A Decade After Pokemon: The First Movie
I was going to originally wait until next month to publish this article but once the true weight of this piece made its presence clear in my head and wouldn’t leave I decided it would be best to go ahead and write it. On Friday November 12th, 1999 a very peculiar event took place. A movie came out actually and — I’m sorry Kevin Smith, this article is not about your movie Dogma — this article is about none other than Pokemon: The First Movie.
Yeah, that one. If I told you that I wasn’t a fan of Pokemon when I was younger then my nose would probably grow to borderline inappropriate lengths this very second. Holy crap did I live for that game when I was in middle school. I was in 5th grade when Pokemon Red and Blue were released for the Nintendo Game Boy in September 1998 and on a whim I picked up a copy of Blue (just to spite all of my friends who got Red). Prior to Pokemon’s North American release my first encounter with the game came with a passing reference to it in a 1995/1996 spoken-word comedy album I took part in wherein I mistakenly referred to one of the characters (Charmander) as “Pokemon”. We wrote the quick joke from a “sneak peak” in a Disney Adventures Magazine issue we read looking for bits to write about and perform.
When I sat down and started playing Pokemon Blue some crazy stuff had to have gone down in my head. The game shut me up from being all gay about Spyro the Dragon just long enough for me to become engulfed and addicted to the game and one year later when I heard there was a movie coming out I proverbially crapped myself. In hindsight I don’t even know why I was so into Pokemon, truth be told now that I look back on it it’s kind of silly and whenever my friends (toting their fancy DSi’s) ask me if I want to “play Pokes” I just kinda give them that “ewww, no” look. The newest Pokemon RPG game that I have played is 1999’s Pokemon Yellow, and I would very much like to keep it that way. Believe it or not in some strange sense when Gold and Silver came out I saw it more as a hasty addendum to make a quick buck on rather than a truly inspired game, which is something that I have since carried with me this past decade and the current “generation” of Pokemon definitely reflect that notion.
Pokemon Snap, Pokemon’s debut onto the Nintendo 64, was no exception. Good god was that game terrible. Whoever stood up in that marketing meeting and shouted “let’s make them take pictures” needs to be taken outside and put down. Furthermore who could forget Hey You, Pikachu!? I mean, I can’t blame you for wanting to forget it but still, there’s a special kind of awkward that comes with shouting at a yellow rat on a TV screen when he won’t open the magic treasure chest or whatever. In its history Pokemon has had a fair number of trainwrecks but there were a few that were solid gold to me and that’s all that really mattered.
That’s beyond the point, though, because this article pertains specifically to one movie and one movie only. Not a present-day dull franchise or any two-bit spin-off series in the game’s legacy either. I kept a journal off and on during my 5th and 6th grade years (and partly up into 8th grade) and I actually remember keeping track of the days until that movie’s release. I made a big deal about it too and the Friday it came out in theaters I was planning to see it that day and at the 12:00 showing. I was always a good student but I was willing to sacrifice that lame Perfect Attendance award in exchange for seeing Pokemon. The cinema where I live was actually getting the film which was a surprise because they usually pick up a lot of crap movies. I convinced my parents to let me skip school to wait in line to see the Pokemon movie and to top it all off I arrived at the theater somewhere around nine in the morning just to make sure I was the first in line.
Nobody showed up, including the employees, until around 11:30. A few of my friends played hookey as well but all in all they didn’t sell that many tickets for the first showing; it later sold out for the evening showings and I would know because I paid to see those too. I saved my ticket all these years and I really feel that a scan of it would make this article more personal, but for the life of me I cannot find the damn folder the thing is inside of so instead I will simply inform you of my intentions and hope that you will forgive me and my lack of mental categorization of seemingly unimportant artifacts and just pretend that the next picture is a scan of that ticket.
That movie was easily the greatest thing that I can remember happening to me when I was younger, which probably sounds incredibly pathetic but when I was younger I had a difficult time making friends and by just playing that stupid game I managed to make quite a few of them, some of whom I still talk to on a regular basis. Everything about the movie was almost magic as it unfolded before me on that giant screen. I remember hearing that now-godawful “Vacation” song by Vitamin C in the Pikachu’s Vacation mini-movie while everyone else around me in the theater took leisure in pointing out and identifying every single Pokemon as they appeared on the screen. The second the television show’s theme song remix played in the film, though, that’s when my mind was blown (and then was subsequently blown a bunch more times in the remaining 92 minutes or so of the movie). Ever since I had beaten Blue a million times it seemed I always wondered what was up with Mewtwo and what he was doing in the Unknown Dungeon (and also what was up with the destroyed lab at Cinnabar Island). This movie answered that and then some. It’s worth noting that although I have been writing for almost 15 years Pokemon was my inspiration to take a break from comedy and work on short fiction and by that I will say through gritted teeth that I once wrote Pokemon fanfiction.
I think now that I look back on it and watch the movie for the purpose of this article I see how so much of it definitely hasn’t aged well and is rather cringeworthy but this was “my thing” back then and as goofy as hell as it is I respect that. The plot was so predictable and cliche even down to Ash getting blown up and he being revived by everybody crying (do I even have to mark that as a spoiler anymore?). It was kinda lame even back then but I didn’t let it bother me because like I hinted to earlier I saw that movie again. And again. And again. I spent a substantial portion of my 6th grade fortune on seeing that movie four times that day and then of course that weekend when my friends who were too cool to skip school went to see it I was invited to go along… so I happily obliged.
I didn’t pay for all of those tickets, of course. Many of those showings I theater-hopped to attend which was evident especially when it sold out because there were curiously more people than seats in the room and some of us were standing. I paid for probably about 12 tickets to that movie but I remember seeing it a lot more times than that. When we theater-hopped in between shows my friends and I usually hid in the bathroom and just played on our Game Boys until the next showing was ready, then we’d all just trickle into the movie while the previews were starting. Worked every time.
I capitalized on that movie, too. People dropped their promo cards on the floor during every showing so stuck around after the credits when the lights came on and picked them all up. When all was said and done I had a giant stack of those cards that I later just sold off to other people or traded away.
Holy crap. TRADING.
Burger King, dear god. Burger King had that plethora of Pokemon toys and also had their “official trading night” where everyone met up on Tuesday nights while the movie was in theaters to trade Pokemon and battle each other. That was social networking before shit like MySpace and Facebook existed. The Pokemon community was so alive where I lived that trading night carried on for an entire year until the Burger King in our town closed. I was there, without fail, every Tuesday night. We were fortunate enough that the employees didn’t actually care that we showed up every single week because we mostly kept to ourselves and let’s face it if we’re buying sodas and burgers at least they’re making money off of us and everyone’s happy when money is involved. I ate so many of their kids’ meals in the name of collecting toys and cards it’s a miracle of modern science that I am not grotesquely fat today. I own the original Burger King promotional poster with all of the toys on it as well as the cardboard standee of Mewtwo that was on display (among others). Almost a decade later my talking Pikachu still emits a re-assuring “PIKA-CHU!” whenever I squeeze him.
On November 12, 2009 it will have been ten years since this all took place. A whole decade. I will admit it truly doesn’t “feel like yesterday” like many people say, but in that same respect to me it feels like, at maximum, like two weeks ago. Ten years is such a long time and I just don’t know if I will be able to really fathom the gravity of it all when that day comes and goes this year. It sounds so trivial to mark “the release of an admittedly bad animated movie” as such a major point in my life but it was just that to me. I lived. When I went into high school I really just kind of fell off the radar socially; I became quiet. I didn’t go to very many parties (none, actually) and I didn’t really have a special someone to take to mostly all of the school dances. That quietness still lingers with me today; I’m in my 7th semester at college and I honestly cannot recall “hanging out” with a single person from any of my classes. Ever. I’m just “that guy”, really. The one who everyone knows is a little off-kilter and means well but the one who people just disregard… and I have been “that guy” my whole life.
I fit in with a lot of people back in 1999, I had a lot of friends. I went to “parties” even if said parties were just get-togethers to make a pilgrimage to the theater to see Pokemon: The First Movie or to just watch it on VHS and enjoy snacks and games. I’ve heard of a lot of people having difficulties coping with turning 20 and “growing up” and whatnot, but I didn’t; to me 20 was just another year, so was 21, and 22 will be as well. No, what really pulls on the strings of my heart and my very existence is how fast it seems time has passed since I was sneaking into screenings of Pokemon or hanging out at a fast food restaurant trading cards and shooting the shit with my friends. It doesn’t feel like 10 years have passed and I don’t want to believe that 10 years have come and gone. I don’t want to look back on some of the fondest memories I have in my life in terms of double digits. I don’t care that I am in my twenties these days, I just care that a lot of the things that made me happy are moving farther and farther away, like Wilson in Cast Away.
I never would have thought that a stupid movie would be what would teach me my lesson in growing up, but it did. It doesn’t quite matter how many times I make that wish to be waiting in line at the ticket booth at 9:00 A.M. on November 12th, 1999, because 1999 was a one time event and really, all things considered, I’m glad I made the best of it when I had the chance.