The first movie damaged the franchise’s reputation for years

Almost everyone these days has an idea of ​​what the concept behind Pokemon is. Before the franchise could settle into something that was loved, it had to hit a brick wall and slow down. Ironically, the wall was hit by a Pokemon product that was the franchise’s most anticipated product.

Even if the anime and video games were huge hits, this would be the product that would be the real coming-out party to the world, and the franchise’s best footing should be put forward to solidify the franchise as something something that could be appreciated. by people of all ages. This product was Pokemon: the firstthe franchise’s first theatrical move.

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Mewtwo strikes back in Japan

Released as Pocket Monsters: Mewtwo Strikes Back in Japan, the story revolved around a biologically created Pokemon named Mewtwo, which was cloned and created in a lab. Mewtwo is confused about his very existence and is angry at a world that seems interested in playing God. Mewtwo embarks on a journey to prove his worth and purpose in life. This, of course, results in a Pokemon battle where Mewtwo realizes that life is precious and worth living regardless of the circumstances of its existence.

Viewers in Japan reacted positively to the film. That a film based on a cartoon whose main purpose was to sell toys to go to the trouble of introducing complex themes was seen as bold and creative by critics and audiences alike. Pocket Monsters: Mewtwo Strikes Back proved to the general public that Pokemon was a franchise to be taken seriously.

4Kids Entertainment takes on Mewtwo Strikes Back

Pokemon wasn’t a franchise adults could spend a lot of time with. It was one thing for the show to be on TV: Parents were going to have to pay to see a movie, so it was going to be the event that brought all of America face to face with Pokemon. 4Kids Entertainment would dub the movie, and they had a responsibility to make a movie that could be embraced by fans and newcomers alike. Either 4Kids didn’t understand this responsibility or they didn’t care. While the film was praised in Japan for introducing complex and ambiguous themes, the producers of 4Kids were spooked by these themes. According to Japanese producer Masakazu Kubo:


The folks at Warner gave us a hard time on the script. According to them, the Japanese original does not distinguish clearly enough between the good guys and the bad guys. In other words, heroes and villains had to be clearly identified.

American producers weren’t looking to release a film that questioned the meaning of life and had a morally ambiguous antagonist; they just wanted to sell goods. They decided to remove most of the backstory that explained exactly why the scientists wanted to clone Mew, as it revolved around the death of a child and her father playing God in his attempt to bring her back to life.

They would remove any questions Mewtwo had about life and existence. Finally, the scenario would be further castrated so that an anti-combat message could be integrated. In the end, 4Kids had changed everything but the basics of the original movie. They were proud of their efforts and felt they had improved the film. Soon the public would get a glimpse of Pokemon: The First Movie and most would not share their positive opinions of the film with the producers of 4Kids.

Pokemon: the first film is a sensation at the box office

Pokemon: The First Movie opened in US theaters on November 12, 1999. It opened this weekend with a gross of $31 million and $85.7 million in total. It set the record for being the first anime to open at number one at the box office and remained the highest-grossing opening for an anime in America until Demon Slayer: The Movie opened in 2020.

The problem was that the final product delivered was not very good. 4Kids’ rewrite of the script ended up being disastrous. In Japan, the film was enjoyed by those who had never seen the show. In America, was hated for its confusing story and oversimplified villain. Famous film critic Roger Ebert wrote:

I cannot recommend the film or generate much excitement for it as there is no level to which it enriches a young viewer, encouraging thought or observation. It’s just a sound and light show, tied to the marketing push for Pokemon in general.

Additionally, the storyline backfired on some kids who were also watching the movie, as they walked away confused about a movie that told them fighting was bad and never the solution when battles are what. loved in the franchise.

Although $85 million is a respectful gross, given the popularity Pokemon was at the time a gross amount of more than 100 million dollars should have been a given. Instead, kids and parents saw a movie that seemed stupid beyond belief. The Rotten Tomatoes score sits at 16%. 4Kids made a version of the movie they thought was better, but the world dismissed that version with contempt and condemnation. Like a fan would lament years later:

The movie is subtitled, Mewtwo vs. Mew, but this dramatic conflict only serves as a backdrop to the pointless and pointless Pokemon vs. Pokemon fight. The final product is sadly and ultimately useless as the former villain makes it all go away, along with any lessons that may have been learned – cripes, why not dream it all up, while we’re at it? Ash’s “death” is simply the final nail in the coffin for me – how can I react anyway but negatively to such a clumsy attempt to manipulate my emotions?

When Pokemon: The 2000 Movie and Pokemon 3: the movie were released theatrically, the films made significantly less money, grossing $43.7 million and $17 million, respectively. For years, every time you talked to the average person about Pokemon most would remember how they saw the first film in theaters and the reaction would most certainly be mixed. With so much damage being done to the Pokemon brand, there was nothing anyone could do but try to right the ship.

Nintendo of America intervenes

On October 10, 2005, Nintendo parted ways with 4Kids Entertainment and assumed control so that all future Pokemon productions would be done in-house. This resulted in direct-to-video dubs much more faithful to the original scripts. When Pokemon GO! became a worldwide sensation, a whole new generation of fans was finally able to surpass the reputation left behind by the first film. Even Warner Bros. – having long since given up on the franchise – decided to try again by directing the live-action film Pokemon: Detective Pikachuwhich was released to decent box office results and good reviews.

There was even a redemption when Mewtwo Strikes Back received a CGI remake for the film’s 20th anniversary. The dub retained most of the mature themes and original music, and gave viewers the good adaptation they should have received the first time around. With the Netflix release of the CGI remake of Mewtwo Strikes Back the world could finally see the movie it was always meant to be.

The bright future of Pokémon

Had Pokemon not dragged on for another two decades, Pokemon: The First Movie could have forever tarnished the reputation of the franchise. While it’s perhaps too dramatic to say that this almost single-handedly destroyed the franchise, the fact that so many people came away with a negative impression speaks volumes about the seriousness of the situation. Maybe adults still wouldn’t have flocked to the franchise if the movie had arrived in its proper state the first time around, but there’s no doubt the reception wouldn’t have been so bad.

With the franchise healthier than ever, it’s easy to laugh Pokemon: The First Movie as an anomaly in the franchise. Still, it’s worth remembering that global success is never a guarantee, and when deciding to release your first film from a major franchise, it’s best to make that product as good as possible.

Source: GameStop, Trample Tokyo, Dogasu’s Backpack, Fatal Movies

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