As Pokémon movies go, POKÉMON: ZOROARK MASTER OF ILLUSIONS is on par with the others when it comes to spectacular visuals, fast pace, and abundant action and adventure. However, the cast of characters is a bit more crowded than most, stretching our sympathies too thin among too many new (and returning) characters and giving us a villain whose strategizing is unnecessarily complicated and whose motivation struck me as much too abstract for a movie like this. (But then, most of the recent Pokémon movies have veered into increasingly abstract territory.) The antagonist here, Grings Kodai, is a media tycoon who has gotten ahead because he's able to predict the future. How he got this "gift" forms a significant backstory, complete with a flashback to a violent engagement with a "time ripple" that first appeared 20 years earlier in the locale of Crown City and which has now appeared again. Kodai's actions at that time had a devastating effect on Crown City and threaten to cause equal damage this time. The emergence of the mystical nature Pokémon, Celebi, coincides with the appearance of the time ripple. It becomes the mission of our heroes, Ash, Dawn, Brock, and various allies they pick up in town, to return Celebi to the time ripple before Kodai can get there. (Celebi was a significant character in the fourth Pokémon movie, POKÉMON 4EVER, 2002).
Also mixed up in all this is Zoroark, a Pokémon that can create mass illusions. Kodai has imprisoned Zoroark's little companion, Zorua, in order to force Zoroark to perform illusions of disaster to cause the evacuation of Crown City's Old Town district, where the time ripple is located. Zorua escapes and joins up with Ash and company in town. Zoroark goes on a rampage in town to find Zorua and is pursued by Kodai and his army of dutiful Pokémon henchmen. Zorua has psychic powers and is able to speak to humans telepathically.
Also on hand in an already overstuffed narrative are the town's three Pokémon protectors, Entei, Raikoh and Suikun, who engage in a battle with Zoroark even though they're all, technically, on the same side. At some point, there are just way too many entities in play to keep track of and it was hard to concentrate on the ones most in need of our sympathy, Celebi and Zorua. The screenplay really needed some streamlining here.
The town of Crown City is based on streets and canals found in towns in the Netherlands and Belgium. The design and layout of the town provide a breathtaking backdrop to the action. The most beautiful scenes are those where Celebi flies through town adding color and vitality to the trees and flowers along the streets. No matter how convoluted the story gets, the images are always lovely to look at.
Kodai, the lead villain, operates out of a massive airplane HQ. He's got all sorts of little high-tech gadgets assisting him, including miniature floating TV cameras, spy devices, portable cages, and little boxes that take on the forms of various Pokemon to execute deceptive maneuvers. He's quite a formidable villain, the kind this franchise needs, yet I just didn't buy the notion of a "time ripple" and his use of it to gain the power to tell the future. By the time of the events in this story, he's already in "control of the mainstream media," as one journalist character tells us, so you'd think he'd be too smart to jeopardize his position by such a risky move as paralyzing Crown City to get to the time ripple again. Besides, such a man would have an army of staffers to do his bidding, but we really only see two humans working for him, one of whom turns out to have conflicting loyalties. Granted, this is just a cartoon, but for such an intricate and suspenseful tale, I needed a stronger reason to suspend my disbelief.
As usual, Team Rocket, the TV series' trio of perennial villains, is marginalized, always popping up at the periphery, but not getting directly involved in the action. In fact, no one notices their presence in town throughout the entire movie.
Of the last seven Pokémon movies, I would argue in favor of POKÉMON: ARCEUS AND THE JEWEL OF LIFE (2009) and the latest one, POKÉMON THE MOVIE WHITE: VICTINI AND ZEKROM (2011), as the best works among them. Still, as animated adventures for children go, all the Pokémon movies deserve attention.
For the record, I watched the English-dubbed version released on R1 DVD for this review. I do wish the DVDs of these movies would feature the Japanese language track also.
NOTE: The character of Zorua appears in an episode of the current Pokémon season, "Pokémon Black and White." The episode (Season 14/#38) is "Movie Time! Zorua in 'The Legend of the Pokémon Knight'" and it premiered on the Cartoon Network on October 22, 2011. Zorua appears as a new character with no indication in Ash's reaction to him that they'd ever met before, even though the events in this movie predate the episode.
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