Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Pokemon 3: The Movie (2001)
Studio Line: Warner Bros.

In this animated feature, young Pokemon trainer Ash Ketchum and his loyal friends journey to the beautiful mountain town of Greenfield, where they will encounter the Unown, the most mysterious of all Pokemon. It is the Unown that create a challenge for Ash far greater than any Pokemon battle he has ever experienced before. With help from Pikachu and all his faithful Pokemon, plus friends Brock and Misty and even a little unexpected assistance from Team Rocket, Ash must rescue the young orphan Molly from the mystical forces that threaten to transform her life into a dreamworld prison. At the same time, Ash must also struggle to bring his own mother back from the realm of the Unown before she is lost forever and he becomes an orphan himself.

Director: Michael Haigney
Cast: Veronica Taylor, Eric Stuart, Rachael Lillis, Addie Blaustein, Ikue Ootani
Box Office: Budget: $3 million. Opening Weekend: $8.24 million (2675 screens). Domestic Gross: $17.052 million.
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1; subtitles English, French; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 20 chapters; Rated G; 91 min.; $24.98; street date 8/21/2001.
Supplements: Audio Commentary by English Adaptation Director Michael Haigney and Producer Norman J. Grossfeld; Bonus Animated Short Pikachu and Pichu; Making of “To Know the Unknown” Music Video; Johto Pokerap; Little Known Unown Facts; Trailers; DVD-ROM Links.
Purchase: DVD | Pokemon Movie Collection

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/A/C+

Even before I started to watch Pokemon 3: The Movie, I got a headache. Just looking at the cover, I couldn’t decipher the actual name of the film. Through consultation with other sources, I concluded that it was Pokemon 3: The Movie, but it sure looked like it was called Pokemon the Movie 3; since the first one was titled Pokemon: The First Movie and the second was Pokemon: the Movie 2000, such a name could make sense.

Nonetheless, I’ll just call it P3 for most of this review. It also contains the subtitle “Spell of the Unown”, but there’s no way I’m going to deal with that nuisance as well.

Another headache-inducing aspect of the DVD relates to its potential supplements and how they’re described on the case. Because all of the movies are pretty brief, during their theatrical runs they included Pokemon shorts that preceded the main feature. The first flick offered the hallucinatory “Pikachu’s Vacation”, while P2K tossed in “Pikachu’s Rescue Adventure”. That 91-minute running time you see listed above for P3 factors in this disc’s short, “Pikachu & Pichu”; the movie itself only runs about 73 minutes.

On one hand, the DVD case lists “P&P” as though it’s almost an equal partner with “Spell of the Unown”; both are actively described on the back. However, if we look under “Special Features For Your DVD Player”, it calls “P&P” a “bonus animated short”. How confusing!

In fact, the whole affair is such a mess that I haven’t been able to keep it straight during my prior reviews. For PTFM, I listed the short as an extra, but for P2K, I considered it part of the feature. I just don’t know if I’m coming or going, I guess. Nonetheless, for P3, I’m returning to my original decision; I think these shorts should be considered “extras”, though - as was the case for A Bug’s Life’s “Geri’s Game”, the lines blur terribly.

Man, I hadn’t even stuck the DVD in the player and I already was disturbed! And I haven’t even griped about the fact P3 continued the trend found with the first two movies; Warner Bros. refuses to release any of these films in their original aspect ratio. Unfortunately, my pain wouldn’t end there, as I’d encounter more suffering as I actually watched P3.

Not that I felt P3 was a dreadful film, for within the world of Pokemon, it’s pretty much on a par with prior releases. Actually, I must state that I preferred the first two flicks, but that’s not a tremendous endorsement; both seemed to be pretty mediocre, and the differences between P3 and the others appear to be quite minor.

Probably the biggest drawback to P3 stems from its relative lack of plot. The first two stuck with the usual “mega-villain who must be stopped”, and this one goes along the same lines as well, though with a twist. Little Molly’s mother disappeared quite some time ago, and at the start of the film, her dad also vanishes, apparently due to a quest to find the Unown, another kind of Pokemon. Oddly, another critter named Entei appears, and he grants Molly any wish she desires. All she wants is to be in a family, so she calls Entei “Dad” and has him round up a mother as well. Unfortunately, she picks the mom of Poke-hero Ash, who doesn’t seem too eager to cede her to Molly.

However, Entei’s a powerful dude, what with him being powered by the Unown and all (I guess). He creates a crystal fortress around Molly, and it’s up to Ash and the others to disrupt this before it totally ruins the once-lovely town of Greenfield.

Or something like that. Maybe I’m just too old and stodgy for Pokemon, but the story usually made little sense. On the other hand, that tone actually made lots of sense, for the plot functioned as nothing more than a framework onto which lots of fight scenes could be grafted. More so than the prior two films, P3 existed as a conglomeration of Pokemon battle sequences. Banal as they were, at least the first two movies attempted to tell stories. During P3, a token plot that related to families appeared, but in truth, all this served as an excuse to have lots of different Pokemon quarrel.

For what they were, some of these sequences worked pretty well. I didn’t think they were terribly exciting, but I could see why kids would like them. The Pokemon are usually creative and interesting, and the presentation makes the whole thing flashy and active. P3 stiffed at the box office, as it represented the gradual decline of the franchise. Pokemon: The First Movie grossed a very-respectable $85 million, while the take for Pokemon the Movie 2000 dropped to barely half that amount. P3 sank even more precipitously; it went from the $43 million of its immediate predecessor to a weak $17 million.

Considering the negligible costs of adapting the film for an American audience, that’s still a decent profit, but it seems clear that the Pokemon craze nears its end. A fourth movie is in the works, but I’d be surprised if it got a theatrical release in the US; a direct-to-video path would make more sense.

If the powers-that-be would ask me, I’d tell them why the third flick tanked: no Squirtle! Although I maintain very little interest in Pokemon, I must admit that I’m fond of this little bizarre-turtle. He’s cute, he’s tough, and he’s cool. Unfortunately, Squirtle is nowhere to be found in either “Spell of the Unown” or “Pikachu & Pichu”. What gives? We see a million other Pokemon but not the best of the bunch? You reap what you sow, I guess. Bring back Squirtle and watch the grosses soar!

Or maybe not. Truth to tell, it really does appear that Pokemon is done as a major fad. I’m sure it’ll still run on TV, but it looks like most of the kids have moved on to other things. For those who remain interested, they may get a kick out of Pokemon 3: The Movie. I thought it was the weakest of the three films, but for what it was, it worked reasonably well at times. P3 won’t create any new fans, but it should satisfy the Poke-faithful.

The DVD:

Pokemon 3: The Movie appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As was the case with the first two Pokemon movies, this one definitely did not appear in either its original theatrical aspect ratio - which appears to have been 1.85:1 - or in an “unmatted” transfer. The latter case refers to films that are shot so that the entire 1.33:1 frame is exposed but then cropped to different dimensions for theatrical screenings. In these instances, the images are intended to be seen at the matted size; although unmatted transfers fill your entire TV screen, the extra information is not supposed to appear.

On its DVD case, the first Pokemon film touted that it indeed offered an unmatted transfer, but I - and others - felt otherwise; it seemed too cramped on the sides. As was the case with P2K, P3 made no similar claims; indeed, it stated that “this film has been formatted to fit your screen” on the back of the case. I found that statement to be undeniably true; the cropping that occurred on the edges of the frame seemed very obvious much of the time, and I also noted a few pans. For just a few obvious examples, check out the first battle in chapter four or the picnic table sequence in chapter five; both clearly looked cramped at the sides, and they seemed to chop off part of the image.

Why studios think that kids will explode if their movies don’t appear fullframe remains a mystery to me, but that seems to be the rationale for this transfer. Frankly, I doubt that P3 suffered much from the lack of original aspect ratio, but that’s not the point. All films should appear in their theatrical dimensions no matter what; no exceptions should be made.

Despite the lack of correct framing, P3 presented a reasonably strong image, one that matched up positively against the first two DVDs. Sharpness usually looked crisp and detailed, although a few scenes appeared oddly soft. Characters occasionally were surprisingly unfocussed and fuzzy when seen in shots with roughly three or more participants. This problem seemed to stem from the shoddy quality of the original artwork and not due to transfer concerns, but the end result remained the same: sharpness that periodically was less than satisfactory. This issue also affected the first two DVDs, probably because the artwork hasn’t improved over that period.

Neither jagged edges nor moiré effects presented any substantial concerns, but I did discern some mild edge enhancement on occasion. Print quality seemed to be very strong. I detected a few speckles throughout the movie, but these remained quite minor, and the image largely looked fresh.

Colors generally appeared to be quite bright and bold, but they also tended to show some noisiness. Once again, that quality mainly seemed to stem from the crude artwork. The hazy nature of some hues seemed present mainly when we got a fairly static look at characters. As a whole, colors looked strong, but this weakness caused some minor concerns. Black levels appeared entirely solid and deep, and shadow detail was clear and appropriately opaque. Overall, P3 displayed some minor defects but it generally was very clear and watchable.

Also fairly strong was the film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Throughout the film we’re treated to a nicely active and engaging soundfield. All five speakers received a lot of usage and kept the action lively. The forward spectrum provided good stereo separation for the music, and both effects and some speech emanated realistically from the sides. The surrounds kicked in a tremendous amount of information, especially during the battle scenes. At times, the track became quite involving, and it really created a terrific environment. As was also the case for MewTwo in PTFM, we found a character here whose voice reverberated neatly in the rear channels; whenever Entei spoke, the surrounds displayed a nice boom that added a good level of reinforcement.

Audio quality appeared very positive. Dialogue seemed to be reasonably natural and distinct. In the past, I felt the words didn’t neatly fit the movements, and though this problem will always plague Pokemon and other translated animation, I felt the speech fit the characters more neatly than usual. In any case, the lines were clear and warm, and they displayed no problems related to intelligibility or edginess.

Another improvement over past soundtracks related to the power of the music and effects. In my review of P2K, I felt these elements were a little lackluster, but that definitely wasn’t the case with P3. This was a very dynamic soundtrack that supplied consistently clean highs and some deep lows. Bass response seemed to be tight and rich, and those aspects of the mix really came into their own at times. The music appeared to be quite bright and bold, and the effects packed a strong punch. I noticed no signs of the mild distortion I’d heard in the past. Ultimately, Pokemon 3: The Movie boasted a very fine soundtrack that really worked well for the material.

The DVD release of Pokemon: The First Movie seemed odd. On one hand, its fullframe transfer showed that it was for a casual, kid-oriented audience. On the other, however, it tossed in a slew of extras, a fact that made it seem like it was meant for DVD-loving geeks like myself.

For Pokemon the Movie 2000, Warner Bros. scaled back the package; it featured a few extras, but not nearly as many as were located on the DVD for the first film. P3 falls between its two predecessors. While it outdoes the skimpy package created for P2K, it’s not quite as loaded as the decent product made for PTFM.

Of course, one of these “extras” remains controversial. Should I call the 17-minute and 40-second short Pikachu & Pichu a supplement or not? Whatever arguments go either way, consider it a supplement I shall, and it was a reasonably fun one. In this piece, the whole gang go to an unnamed big city for the day; Ash and company release their Pokemon to check out the town and have fun. The only caveat: the Pokemon can’t get in any trouble, and they all need to reconvene by six PM.

Pikachu encounters the Pichu, critters that resemble him/her/it, and some mild shenanigans ensue. “P&” was entertainingly silly and odd, though it didn’t approach the gloriously incoherent and hallucinogenic heights of “Pikachu’s Vacation”. One odd aspect of “P&”: we only saw Ash and the other humans from the knees down. This isn’t Peanuts, where adults never appear; why the odd style?

Among the uncontested supplements, first we find an audio commentary from "English adaptation" director/cowriter Michael Haigney and "English adaptation" producer/cowriter Norman J. Grossfeld. Both were recorded together for this running, screen-specific affair. The two men also provided a fairly engaging track for Pokemon: The First Movie, and this one followed nicely on the heels of that effort.

Actually, some parts of the new commentary seemed a little redundant. Some of the piece they created for the initial film dealt with issues caused by their attempts to translate the original Japanese work for an American audience, and they covered a lot of the same topics here. However, the focus seemed a little different, and I didn’t think the discussion felt tired or that they were repeating themselves. Haigney and Grossfeld were appropriately chipper and involving, and they made this a fairly entertaining program even for those of us who don’t much like Pokemon.

The remaining extras are less substantial. We find The Making of To Know the Unknown, a song by girl group Innosense. During this two-minute and 50-second clip, we see the babes as they rehearse and record the song, and they also discuss it in some interview snippets. While they’re fairly attractive, one word comes to mind when I think of this piece: yawn. It’s bland and inconsequential, just like the tune itself.

Next we get another song, the Johto Pokerap. As explained at the conclusion of the clip, “This project was done in-house and will be added at the end of Season 4 TV episodes”. The wimpily generic tune bounces along to lyrical accompaniment that almost entirely consists of names of Pokemon; the images all show these various characters. Well, I suppose it’s useful if you want a quick education in Pokemon. Unforgivable sin: no Squirtle!

In addition we find a teaser trailer for the American release of P3 plus a Japanese ad for the fourth movie. Some English subtitles would have been nice, but the latter was actually pretty interesting, if just to see differences. The Japanese clip made Pokemon seem a lot darker than our adaptations. Finally, Little Known Unown Facts! provides six tidbits, all of which will already be familiar if you’ve watched the movie. For the record, the latter seem to be the “Production Notes” promised on the back cover; I saw no evidence of any other material that fit such a bill.

Those with DVD-ROM drives get a few additional extras, all of which are links to Internet sites. There are connections to the webpages for Pokemon 3: The Movie, “the Official Pokemon Website”, Pokemon: the First Movie and Pokemon the Movie 2000, Warner Bros. Kids, and a Wizards of the Coast site that touts the Pokemon cards. Speaking of which, the DVD includes a special “Unown J Promo Card”. It’s a holographic coin that may make sense to someone who plays the Pokemon games.

Due to the declining profits brought in by the pictures, this will probably be my final review of a Pokemon movie. I have to say that although these weren’t good flicks by any stretch of the imagination, they weren’t as bad as they could have been. The world of Pokemon offers enough colorful and creative characters to sustain interest for kids, and the virtually limitless number of new participants makes it a bottomless well.

Pokemon 3: The Movie was the weakest of the films, but it still should be interesting to fans. The DVD offered good picture plus excellent sound and a smattering of extras, including an audio commentary that may entertain the adults in the audience. Ultimately Pokemon 3: The Movie lacks much appeal for those above the age of 10, but kids who still dig the series should get a kick out of it, and it lacks anything objectionable that might bother parents.

Equipment: Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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