Though Pokemania has settled into early middle age, the second feature-length installment, “Pokemon 2000 the Movie: The Power of One,” is a much more intense action vehicle for hero Ash Ketchum and his band of pocket monster trainers than its leaden, sometimes claustrophobic predecessor. Returning to ongoing saga’s roots in the great outdoors, the new entry (which opened in Japan in the summer of ’99 under the endless, translated title, “Pocket Monsters the Movie: The Phantom Pokemon: Lugia’s Explosive Birth”) takes place on stormy seas, in turbulent skies and on rocky, volcanic islands. Combo of themes dealing with individual initiative, courage and restoring the Earth’s ecological balance will play well with Poke-fans and their approving parents, who will join to help this piece of the ongoing franchise put up good, mid-range B.O. numbers and an extended ancillary life.
Makers have clearly determined that the features, unlike the lighter, funkier tube item, must be aimed at young boys and their yen for action-adventure. Ash’s gal-pal and fellow trainer Misty is relegated to the sidelines here, a fairly passive audience for Ash’s grand exploits. Her biggest scenes, which will go over heads of little ones, involve modest cat fighting with a new female character, the cynical-turned-believing Melody, who seems to want to vie for Ash’s attention. This goes nowhere, though, when the real action takes over. It tends to leave “Pokemon” girl fans without a true rooting interest of their own, which isn’t the case in the TV version. Whether this dampens broader enthusiasm for new pic is anyone’s guess, but the Ash-leaning scenario is — if anything in this cash-cow enterprise could be — a calculated gamble.
As per previous pic, “Pokemon 2000” assumes aud knowledge of this universe created by Satoshi Tajiri, but ironically contains a built-in critique of the collector’s craze that defines the pop phenomenon for many. It comes in the form of Lawrence III, yet another summer-screen British baddie who flies around in a massive machine resembling the “Close Encounters” mothership (created in 3-D animation, a visual nuance new to “Pokemon” projects).
His goal is to be the ultimate Pokemon collector, capturing the three key Poke-birds which rule the elements of fire (Moltres), lightning (Zapdos) and ice (Articuno) . Capturing this trio, Lawrence can also lure the powerful amphibious sea-air creature, Lugia, which controls deep sea currents and thus, global weather.
Perhaps only in “Pokemon” could a moral be drawn between excessive collecting and global weather imbalance, but that’s the dilemma Ash and his vacationing buddies fall into when Lawrence’s chicanery unleashes storms sending their boats adrift to Shamouti Island.
Revelers (Melody among them) clad in Hopi-like costumes are holding a festival honoring the three elemental island birds, and Ash is told that he could help restore the climate’s balance by finding three “treasures” (small, potent glass balls) on the archipelago and placing them inside a holy stone circle on an island ruled by the tiny, lonely pocket monster, Slowking.
Ash can’t resist the mission impossible, but the weather won’t cooperate, shipwrecking him and Melody and Misty’s rescue boat. Plot becomes unnecessarily muddied with similar mishaps, making the overall continuous sequence of action much less smooth than it should be and, sometimes, utterly confusing. Lawrence’s capture of the Pokemon trainers (including, of course, Ash’s ever-joking arch-nemeses, Jesse, James and Meowth), along with rapid escape of the three captured birds leads to scenes of undistinguished animated action marked only by interesting views of Lawrence’s damaged airship, as well as oceanic vistas of the birds warring with each other. Why they do this, along with a number of other matters, is something not even the world’s leading Poke-experts might be able to explain.
Result is mucho action without a lot of sense behind it, but animator’s impulse to go for trippy air, water and ice imagery makes up for the question marks.
New creatures added to the Pokemon stable are Lugia and Slowking, one changeable and majestic, the other static and slightly goofy, but not quite up to the cool scale of previous feature’s nasty Mewtwo. It reflects difference in tone here from first pic — thankfully lighter, visually easier on the eye and more suited to the ultra-flat anime style. The 3-D touches are a surprise, perhaps a sign that makers feel need to keep up with some animation standards of other big-time entries.
Animators face same feature-length problems as before, which is keeping up with thick, overactive plot. All signs thus point to clear fact that “Pokemon” storytelling is best suited to half-hour time slots.
Fans will be happy that the English-language voice casting hasn’t strayed much from original vocal thesps, who all go for a sincerely serious tone that can be amusing if you take it in the right light. Soundtrack contains vanilla pop tunes and sub-par scoring, with an early track saying it all — “We All Live in a Pokemon World.”
Some Poke-purists will prefer short, “Pikachu’s Rescue Adventure,” which (like with earlier feature) runs before main attraction and has the kind of wild, free-form animation of Pokemons running amok that started this whole craze in the first place.