10. Destiny Deoxys (2004)
Another Hoenn based film that starts strong, Destiny Deoxys’ opening battle between Rayquaza and Deoxys is the intense kaiju-like power-battle that fantasy enthusiasts cannot help but to love.
Strangely, a lot of the Pokémon movies prior to this 2004 release featured very little by the way of battling, and Destiny Deoxys tries its best to rectify that. Equally, this entry is the most sci-fi-adjacent of the series, with the titular Deoxys being a Pokémon from outter space, and the setting of the high-tech LaRousse City being at the film’s forefront.
After its strong first act, Destiny Deoxys may lost some steam – there is only so much running away from mindless Deoxys drones that one person can take before it becomes stale and repetitive, and a number of unfunny and forgettable side characters don’t do much to help the cause – but with a villain worthy of investment and battling at the forefront, there are reasons to enjoy this Pokémon franchise entry beyond it being just another Pokémon movie.
9. Pokémon the Movie: Secrets of the Jungle (2020/21)
The third entry into the rebooted series is also the best one yet. Rather than re-treading familiar ground, Secrets of the Jungle tells a brand new story more akin to something from Disney’s renaissance period.
Ash and Pikachu meet Koko, a young boy who believes he is a Pokémon. Koko was raised in the jungle by an ape-like Pokémon called Zarude, so is feral at first. This is the basis for some funny fish out of water moments as Koko adjusts to life outside the jungle. Ash helps Koko to reunite with the Zarude that raised him, known as Dada. The plot evolves into a much grander story of protecting the jungle from the power hungry Dr Zed, but Secrets of the Jungle never abandons the relationship between Dada and Koko, which is its greatest strength as it allows an underlying current of emotion to keep the film moving.
The multiple Zarude make for an interesting feature Pokémon. Early on, the film is reminiscent of the recent Planet of the Apes films. The inner conflict within their tribe makes it feel like a believable society, adding a moral ambiguity that is not always present in Pokémon films. Thankfully, the writers are successful in managing to turn a somewhat underwhelming mythical Pokémon into a compelling hero that isn’t defined by a single characteristic: Dada Zarude isn’t just the tough poster ‘mon or the cool new addition, he is a complex character torn by the love he holds towards his surrogate son and his loyalty to his tribe.
Visually, this might be Pokémon at its best. The jungle feels alive with the energetic wild Pokémon, such as Skwovet and Flygon, and there’s a real vibrancy to the colour pallet. Battles are once again feasts for the eyes, with each move packing so much weight. The animation gifts the movie that sense of awe and power that all mythical Pokémon should possess.
Secrets of the Jungle isn’t without its flaws – the aforementioned Dr Zed does nothing to elevate himself above the other placeholder villains of the series, and Ash is once again defined by his Pikachu (as someone who brands himself as a wannabe Pokémon Master it would be nice to see him use some new Pokémon) – but all this can be forgiven as Secrets of the Jungle proves that the writers made the right decision when rebooting the movie continuity.
While on the previous two instalments things seemed too familiar or inconsequential, it is on their third attempt that they nail what these movies should be: new stories with stakes and fully fledged characters not present in the main series.
8. Pokémon 4Ever (2001)
Pokémon tackles time travel for the first time in Pokémon 4Ever with the introduction of Celebi – a cute nymph-like creature that evades capture in the past by travelling to the present day.
Here, Celebi accidentally brings along Sam, a young trainer overwhelmed by a world he doesn’t recognise. Unlike every other character introduced in the film, Sam is likeable and adds weight to the plot – his friendship with Ash is enjoyable too, the pair successfully sharing the film’s spotlight.
The villain of this film is nothing to marvel at, but there is more to enjoy in its quieter moments as opposed to when the plot is propelled. 4Ever is one of those “about the journey, not the destination” movies – scenes such as Ash and Sam witnessing a swarm of Metapod evolve remains memorable, magical even – though the destination itself is one that blew the minds of children everywhere when it first came out. To this day, the surprise conclusion to 4Ever remains one of the biggest developments in the whole of the Pokémon anime.
Though criticism can be levelled at 4Ever for being the first Pokémon film to shoehorn in a legendary, this time in the form of Suicune, and the film suffers from clunky pacing and terrible 3D animation (the intimidation on offer from the antagonist in the final act looks like a floating coconut more than an impressive show of Pokémon force), the memorable moments outweigh this inadvertent comedy for the most part, situating this 2001 release in our number 8 spot.
7. Zoroark: Master of Illusions (2010)
Pokémon made a film about a rich business tycoon who spreads fake news to make one particular group look intimidating while pursuing his own evil desires, and it was released 7 years before the Trump administration was elected into office…
Real world comparisons aside, Zoroark: Master of Illusions has the rare privilege among Pokémon films of featuring an effective villain. Grings Kodai’s threat feels genuine, his toned-back design making him just that bit more believable, making for one of the franchise’s very best antagonists.
In Master of Illusions, most of the other human beings are nothing more than average – which admittedly is better than a lot of Pokémon entries listed thus far – but the Pokémon themselves are interesting. The titular Zoroark’s illusionary powers are creative and lead to some clever fake-out moments and an excuse for the animation team to stretch themselves, while its pre-evolved form Zorua has an identifiable backstory and is likeable enough.
This Pokémon film does suffer from the same “explain too much” philosophy that hinders much of the franchise from excelling into the realms of all-time greats, but for what it is this Pokémon film is very strong.
6. The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (1998)
The first big screen adventure for Ash and company was released at the height of Pokémania. The term “Pokeflu” was coined in reference to the large number of children who skipped school to see this 1998 release on its opening day. Even in 2021, The First Movie remains the biggest earner the anime movie franchise has ever produced, amassing $163,644,662 at the worldwide box office and holding the record as the highest grossing anime film of all time in the United States.
On the screen, the Pokémon anime series’ heroes receive an anonymous invitation to New Island with the promise of meeting the world’s greatest Pokémon trainer. Ash, being his usual hot-headed self, sees this as a golden opportunity to finally achieve his goal: being the very best (like no one ever was). After overcoming obstacles, the real meat of this Pokémon story begins, the “greatest trainer” being revealed to be a Pokémon itself: Mewtwo, a genetically engineered Pokémon with a hatred for humanity (think Koba from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes).
Mewtwo is easily the star of the show. His surprisingly well-rounded motivation outshines every other character in the film, and places him firmly at the top of the franchise’s best villains list. His detached sentimentality and cold demeanour make for a Pokémon that just oozes with bad-assery. This is, to date, the finest example of a Pokémon refusing to be owned by a human, opening up some borderline philosophical discussion in the process.
Jay Goede provides an intimidating voice for the character, delivering a memorable speech at the end of the film that has undoubtedly stayed in children’s hearts for years. For their first step into theatres, Pokémon could have done a lot worse.
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