20. Pokémon: The Arceus Chronicles (2022)
‘Pokémon: Legends Arceus’ breathed new life into the Pokémon video game franchise, overhauling the gameplay and setting the story within an ancient Sinnoh region. It seemed to win over even the most jaded of fans.
Unfortunately, this 63-minute tie-in special lacks that same innovation. A repetitive plot and lack of character depth result in The Arceus Chronicles feeling like little more than an advertisement for the game.
Taking place during the ‘Journeys’ arc of the anime (and the first movie to be set in the main continuity since 2016s Volcanion and the Mechanical Marvel), Ash and Goh travel to Sinnoh where they unravel a sinister plot. Meanwhile, Team Galactic make their return with a plan to rescue their boss Cyrus who is trapped in an alternate dimension. Galactic attempt to summon the god of the Pokémon world, Arceus, so they can use it to open up an interdimensional portal, but in typical villain fashion their efforts endanger people and Pokémon alike.
A lot of The Arceus Chronicles’ faults come from its presentation. The dubbed movie is actually an edited version of a four part special that aired in Japan. It’s choppily put together and brief. Hence why a catching sequence near the beginning feels so out of place and detached from the overall narrative – this story was intended to be episodic. This also explains some cheap looking animation as The Arceus Chronicles lacks the usual movie budget.
It isn’t completely without merit, however. Returning characters like Brock and Dawn are always welcome to see, and The Arceus Chronicles is rewarding to hardcore Sinnoh fans due to its exploration of the region’s lore.
Viewers wishing to find a more engaging Arceus story may be better suited to a later entry in this list.
19. Black: Victini and Reshiram / White: Victini and Zekrom (2011)
Let’s just get this out of the way first – the dual movies thing is nothing more than a gimmick. Watching both of the films that make up this entry would not give you any enhanced experience and would be a complete waste of time. The main difference is that Ash uses a different legendary dragon. But while this aspect can largely be ignored, one thing that can’t be is the uninspired and generic (even for Pokémon) plot.
An ancient power flowing through the earth, a rare Pokémon needed to fulfil the villain’s needs, two titans who inevitably do battle… everything has been done before and better. The side characters add nothing to spice things up either – this is at least with the exception of Damon, who offers a somewhat interesting villain – and the film nearly goes against the grain with a third act sacrifice, but this is undone before the credits roll. If they’d have stuck to their guns, this 2011 double-release would have at least stood out more.
Black and White still have some highlights – the opening street battles are creative as each Pokémon weaves through the tight spaces, and the third act is effective in raising the stakes – but overall this is not much more than a skippable affair.
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18. Kyurem vs. the Sword of Justice (2012)
The second film in the Black and White series is a much more dialled back adventure than the first. Instead of saving the world, the film follows a Keldeo that must prove itself by battling a Kyurem. In fact, there’s almost no reason for Ash and the gang to be here, other than to give Keldeo a confidence boost.
It’s a very well-presented film. Visually, the animation is solid and makes the battle scenes visceral and intense. The voice acting is strong and surprisingly high profile, with Vic Mignogna (Ed from ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’) lending his talents to the youthful Keldeo. Although the voice acting is a double-edged sword, with every single legendary Pokémon in this film being able to speak and thus make their intentions overtly obvious. There is no room for nuance here…
Even for Pokémon, Kyurem vs. the Sword of Justice seems to be aiming young, adamant that it must hold your hand through every story beat, insistent that it must overtly explain every minor detail. The lack of stakes and smaller scope also add to the feeling of Kyurem vs. the Sword of Justice being nothing more than a children’s spin-off, amounting to a film that feels more like an extended episode of the series, only lacking in the same patience.
17. Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction (2014)
After the underwhelming Black and White films which ranged from bad to passable, Diancie and The Cocoon of Destruction was a step in the right direction. While not a return to form by any means, this 2014 release at least had a sense of importance and justified its feature length.
Diancie herself is quite fun and has good chemistry with the gang. Being able to create diamonds, the Pokémon proves quite popular with thieves, which leads to a great scene towards the end where three different hunters try to catch her at the same time. It’s a fun moment and serves as a reminder that the series knows when to inject excitement into things that seem highly tense.
Outside of some memorable moments of fun however, the story is subpar with Yveltal (the film’s antagonist) being introduced too late for it to be a genuine threat. As a result, while the stakes are high in the third act, there is little reason to care.
Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction was clearly made to showcase the Kalos region and its native Pokémon more than it was to make waves with critics or at the box office.
16. Pokémon The Movie 2000 (1999)
The follow-up to the wildly successful first film unfortunately can’t surpass the original’s high bar.
Pokémon The Movie 2000 has its moments of course, but ultimately it feels a bit bumpy. The odd pacing results in extreme action one moment, then nothing at all the next, and this means the film goes large chunks of time without showing what the villain is up to, making the already forgettable Lawrence III even more so.
The generic “chosen one” plot focuses too much on Ash, pushing beloved supporting characters to the sidelines. The new characters are even worse off, offering nothing more than exposition and a running joke about Misty being Ash’s girlfriend that gets old fast.
The saving grace is Lugia, the film’s featured legendary Pokémon. The beast of the sea is majestic and powerful, making his on screen debut memorable. Its strong portrayal led to it being incorporated into the games, marking one of the only times the anime created an entirely new Pokémon.
It’s also worth adding that this might be one of the funniest entries: Team Rocket are at their peak, with jokes about Weight Watchers to repeated fourth wall breaks.