In POKEMON HEROES, a Japanese animated cartoon adopted for American audiences, Ash and his friends must save a beautiful city threatened by two reckless thieves, one of whom lusts for the destructive power of a mechanical, mystical weapon. Despite some positive moral qualities, the movie's theological and spiritual messages are sometimes mixed and could be confusing to children, especially younger ones.
The POKEMON series keeps rolling along with another full-length feature movie based on the popular television series. This time, however, the production values are a little higher, and the story a bit more focused.
The series focuses on Ash Ketchum, a young boy who travels the world as a Pokemon trainer, along with his friends Brock and Misty. Ash hopes one day to become a Pokemon master and own his own training facility. As a little introduction to POKEMON HEROES, the fifth movie in the series, relates, Pokemon are strange animals with special powers. Some of the creatures have physical powers like electric shocks or sticky webs, while others seem to have supernatural, occult, magical, or psionic powers, such as telepathy or hypnosis. If you capture one of them, or keep one of them as a kind of pet, you can use their powers to battle, defeat and capture other Pokemon, who then can be trapped in small round PokeBalls. Ash’s best friend is Pikachu, a cute little Pokemon with electric shock powers. Pikachu’s abilities have attracted the interest of Jesse, James, and a talkative Pokemon named Meowth, who call themselves Team Rocket and want to steal Pikachui for their mysterious boss, Giovanni.
In POKEMON HEROES, Ash, Pikachu, Brock, and Misty travel to Altomare (pronounced “Altimar” for high sea), to compete in the city’s annual water race. According to an ancient legend, the Venice-like island city was saved from two large, evil Pokemon, who were drowned by a Pokemon called Latios. Latios died after the encounter, but his spirit or soul is said to inhabit the Soul Dew, a jewel with awesome and dangerous God-like powers, but only if it is hooked up to the huge machine guarding Altomare.
Master thieves Annie and Oakley set out to find where the Soul Dew is kept. Annie is attracted to the jewel’s destructive powers when it’s hooked up to the machine, but Oakley lusts after the jewel for its own sake. Apparently, they also serve Giovanni, the mysterious Pokemon thief.
Ash discovers that the Soul Dew is now guarded by the children of Latios, Latias and her brother, who is also called Latios. Latios and Latias watch over the city. Annie and Oakley spy on Ash and his two new Pokemon friends. They capture Latios in order to harness the combined powers of the jewel and the machine. Ash, Pikachu, Latias, Brock, and Misty must rescue Latios and stop Annie from destroying the whole city.
The dubbed Pokemon stories are Americanized versions of the original Japanese cartoons. The original cartoons have a fair amount of humor in them to begin with, especially with the characters of the lovesick Brock and the incompetent Team Rocket, but the American producers put in more off-the-wall humor, like using the names Jessie and James and Annie and Oakley for Ash’s antagonists. Like the other movies, however, POKEMON HEROES is a bit more serious than the cartoon episodes on television.
This new Pokemon movie also seems to tone down the Japanese pagan mythology in many of the original cartoons. For instance, the introductory narration by the Brock character mentions something about the Pokemon world being an imaginary fantasy world where magical creatures exist side-by-side with humans. No mention is made of the fact that the Pokemon animals are like contemporary versions of the animal spirits which, according to Japanese folk religion, inhabit the real world. Despite this, the close relationships between the human beings and the Pokemon creatures appear to be vestiges of this kind of paganism, which draws people away from a proper relationship with the One True God. On the other hand, the Pokemon creatures at times serve the function of being both a good friend and a guardian angel of the human beings whom they like. Some of their special powers also seem to have a scientific explanation at times, as if some of them have “energy” weapons to protect themselves.
Still, there are religious implications in all these elements and in the Soul Dew jewel which supposedly contains the spirit of the father of Latios and Latias. Annie remarks, in fact, that she gets a “spiritual” feeling when she holds the jewel. Later, while sitting at the controls of the machine, she is able to use her newfound power to command the sea and bring the two evil Pokemon back to life. The movie also makes it clear that Latios and Latias, who can turn invisible, serve as the Pokemon protectors of the city, sort of like two supernatural or magical animal protectors. At the end of the story, however, one of the Pokemon must sacrifice its life in order to save the city and the people from total destruction. As part of its sacrificial death, its “spirit” ascends into the heavens like a beam of light.
There are hidden allegorical, Christological meanings to some of this, which lends a redemptive aspect to the mixed pagan worldview in POKEMON HEROES. Paganism often borrows from Christianity, however, because the truth and beauty of Christianity stands out in stark contrast to the ultimately bankrupt theology, philosophy, and psychology of non-Christian religions. Although the movie says early on that magical creatures with wonderful powers can make your dreams come true, the story and characters in the movie also imply that it is Ash, and his positive relationships with his friends, both old and new, that give him and the others the power and strength to overcome the “sins” and obstacles in the situations and other characters they encounter on their journeys. It also should be noted that the movie does not call upon Ash or the other characters to worship any of the magical or mystical Pokemon creatures. Such worship would be pagan idolatry, which the Bible clearly and vehemently condemns in many passages.
POKEMON HEROES also has some solid, positive moral messages to Annie’s lust for power, which nearly kills her and Oakley as well as everyone else. As usual, Jessie, James and Meowth get their just desserts, which, by the way, does not include the ice cream snacks they try to eat in the story. The movie also focuses on the friendship between Ash and the adorable Pikachu, who has a caring attitude toward its friend but who can get very protective if Ash or other friends are threatened by the evil and/or mean-spirited humans and Pokemon they often encounter.
POKEMON HEROES has some of the best, most colorful animation of all the Pokemon movies and cartoon episodes. The filmmakers have shown more care than usual in depicting the beautiful nature of the unique city, which is a maze of pretty gardens, courtyards, canals, and alleys. The movie also has several humorous moments, though it would be more enjoyable if it had even more of them.
All in all, POKEMON HEROES may be one of the least threatening Pokemon stories, similar to what George Lucas has done with the paganism and occultism within the worldviews of the newer STAR WARS movies. Since this can be confusing to children, however, and because of the cartoon violence, we recommend a caution for older children, and a stern warning for younger ones.
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(Pa, BB, C, O, H, Ev, VV, M) Mixed pagan worldview with moral, redemptive, and magical occult elements, plus a slight implication of humanist notions about "evolution"; plenty of cartoon action violence such as hero crashes into wall during water chariot race, magical creatures briefly battle one another using physical and magical powers, electric shock attacks, thunderbolt attacks, web attacks, people and creatures tied up, people nearly drown, and machine goes berserk; and, stealing and kidnapping rebuked.
GENRE: Fantasy Adventure