The first few years of the 2000s may have been the best time to be a Pokemon fan. People hadn’t started to complain about the designs being lazy, the games released for the second generation were leagues above the first in terms of quality, and, most important for a six year old, the original dynamic of the show was back together in one piece.
There’s a reason that only 90s kids choose to remember the Johto portions of the series.
Speaking of which, Pokemon 3 is often held in high esteem by the fanbase, and given this context it’s easy to see why. It’s the first film in the series released following the reveal of all of the Gen II Pokemon, and by this point it was proven that Pokemon had real staying power as opposed to being some flash-in-the-pan fad. As such, by this point the company was allowed to make something resembling actual entertainment instead of cheap cash grabs. The official title of this movie is Pokemon 3: The Movie- Spell of the Unknown: Entei, which is rivalled only by Ace Attorney in the “unnecessary subtitles” department.
This entry also signifies a few endings in the series. It was the last Pokemon movie to get a major theatrical release outside of Japan, and it’s the final movie screenplay of the former series head writer Takeshi Shudō.
But most importantly, Bulbapedia states that the movie was originally going to involve a Tyrannosaurus Rex at one point. I’m not sure how accurate this statement is, but it’s the best thing that I’ve ever heard so I’m going to assume that it’s true.
Let’s get this over with, because I’ve already let myself down by mentioning the T-Rex.
Esteemed members of the jury, I would like you to meet Molly Hale (Amy Brinbaum).
Molly’s life kind of sucks. Her mother ran out on her father for focusing too much on his historical research, and her father, Spencer (Dan Green), has further issues that we’re going to discuss shortly. We begin with some quality daddy-daughter bonding time, as they peruse a book filled with legends (by which I mean it talks about two legends), and talk about Molly’s favorite legendary Pokemon Entei. However, Spencer is called away by a message from his assistant Schuyler (Ed Paul).
Schuyler doesn’t really do anything; I just really wanted to make that joke.
Anyway, the two scientists examine some ruins in an undisclosed location for information about the legendary Pokemon Unown. They discover a series of tiles that, surprise surprise, look like letters, and Spencer accidentally summons the Unown while Schuyler’s back is turned. And thus, Spencer undergoes an ascension to another dimension (that was never mentioned).
The artifacts are brought back to the Hale mansion because, hey, free souvenirs. In her grief, Molly plays a brief game of Scrabble with the tiles before inadvertently summoning the Unown. The interesting thing about the Unown is that they’re all computer-animated while the rest of the film is drawn traditionally. It adds a sort of neat otherworldly quality to them even with early 2000s CGI.
While Molly is happy with these new-found friends because she’s apparently a child of the damned, she still misses the sweet, sweet neglect that can only come from a workaholic parent. Sensing this, the Unown manage to create an Entei that introduces itself as her father.
That’s right, Molly’s father is a furry. Same voice actor and everything. Sure, it’s an illusion, but my point still stands.
As things really start getting weird, we see Ash, Brock, and Misty heading over to do something generic enough that they can get away with not mentioning it on the show when they’re challenged by a trainer. Oddly enough, I have nothing to say about the introductory battle, even though it seems more like the winner is determined through the quality of the victory dance rather than the fight. It’s actually fairly good. Everyone gets their chance to shine, and neither team outright trumps the other. The obligatory cover of the theme song isn’t even that bad, even if it sounds like it’s being done by the Black Eyed Peas.
As it turns out, they’re conveniently traveling right near the town where the prologue took place. Greenfield has gained a reputation of sorts for its fields and the Hale’s mansion, which really raises the question of whether or not Spencer was dealing coke on the side because there is no way that he made that much money as a researcher. Regardless, while the area is known for being lush and green, it has recently been overrun by crystals brought about by Molly’s affinity with odd powers in addition to her desire to be left alone.
Go ahead and make your own Frozen joke. We’ve got time.
There’s a practical media circus at the nearby Pokemon Center, in addition to Professor Oak and Ash’s mother. Apparently they were good friends of the Hales, which is kind of a weak excuse to include them given that they were never mentioned, but at least they actually explained it. Molly’s watching the news in the mansion, and misses her mom, so Entei shows up at the Center, hypnotizes Ash’s mother and then outright kidnaps her to raise Molly, because he’s probably read The Collector.
While the adults are discussing what to do about the new black hole variation that seems to have popped up, they’re surprised by a video email, which is apparently the primary form of communication in the Pokemon world. Molly doesn’t want to be rescued, since she’s happy with her supernatural imaginary friend voiced by Dan Green.
Naturally, Ash and co. decide to force their way into the mansion to solve the issue, naively assuming that Molly hasn’t set up any Macaulay Culkin-style traps to keep out intruders. Before they manage to get in, the professors manage to give them their findings regarding the power of the Unown, shifting the tone of this plan from “poorly thought out” to “downright suicidal”.
Meanwhile, the hypnotism subplot is resolved when Ash’s mother immediately starts scolding him once the news shows them breaking in, which is how all hypnotism subplots should be resolved. Molly seems less concerned with the fact that they don’t have a search warrant as she is upset over the fact that she’s too young to be a Pokemon trainer, even though Preschooler is an actual trainer class in the games. Entei tells her that all she needs to do is go to sleep and he’ll make her wishes come true, which is really creepy now that I think about it.
As Molly sleeps, the Unown create an aged-up Second Life avatar for her to use, and she intercepts the approaching party and challenges them to a battle. Brock elects to stay behind to fight her superpowered self-insert OC.
There’s only one problem with this idea- Brock’s Pokemon suck. Sure, you can make an argument for Vulpix being a decent Pokemon if used correctly, but there’s no excuse for a certified gym leader going up against a major threat-to-be using Zubat and Onix.
Needless to say, Molly’s team trumps him easily.
Not even stopping to collect the Boulder Badge, she catches up to the rest of the party, and Misty chooses to stay behind and stall. Given that both trainers decide to limit themselves to using Water Pokemon, the room is quickly flooded with the stuff from Evangelion and the battle is held with the Pokemon actually swimming around instead of lying on the ground. It’s a neat effect, to say the least. We don’t get to see much of it, but it’s effective.
During the battle, Ash makes it up to the top floor of the mansion, where he and his mother explain that everything going on is an illusion and the truth is that Molly’s parents don’t love her. Needless to say, she doesn’t take this well, and Entei shows up and tries to take Molly back.
Ash challenges Entei right to his face, because this is like the seventh legendary that he’s met and being face-to-face with a literal god has lost its novelty. However, since this is a literal god, or at least a facsimile of one, his unevolved Pokemon aren’t exactly up to the task and go down pretty quickly. The force of the attacks ends up pushing Ash and Pikachu would of a destroyed wall, but before they can suffer the fate of a Disney villain, they’re saved by Charizard, who has heard the news and rushed in to save the day.
This is a bit of an oddity for the movies because it actually ties into the continuity of the main series. You see, earlier in the series Charizard had left Ash’s team to go be with others of his species, particularly one that you could tell was female because it had eyelashes and a bow.
Anyway, this meant that Charizard’s return was sort of a big deal. Nevermind the fact that the poster spoils it.
While all of this is going on, the rest of the characters are trying to convince Molly to stop breaking the laws of thermodynamics and snap back to reality, given that it’s her desires that are giving Entei strength, but she’d much rather life in blissful ignorance with her furry father.
Eventually, as Entei is about to kill Charizard (because this is apparently the Pokemon manga), Molly tells him to stop, which is a relief since it means I don’t have to write about a five-year-old being responsible for the death of a somewhat major supporting character. After a pep talk explaining how Pokemon are a trainer’s real friends, she relents and the illusion starts to break down.
By which I mean everything goes to hell. Since Molly is no longer controlling them and they apparently suffer from extreme Dependent Personality Disorder, the Unown’s powers are starting to go haywire, resulting in crystals beginning to destroy the mansion and threatening to engulf the entire surrounding area. Entei knows where the Unown currently are, and brings everyone else to the main hall to attempt to pacify them.
I feel like there’s something I should have brought up by this point. You see, despite the mythical reputation that they appear to have in this movie, Unown are among the worst Pokemon available in the games. They can only learn one move (Hidden Power) with a base power of 60. If you aren’t into the games, that is, frankly put, abysmal.
What I’m saying is that any member of the protagonists’ team should be able to pull a Saitama and solve the conflict of this film in one hit. Alas, this isn’t the case, as nobody is able to break through the apparent barrier that they have created. Since we’re over an hour into the movie and nobody’s made a dramatic sacrifice yet, Entei realizes that since he was created by Molly’s dreams, he should be the one to get her out of the mansion.
As he attacks the barrier, another pep talk leads Molly to believe on a level normally associated with either Elder Price or Parappa the Rapper, and the Legendary is able to directly attack the letters. The Unown return to their dimension, Robin Williams gets to relive his childhood, everything is brought back to normal, and Molly presumably goes on to experience a level of trauma matched only by the kids from Jurassic Park. We see in the credits that both of her parents have returned, but PTSD doesn’t just disappear overnight.
So that’s Pokemon 3. I have to say, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the quality of this movie. Sure, I give it a lot of crap, but I have to say that I legitimately enjoyed it. Molly’s a really good character for a one-off, the action’s reasonably paced, and the writing is spot on.
And man, is this movie gorgeous. Every set piece- the meadows, the crystals, the firefights- is so visually appealing that I can’t think of enough good things to say about it. Even if it’s held back somewhat by the limitations of early 2000s special effects, the art direction more than makes up for it. All of the battles are legitimately exciting, and are, y’know, battles instead of one-sided trouncings.
But most importantly, this is probably the first Pokemon movie to actually feel like, you know, a Pokemon movie. The others felt like they took place in the Pokemon world, sure, but it didn’t feel like they were truly using the characters and setting. Here, just about everybody is utilized to their full potential, and the final product comes off as more of an actual experience than an excuse to showcase new moneymakers for the series.
Let me put it like this: while the enjoyment that I got from the other movies in this series arose from my status of “too much of a Pokemon fan for my own good”, I legitimately enjoyed Pokemon 3 on its own merits. I think that’s more than I can say about just about any video game movie, actually.