Supposedly, Pokemon can’t be killed, but “Pokemon 4Ever” practically assures that the pocket monster movie franchise is nearly ready to keel over. Displaying all the signs of a concept that has run its course and is recycling old ideas, new pic continues an interest in the link between the little fighting creatures and ecology (and, it appears, God), but the adventure this time is even stodgier than those before. Sole bright spot is a slight improvement in animation detail and digital imagery, but this looks like a case of distrib Miramax coming along far too late to catch a B.O. wave. Steady turnstile decline in past three installments won’t be reversed by this dull escapade.
The influence of Hayao Miyazaki on Pokemon pics has been noted before, and this time, the presence of a tunnel that takes characters to an enchanted land so closely resembles the entryway into the spirit zone of “Miyazaki’s Spirited Away” that it seems like something more than mere homage. As with “Pokemon: The First Movie,” which appeared Stateside at the same time as Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke,” the concurrence of “Pokemon 4Ever” and “Spirited Away” in the marketplace further underlines the enormous artistic chasm between the former’s indifferent, factory-style approach to animation and storytelling and the latter’s astonishing craftsmanship and brazen originality. With the pocket monster craze ebbing, kids just old enough for “Spirited Away” may opt for that eye-popping film over the relative blandness of something that’s already too familiar.
Introduction of the 251st Pokemon at first suggests an appeal to young girls, since the little flying, darting Celebi is styled like an Anime teardrop of a critter, with enormous, aquamarine eyes. Legend of yore has Celebi pegged as “the voice of the forest,” which may or may not be why it’s pursued by Pokemon hunters and other forest predators. Sam, a nice student of Pokemon, saves the hunted Celebi, which employs time-travel to take them to safety into the present.
Lead Pokemon trainer Ash Ketchum and his gang (his pet Pokemon, Pikachu, along with Misty and Brock) land in trouble during a riverboat trip to a forest known to contain rare Pokemon. Coming upon the Miyazakian tunnel, they’re greeted and helped by young Diana and her Grandmother, who turns out to have assisted Sam 40 years before when he time-traveled. Ash finds Sam and Celebi in the woods, and they all become fast pals.
A brutish Pokemon bounty hunter aims to capture Celebi, though, with his “darkball,” which can transform any innocent Pokemon into a huge, destructive beast. The hunter captures Celebi and — in the only interesting stroke of animation in the 79 minutes of running time — makes it form a gigantic globular nest which then transforms into a monster made of twigs and vines. Theme of forest destruction by human hands, with selfless caring as the only remedy, is spun along with franchise’s usual cycle of fighting and New Age nebulousness.
Script by Hideki Sonoda is thin in terms of levels of action and adventure, and suffers from last minute padding with one ostensible ending following another. Aclever notion to pop up in the larger Pokemon epic, however, is the suggestion that The Professor (the kids’ long-term, reliable guide to all things Pokemon) is actually Sam, now grown up in the present. Yank voices — holdovers all from the past films — remain as irritating and overly emphatic as ever.