Spoilers for Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You follow.
I’m not sure what I was expecting from the new Pokemon movie, but it certainly wasn’t laughing hysterically, tears streaming down my face, as Ash’s Pikachu unbelievably did what it had never done before.
Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You is basically a remix of the classic Pokemon anime, sped up ten times. It starts from the eponymous Episode 1 and moves at a very fast clip through some of the anime’s most memorable moments–including “Bye Bye Butterfree” and the fact that the flame on Charmander’s tail is apparently its life force–all while trading Brock and Misty for new companions and mixing in a new plot featuring legendary Pokemon Ho-Oh and Marshadow. Oh, and Team Rocket is there, too, doing absolutely nothing the entire time and never interacting with Ash at all, though still somehow earning screen time.
It’s an overwhelming amount of Pokemon story that should be absolutely incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t seen the entire Indigo League series and at least the first two movies. It’s very clear that I Choose You is for the “’90s kids” with a serious amount of nostalgia for the early days of Pokemon, down to the (admittedly cool) Pikachu card distributed with each ticket. And the first 20 or so minutes capture that nostalgia well. Pikachu is cute and sassy, shocking Ash a few times and refusing to get in its Poke Ball before he saves it from a swarm of Spearow and earns its trust. Even as a retread of an old plot, the emphasis on Ash and Pikachu’s bond is heartwarming.
But then, in a moment that calls back to Pokemon: The First Movie–as Ash and Pikachu lay dying, though the details don’t particularly matter–Pikachu does something so horribly cringeworthy that I couldn’t believe it was happening.
Ash implores Pikachu to get in its Poke Ball and to safety, asking why it always refuses. And Pikachu squeaks, in an Anglophone version of its usual high-pitched, strictly name-only speaking voice, “Because I… because I always want to be with you.”
I’m not sure exactly what happened in the moments after that, because I was howling with laughter, but I believe Pikachu jumped off a cliff to resurrect Ash–a far cry from the restorative power of Pikachu’s (silent) tears in Pokemon: The First Movie, which was also nonsensical to begin with.
Despite that, and being bewilderingly fast-paced, I Choose You is fun to watch. As a lifelong Pokemon fan, I was able to laugh at its familiar corniness and the complete disregard for the games’ battle rules (including an Incineroar with an ability that doesn’t exist in the game, treated as a fact and a major plot point). But it also made me miss the days of fat Pikachu, when the only Pokemon that spoke was Team Rocket’s Meowth.
Because really, Pikachu is expressive enough on its own. Pikachu is able to show its initial dislike for Ash, its enthusiasm for battle, and its desire to make new friends all without words, often with a lot of adorable ear movement. Every other scene in the movie relies heavily on Pikachu’s moods to convey Ash’s progress, since it glosses over most of Ash’s journey. Having Pikachu talk is not only awkward but a great way to undermine the literally unspoken bond between them.