Thanks to the particularly streamlined production of the first series, Pokemon wrapped up its treatment of the Kanto region around 1998. Gold and Silver didn’t come out until a year later, so what’s a cash cow franchise to do in the meantime?

In the case of Pokemon, we got the Orange Islands arc. It kinda stands out as odd compared to the rest of the series, since it’s the only portion that isn’t directly based on the games. It’s mostly focused on the group exploring the archipelago, participating in a minor league, and running into previews of the next generation as this was a time when new Pokemon were seen as exciting and revolutionary instead of routine.

Oh, right, and they replaced Brock.

According to one of the anime directors, there were rumors that the powers that be were concerned that foreign audiences would accuse the character design as being racist, despite the fact that there were literally no criticisms of this kind.

So instead we got Tracey Sketchit (Ed Paul) for a season. He doesn’t have much of a personality and showed off some really bad voice acting.

You can probably see why Brock came back.

Either way, let’s get this movie over with. I hope you’re prepped for Y2K.

The film begins with the movie’s villain, Lawrence III (Neil Stewart). With his high intellect and low capacity for emotion, he would not seem out of place amongst the characters of Scorpion. Also, he’s very English because a true British gentleman flaunts their knowledge at every opportunity.

Lawrence’s primary motivation (and character trait) is to “collect them all”, and as someone with severe OCD I can sympathize. In this case, “them all” refers to the Legendary Birds of Kanto, who are hanging around the Orange Islands instead of huge mountains and abandoned power plants. He draws out Moltres from its lair by shooting at the island it lives on with ice beams and freezing it; since if you’re gonna destroy the world you may as well go all the way.

We then see our heroes, being taken to their next unspecified destination by a woman that we have never met before. Because there’s no place like open water for showing off your cast, all of their Pokemon are released while T-Pain sings the opening theme. The weather doesn’t approve of this plan, however, as a massive storm starts before the closing chords have the time to reverb out. Everyone is recalled before they have to tread water and get eaten by sharks, but the ship is swept away.

Since it’s still too early in the movie to have the characters temporarily killed off, they’re fortunate enough to wash up on the nearby Shamouti Island. And, of course, they’ve arrived at the most important time of the year.

Anthrocon.

 

No, rather they’ve arrived just in time for Jabooty Island’s annual festival, which somehow combines like five different cultural traditions into one. They need an honorary “chosen hero”, and despite the fact that statistically speaking half the island probably consists of Pokemon trainers, Ash is selected.

I have to say, as I’ve been to Hawaii before and know my way around a tourist trap, that this entire concept is totally a tourist trap. Not even the typical “take all of your money” tourist trap either, but the kind that basically revolves around making the non-natives seem like esteemed guests and all of that other stuff that makes the economy of pretty much every island nation seem really concerning.

Our supporting character for this film is Melody (Amy Birnbaum), who is very rebellious, very bratty, and very ten years old.

She also happens to look like a GAINAX character.

Melody is the shrine maiden for the festival, which basically means that she dresses up in a costume and plays a pretty song then goes off and does her own thing for the rest of the time. Speaking as someone that does a lot of musical theatre, she got a pretty good deal. However, she spends the rest of the movie arguing with Misty over what exactly constitutes a “girlfriend” and speaking as someone that’s trying to summon the patience to get through this movie she really needs to have more busywork.

Anyway, Ash’s role in this ceremony is to go to the surrounding islands (Fire, Ice, and Thunder) and retrieve an orb from each one before bringing them back to the shrine on  Djibouti Island. Then, and only then, will the feng shui be complete. Because he’s an idiot, he and the girl from the beginning of the movie head straight to Fire Island despite the fact that there’s a humongous storm going on. The others take about three seconds to realize what a stupid idea that was and Melody chases after him, along with Misty (to introduce the kids to the concept of the tsundere) and Tracey (for ballast). Team Rocket sneaks along because you need the comic relief.

Everyone crashes on Fire Island because, surprise surprise, there’s a storm going on, and Ash finds the first orb that he needs. This success is short-lived, however, by the arrival of Zapdos. Pikachu and Zapdos have a conversation through… electrical currents, which feels like they would need to use Morse Code. Because Moltres isn’t on his island due to a minor case of “getting kidnapped”, Zapdos has visited in order to take it over, because apparently the Legendaries operate on Risk logic.

Before anything can really happen, Lawrence shows up and kidnaps all of them, because his sensors don’t segregate. However, because he is a quintessential English gentleman, he promptly lets the intruders go and forgets about them since Articuno is nearby and some people have more important things to worry about than their prisoners.

Because if Layton taught us anything, it’s that a true gentleman always leaves an equal fighting chance.

His lair is pretty much filled with more “collections”, since you gotta have matching furniture if you don’t want to hear from the Happy Home Network. It becomes clear from the decor that Lawrence’s plan is to capture the Legendary Birds, as an ancient prophecy states that anyone that disrupts the harmony of the three elements they represent will allow for the “Great Beast” of the sea to be awakened. Despite the fact that the prophecy also states that “the world will turn to ash”, he plans to capture it for… some reason.

Since they sort of like having the world around, Ash and Friends (and Team Rocket (and Melody)) elect to release Moltres and Zapdos, mostly through the process of blowing things up. The birds express their gratitude by beating the crap out of each other, followed by beating the crap out of Articuno, and the ship naturally responds by going down, yelling timber and all that.

By the very nature of sheer coincidence, Lawrence’s ship crashes on Thunder Island, destroying the local culture but leaving the orb undamaged. The group manages to escape and makes it to the shrine on Call of Duty Island, which is overseen by a talking Slowing (Nathan Price).

This is not explained in the movie either.

I’m not even gonna try to rationalize this.

Slowking’s apparently the shrine master, and encourages the crew to put the five three orbs in their rightful place. The two that they do have are put into position, but the three birds attack before anything can truly happen. And then finally, finally do we get to see the deus ex machina we all came for.

RUUUUUGIIIIIIIAAAAAAA

That said, Lawrence shoots at Lugia (Eric Rath) and it promptly goes down. Noticing that its cries sound like the music from the ceremony, Melody plays the song on her ocarina, which sends all of them three days into the past revitalizes Lugia.

Lugia then uses psychic powers (which I’ll accept, given that it’s both a psychic type and a god, even if that’s no excuse for the terrible voice it has) to talk to the group and tell them the importance of retrieving the Ice Sphere. As it turns out, “the world shall turn to ash” is actually a clue to the identity of the hero chosen to save the day, thus kickstarting a million terrible fanfics. After some initial doubt, Ash sets off on the ice that’s formed from the battle to obtain the final orb. This is followed by a helicopter crash, as the local professors and Ash’s mother (Veronica Taylor) have traveled down to the Orange Islands to investigate the phenomena. They survive. I hope I didn’t spoil that for you.

On the ice, Ash runs into some severe trouble thanks to the immensely powerful Pokemon doing battle directly above him, but Team Rocket comes riding along in style in a lifeboat fitted with wreckage from the helicopter crash (never mind that the crash could have possibly killed several people). The orb itself is easily retrieved, Lugia comes down, and they set off for Booty Booty Booty Booty Rockin’ Everywhere Island. As he’s apparently too slow, Team Rocket makes a noble sacrifice to remove the extra weight and get Ash to the shrine on time.

All of the Pokemon in the world (or rather, the first two regions) have gathered on the ice because it takes a lot to make a stew they sensed that they may be needed. Or maybe to look cool for marketing purposes, since they don’t really do anything. This is best shown about five seconds later, where Lugia is attacked by Lawrence’s still-functioning ship. He manages to retaliate and destroy it, but ends up fainting again because apparently he’s got a thing for sacrificing himself.

Ash brings the final orb to the shrine and Melody plays what seems to be the Eight Melodies, as this time the scenery glows in time to the music and the ocarina gets a full orchestral backing track. Lugia is revived yet again, there’s a flying scene, all of the ice breaks (no doubt killing thousands of Pokemon in the resulting collapse), and a bunch of water floats into the sky all of a sudden.

Evidently (and keep in mind that I’m going off of wikis at the moment; it isn’t made very clear in the movie), the “Beast of the Sea” that everyone keeps going on about is not a Pokemon, but rather the current flowing around the islands. When the birds are not kept in order, the current goes out of control, and thus the weather of the entire world goes haywire. That doesn’t sound right, but I don’t know enough about currents to dispute it.

(Please keep in mind that shortly after I first wrote this El Niño significantly raised temperatures all over the East Coast. Clearly the answer is that there’s some prophecy stuff going down.)

Apparently blown away by the quality of the special effects, all of the birds return to their respective islands and Lugia departs shortly thereafter. Since Ash is apparently the only motivation in his mother’s life, she monologues about how she worries about him being out in the great wide world and how she would like to be at least somewhat involved in his life.

Yeah, don’t worry. I’m sure that’s not gonna come back to bite you in the next movie.

Lawrence, left alone with the wreckage of his ship and realizing that he hasn’t really done anything this whole movie, looks pensively at the last remaining item in his collection: an Ancient Mew card, available for free with purchase of a ticket for Pokemon 2000.

Have fun with that.

And to close it all off, Team Rocket is left to bemoan the fact that nobody got to see them be the heroes for once. Of course, as Slowking informs them, plenty of people were watching- namely, viewers like you. Thank you.

The movie wraps up on a Simpsons gag, Herman Cain takes notes, and we all wonder why they had Weird Al immediately follow Donna Summer in the credits.

I have to say, Pokemon 2000 is certainly a better movie than the first one. For starters, things actually happen. Characters are there for a reason (except Tracey) and there is motivation and action. A lot of action, actually. This movie’s pretty much non-stop action, but it fortunately doesn’t hinder the overall quality too much.

That said, I’m not too sure how it holds up as its own product. Everyone just kind of bounces from place to place and there’s no real downtime to allow the audience to catch its breath. As a result, there isn’t anything too memorable and it all blends together. In fact, it would have made just as much sense if they trimmed it into five or six episode-length chunks and released it as a TV special.

The second and third movies are generally considered by the fandom to be the best, and I’m curious to see if that’s a reflection of their actual quality or just blatant late 90s nostalgia talking. I mean, this is a friggin’ masterpiece compared to what we’ve seen so far, but that’s only by viewing it in a comparative light. On its own; I’ve definitely seen better.

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