Pokémon (1999)
Warner Home Video
Extras: Commentary track, Short films, Music video, Preview

If you have children of any age, chances are you have been brushed by the "Pokémon" frenzy in one way or another – most likely by shelling out money for their games, trading cards and franchise clothing, I suppose. Even for experts it is surprising how this phenomenon has developed from the roots of the original Nintendo video game, to the point that parents are worried about the well-being of their children due to the exorbitant popularity of the game. There certainly is no need to worry, as every generation has such a phenomenon, whether it is the Hoolahoop ring, TV, the Gameboy or Pokémon, the result is always the same – a mass frenzy that appears to be out of this world.

These days, marketers are much better skilled in milking their assets however, and "Pokémon" is the perfect example. What originated as cute little characters in a video game, has turned into a mass franchise that graces practically every household item, draws children in front of the TV screen, makes them collect trading cards – and you were afraid your children wouldn’t want to read – and has even received its very own feature length movie. "Pokémon: The First Movie" is now available on DVD from Warner Home Video, and given the box office success of the film, you better make sure you have enough change in your wallet when your children see this colorful DVD from Warner Home Video sitting on retail shelves.

The story of the movie is rather simple actually and doesn’t offer too much room for surprises. A mad scientist clones Mew, the most powerful of all Pokémon and genetically enhances its abilities even further. The result is Mewtwo, the single most powerful Pokémon the world has ever seen. While the scientist had planned to use Mewtwo for his own schemes, the Pokémon has a will of its own and breaks the shackles of human domination. Mewtwo itself is determined to rule the world and quickly sets out to challenge the most powerful Pokémon-trainers.
With every won tournament, Mewtwo’s army of Pokémon grows and he is about to control every single one of these magical creatures when something unexpected happens. The original Mew shows up to save the world from Mewtwo’s evil powers.

So goes the story of "Pokémon: The First Movie" and for the most part it plays like an extended television episode. While the pacing is generally quite good throughout the movie, the look and feel of the film is exactly the same as the television episodes. There are no increased production values noticeable and the crude style of the art and animation is just the same as that seen on television.

Warner Home Video’s DVD release of the movie is a fine presentation of the movie in a <$PS,fullframe> presentation that matches the aspect ratio of the original negative. The transfer is without noise or grain and generally free of defects. With powerfully rendered colors, the transfer does a great job, bringing the fiery colors of the movie to life without any distracting artifacts. Color delineation is very good and edges are generally sharp without exhibiting any signs of over-enhancement. The same goes for the colors, which are well rendered without over-saturation.
The compression on the disc is also meticulous and without distracting artifacts. No <$pixelation,pixelation> or color bleeding is evident in the transfer, creating a very balanced and pleasing presentation of the movie.

"Pokémon: The First Movie" contains an audio track <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital>. The track is very aggressive and makes great and effective use of the surround channels. The music, while typical children’s Anime style, is well integrated in the mix and helps to create an expansive sound field. Sadly the quality of the English dub of the movie is rather poor and every line is delivered with a kind of pathos that is almost unbearable. As if every single line of dialogue were utterly important, the voice talent exaggerates the entire voice-over work of the film. However, integration of the dialogues in the active mix is very good and the lines are always understandable.

The disc also contains a 20-minute short film called "Pikachu’s Vacation" that plays like another one of the TV episodes. What I found very weird however was the fact that it ran before the actual movie and other than skipping/fast-forwarding through it there was no way to evade this little piece of Japanese animation. I am not sure why Warner decided to do this but I found it rather unattractive since I came to see the movie and not some random Pokémon episode. Your children may feel different about this however…

The disc also contains a <$commentary,commentary track> by Michael Haigney who was responsible for the English translation of the movie and Producer Norman J. Grossfeld. While they do have some insight to offer, the commentary lacks the necessary enthusiasm and entry-level character that could make it appealing to children. Since the film itself is hardly appealing to adult audiences, this <$commentary,commentary track> feels strangely out of place.
Some additional features like "The Story Of Mewtwo" and "Ash’s Journey" are also on the disc, as is a sneak preview of the second Pokémon movie. For parents, the extensive "Behind The Scenes" notes can work as a survival guide in the Pokémon universe, explaining exactly where the Pokémon phenomenon comes from and on what principles the gameworld works. On an interesting sidenote, all Pokémon displayed in the disc’s many menu screens also carry their identification number that relates to the Pokémon playing and trading cards for reference.
A funny little music video and the film’s theatrical trailer round up the "Super Features" on this disc, and to top it all off, you will find a very special trading card in the DVD package.

Without a doubt, this DVD is full of material for the dedicated Pokémon fan – your children that is most likely. The movie has little appeal for adults, but is generally entertaining if you are familiar with the basic Pokémon games universe. The presentation on the DVD is great and the fact that the movie is coming in a <$PS,fullframe> presentation also underscores that it is aimed at young audiences. Many of the features are also directed at Pokémon enthusiasts and collectors and as such make a great addition to this release that you won’t find on the movie’s VHS version.