The Pokemon Celebi has the power to travel through time. Vicious, the future descendant of James and Jessie of Team Rocket, travels back in time to wreak havoc, and it's up to young Ash, Pikachu and friends to stop him. Along the way, Ash continues to mature into the unstoppable Pokémon trainer he will become in the future.
Directed by: Kunihiko Yuyama
, Jim Malone
. Starring: Rica Matsumoto
, Veronica Taylor
, Rachael Lillis
, Ikue Ôtani
, Unshô Ishizuka
, Eric Stuart
, Madeleine Blaustein
, Mayumi Izuka
, Yûji Ueda
, Tomokazu Seki
, Megumi Hayashibara
, Tara Sands
, Dan Green
. Music by: Shinji Miyazaki
, Hirokazu Tanaka
In my ongoing quest to destroy my childhood I have set out to (re)watch all Pokémon films, and see how they hold up now that I am an adult. After the made-for-tv but surprisingly fine "Metwo Returns," "Pokémon 4Ever: Celebi - Voice of the Forest" feels like a return to form; meaning that it makes all the same mistakes as its predecessors did.
The film opens with a chase scene, involving the Pokémon Celebi and a poacher. This is brutally cut away from in favour of a conversation between a boy and a young woman. The dialogue here probably sets a series' record in terms of awfulness -- a considerable achievement -- and wasn't the audience's point of interest to begin with. Then the chase just continues, paced as smoothly as a motorboat on a gravel driveway.
The boy interferes and helps Celebi escape, but is pursued by the poacher. (Disney fans will notice that the latter is basically the villain from "Rescuers Down Under," without being played by one of the century's greatest actors.) Eager to monologue about the subtleties of his trade, he allows for Celebi to escape forward in time, taking the boy with it.
Forty years in the future, however, a new menace is awaiting them: The Iron Mask Marauder (his real name). Barely recovered from the intro's stodginess, the audience is immediately bombarded with brand new exposition. "The Pokémon I catch with a dark ball (tm) become evil Pokémon, and their power instantly increases to the highest level," he informs us eloquently. By now you can draw out the entire story: A Pokémon will be turned evil but is saved by the power of friendship, and a lot of morals will follow.
But this fate is postponed for a while. As it happens, the remainder of the first act is actually paced quite well. Ash and Co. visit the forest, come across the boy from the past and are eluded by the mystery of "The Voice of the Forest." Fairly standard set-up, but decently executed. Though it really starts to gnaw: How many times are these films going to set-up mysteries they have already given away the answer to? This time even in the bloody title!
As the Marauder enters the stage, matters quickly worsen. The story becomes as flimsy and moralistic as its dark balls suggested. (Don't ponder too long on that sentence.) The problem is that the heroes already have what they want -- namely Celebi -- so that only the villain can further the plot, whilst he refrains from interacting with the heroes for the greater part of the first two acts.
Hence, a lot of filler follows, and killing as that may be in terms of structure, it actually contains some of the film's moderately good moments. The berry-picking scenes are mildly amusing, for instance, and the campfire recalls some of the first two films' surprisingly strong atmosphere. It is because of such moments that I cannot bring myself to dislike these films as strongly as I feel I should. You still get the sense that they were made by people who wanted to do something good with the material they had been given.
Unfortunately, they fail at this more often than not. Like those earlier instalments, the film's second half exists almost exclusively out of fighting, and it becomes as tedious as the horrible climax of "Mewtwo Strikes Back." Celebi is (by lack of a better word) turned dark, and forced to create a titan to destroy the forest it was supposed to protect. Sounds familiar? Yes, the film's second half is a near-literal rip-off of "Princess Mononoke," and that film's least interesting part at that.
At this stage, Miyazaki's epic had multiple well-established factions with nuanced and believable motivations. "Celebi" has two factions, and those are in terms of morality as black and white as a dalmatian in an etching.
And boy, does it get tedious. It is not a good sign that 30 minutes of a 1h15m film can be summarised as 'they fight,' but the story gets even worse once they stop. Messages about nature-vs-nurture, friendship, and environmentalism are crowbarred in to simulate meaning, a revolting fake-out death tries to be a tear-jerker despite an obvious lack of stakes, the villain re-appears in a completely redundant twist, and then the writers try to insert another undeservedly sad moment. It wouldn't be surprising to find out that they were on a bet to include as many clichés as possible.
"Celebi" can quite neatly be divided in two halves: The first, which starts badly but turns out okay for a "Pokémon" film, and the second, which ranges from incredibly boring to downright awful. Throw in some disappointing animation and exceptionally poor CGI, and the result is simply the worst of the early films.
The comparison to "Princess Mononoke" prompts me to end this review with a recommendation: Go watch that film. It is great. It has a depth and scope and emotional richness that this film even fails to deliver to its own standards, and those were insulting to begin with.
Review by Shostakovich343 from the Internet Movie Database.