and outright state that he viewed Lucario as an equal (something else that we already knew happened).
Redundancy aside, seeing this gesture satisfies Lucario’s need to adhere to “show, don’t tell” and he is able to forgive. Seeing what has to be done, all that’s left to do is power up the tree with aura and then we can close the window and pretend this movie never happened. Lucario isn’t strong enough to repower the tree on his own, but Ash is able to help him with the task.
You heard me correctly, Ash manages to successfully use the aura, a concept that he wasn’t even aware of forty-eight hours ago, let alone that he was capable of using it. If they had shown or even mentioned in passing that this was something that he was working on over the course of the journey it would have been acceptable, but it comes out of nowhere and it’s never mentioned again.
That said, Lucario shoves Ash out of the way before he can be affected by the crystallization and is able to pass on in peace. Both crystals disappear, Kidd decides not to release her findings about the tree, and everyone continues on their journeys in peace.
I’m speechless. Maybe I’m being overly judgemental because my personal nostalgia filter has dropped by this point. Maybe all of the hype surrounding it brought its reputation up to levels that no work could possibly reach. Whatever the cause, I didn’t enjoy this movie in the slightest. When attempting to do more research I’ve come across nothing but praise for this film and I’m completely baffled.
I’m fine with having a film without an antagonist, but for God’s sake give them some motivation or something. Having a bunch of characters bounce around from vague threat to vague threat doesn’t really accomplish anything unless it already fits the tone of the movie, and everyone is treating each new situation as a huge priority even though they all get solved within ten minutes of being introduced.
I was really looking forward to writing a rave review for this movie, but ultimately I was disappointed. I suppose it’s one of those things that I’ll never understand people’s love for, like Benedict Cumberbatch or Chipotle.