"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
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
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.