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Pokemon: Destiny Deoxys
Reviewed by Kevin Pezzano, © 2005

Format: Anime
By:   Miramax Films
Genre:   Children's Action
Review Date:   February 28, 2005
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

"I have no idea what kind of pass it's talking about, but would it please stop calling me 'sport'?" - James, after being asked for his passport by a burger-dispensing robot

While the once-mighty Pokemon franchise may have faltered a little over the years, its marketing juggernaut is still plodding inexorably along. A new Pokemon film hits still our shores like clockwork every year, even if these movies may no longer be getting full theatrical releases with all the bells and whistles. Surprisingly, they seem to be going up in quality with each new sequel.

The first Pokemon movie, appropriately if unimaginatively named Pokemon: The First Movie, was amusing enough, but it was tarnished by an excessively-preachy climax as bad as anything found in the worst American kidvid dross. The later films, though, got a little less insultingly juvenile with each subsequent release, even as the box office take for each movie dropped. The seventh Poke-movie, the direct-to-video Destiny Deoxys, is the best of the lot so far, with a surprising amount of tension and a definite lack of anything resembling preachiness.

For the three of you out there who aren't familiar with the Pokemon franchise, here's a brief rundown: Pokemon Master wannabe Ash Ketchum roams the world at the age of ten (with nary a supervising adult in sight), seeking to learn more about the adorably (and merchandisably) cute cockfighting seizure monsters known as Pokemon. He is accompanied on his exodus by several fellow Pokemon trainers in — uh, training: perky yet bimboish May, May's obnoxious, know-it-all little brother Max, and an older boy named Brock who is completely and utterly ruled by his hormones. If you've really never seen anything Pokemon-related before, don't worry. The first part of this movie consists of a short intro to the Poke-world and how it works to help get your hopelessly unhip self up to speed.

In Destiny Deoxys, Ash and his homies find themselves in Larousse City, a highly-advanced metropolis modeled after Vancouver, Canada (really — check out the DVD extras). Larousse City, along with its building-block-like security robots, moving sidewalks, ambulatory hot-dog dispensers, and a rather Tron-like Pokemon dueling arena, is home to a small group of scientists studying a mysterious new Pokemon, Deoxys. Deoxys, as we learn in the prologue to the film, is a Pokemon from outer space that plummeted to Earth on meteor, and promptly got its ass handed to it by a rather testy dragon like Pokemon named Rayquaza, being reduced to nothing but a small crystal by a fire blast. More old-school fans of Japanese cinema may recognize the obvious Ultraman homages in Deoxys' design.

Ash and the Gang meet up with a young boy named Tory, whose father is the lead scientist researching Deoxys and who has a Poke-phobia. Even being near a Pokemon as harmlessly cute as Pikachu or the twins Plusle and Minon (who are WMD-level cute) sends him screaming and running. But when a rather cheesed-off Deoxys regenerates and starts wreaking havoc with the technologically advanced Larousse City, Tory has to get over his fears fast if he wants to save his city, his dad, and his newfound friends.

While Destiny Deoxys does feature family-values-friendly themes of loyalty, friendship, and determination, unlike most of its kidvid kin it doesn't apply moral messages with a sledgehammer. This movie is surprisingly subtle at times, especially in the actions of Deoxys itself, who never speaks a single legible word throughout the film and yet has a very definite sense of motivation and purpose in what it does. Of course, Destiny Deoxys is no Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and it does have its share of pointlessly cute scenes of Pokemon playing together and painfully cheesy dialogue. But it is refreshing to see a cartoon aimed at kids that doesn't assume kids are mush-brained, slack-jawed little morons, and actually expects them to figure out some stuff all on their own.

When Deoxys attacks Larousse City, it not only cuts the power, it also creates legions of duplicates that swoop down and kidnap the citizens of the town, not only snatching them off the streets but even breaking into buildings in swarms to get at the people inside. Ash and his pals spend a large portion of the movie hiding out in darkened control rooms underground, escaping the Deoxys clones by fleeing into tunnels and ducts while fighting a hopeless battle to avoid getting caught and carted away by the creatures. The last thing I expected to see in a Pokemon movie was a riff on Aliens, but that's exactly what Destiny Deoxys reminded me of. It's pretty sad when a Japanese kids cartoon featuring an electrified Marshmallow Peep makes a better Aliens movie than the recent Aliens vs. Predator. And while it's not really scary, per se (this is still a kiddie flick, after all), it does add an interesting element to the "cute cockfighting seizure monsters" mix that Pokemon has never really had before.

But while Destiny Deoxys may have ratcheted up the action level, it's surprisingly unfunny. Part of this is the distressing lack of the always amusing Team Rocket. While they do make an appearance, and even manage to get off a good line or two (one of which I quoted at the top of this review), they're criminally underused in this film. The astounding world design makes up for that lack of humor a bit, with the cheerfully fascist floating block robots providing some distraction from the cheesiness of it all, but it still would have been nice to see more of Jessie, James, and Meowth. They're really the only thing that makes Pokemon bearable at times.

On a technical level, Destiny Deoxys is almost amazingly good. The animation is beautiful, colorful, and fluid, and makes very good (if overly heavy) use of CGI elements to enhance the traditional animation. The character designs, as always, are appealingly cute, and the look and feel of Larousse City is just amazing (but then again, I've always liked Vancouver).

Only the dub track is included here, meaning no Japanese dialogue and no subtitles, but there is a French language track on the disc (apparently to appease all those Canucks, since it was their city that got Poke-ified). At least the English dub is very well done, with the cast all anime veterans like Veronica "His and Her Circumstances" Taylor and Rachael "Revolutionary Girl Utena" Lillis; they've been playing these characters for almost ten years, so they ought to be good at it by now.

In terms of DVD extras, things are a bit more limited, with only a lame Poke-Quiz and an all-too-short featurette about the Japanese production crew touring Vancouver and the director of the film talking up the project.

Pokemon: Destiny Deoxys is, overall, harmlessly entertaining. It's not nearly as funny as it should be, but it's got a nice positive message, doesn't cudgel the viewer over the head with that message, and even has some interesting world design and action scenes. There's enough of interest here to keep even adult anime fans entertained for its 98 minute running time, so if you find yourself forced to watch it against your will (like, say, by having a little brother or young son who's into the whole Poke-scene), you won't have to feel like you're undergoing some kind of soul-rending torment.

But it's still really only going to appeal to longtime Pokemon fans. That may be its strength as far as the franchise is concerned, but it's a definite weakness as an anime.

Anime and Comics Editor Kevin Pezzano, I choose you!

 
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