When scientists clone the remains of an ancient Pokémon called Mew (a sort of cross between a flying cat and a dormouse) to create Mewtwo, the resulting mutation breaks out of the laboratory vowing to destroy all mankind and all his fellow Pokémon. He lures the Pokémon (and their human trainer Ash) to New Island, where he sets them all against clones of each other. I think that's all there is to it.
I don't know exactly what the origins of Pokémon are - a computer game I believe. I gather the title is a contraction of 'Pocket Monster'. There's a big toy franchise involved somewhere, though I'm not sure I understand what this whole thing with the trading cards is about. I've never seen any of the TV series episodes either. These things just simply aren't discussed in my circles.
I think it goes without saying that the inevitable big screen incarnation spawned by the Pokémon phenomenon that's currently sweeping the globe defies any sort of rational deconstruction. Edited down from three TV episodes minus about 8 minutes of footage deemed too violent for Western audiences, the end result has left most viewers whose age has reached the double figure stage completely perplexed.
To the uninitiated, Pokémon plays like a freakish descendent of the kaiju eiga aimed at the pre-vocal; Destroy All Monsters (Kaiju Soshingeki, 1968) filtered through the abstracted aesthetic of Roger Hargreaves' The Mr. Men. The main feature was accompanied by a short film that introduced each of the members of the 150-monster strong Pokémon cast.
This short, Pikachu's Adventure, was 15 minutes of pure bliss: smiley anthropomorphic blobs punching and leaping their way across the screen in delightful colourful abstraction. Pikachu (the most famous little monster, a sort of yellow cat type thing) and his pals attempt to placate a half-hatched Easter Egg character (I didn't catch its name) that keeps breaking into tears. A flying dinosaur monster gets his head stuck in a pipe and is pulled out by the rest of the little monsters. Though I have to confess that I haven't got a clue what was really going on, I've always been a sucker for non-narrative cinema. It looked good, and I chuckled my way through it along with the rest of my fellow audience members.
Coming after this, the main feature was always going to be a bit of a disappointment. Reeling in at 75 minutes, the narrative seemed a little over-extended with a few half-hearted attempts at introducing several moral themes, and the intrusion of the human trainers (all neatly portrayed in the typical occidental anime fashion) diluted the flat two-dimensional minimalist design style of the preceding short. Ah well, nitpicking aside, given the target audience (the under 12s and those on drugs) it succeeds pretty well in its aim.
The majority of reviewers in the West, who seem to have no problem with talking mice or syrupy revisions of world literary classics, have taken to some desperately low swipes in trying to find the Achilles heel of this strange beast. Take this excerpt from the London newspaper The Evening Standard for example: "The banal script, rubbishy animation and confused sentiments lead one to the inevitable conclusion that this is nothing more than a selling tool allied to a global industry based on Japanese nuclear paranoia."
Well, aside from the xenophobic undercurrents of such prose, realism isn't always necessarily the aim of animation - you might as well criticise Matisse or Van Gogh for never quite mastering perspective in their paintings. At the end of the day it's a kids cartoon and, let's face it, the kids loved it. You can deride it as nothing more than a marketing ploy, but other than the cynical view that it is encroaching upon Disney's economic territory, I can't see why a mindless piece of fluff such as Pokémon should be singled out for such invective amongst the toyshop shelves piled high with Buzz Lightyear dolls or Pocahontas lunchboxes.
As for the lack of content, a similar complaint laid at the door of the BBC kiddie program The Teletubbies. Can't we allow our little cherubs some time out from the rigours of the real world without fatuous moralising or high and mighty attempts at 'personal enrichment'? Pokémon is colourful and imaginative, and though I don't think I'll be rushing out to watch the sequel, there were certainly no disappointed faces as we all toddled out of the cinema. Stuff the critics. It may not be The Greatest Story Ever Told, but we had a laugh.