Since 1996, the worldwide phenomenon known (in many countries) as Pokémon has left a mark on pop culture as a whole. With multiple video games, a long running anime TV series, card games and other media, Pikachu and the rest of the gang have become as much a part of our lives as cereal mascots, commercial jingles, and any of those other bits of nerdom mush.
But one aspect of the Pokémon franchise that doesn’t get enough credit are the films released during its 20 plus year history. Much like Godzilla or any niche fandom-specific movie series, the Pokémon movies aren’t exactly masterly crafted cinema – but for what they are, some of them happen to have some pretty amazing moments. A few have even have left a mark on spectators who don’t know their Poké Ball from their Master Ball.
But the upcoming release of the first live action Pokémon film, Detective Pikachu, it’s about time some of the best moments in this 22 movie-long series get some love and respect. Not in the way Brock feels towards Officer Jessie and Nurse Joy, mind you, but in a celebration of the fun and excitement these scenes continue to bring to Pokémon fans young and old.
*DISCLAIMER: This list focus on the American cuts of the films, and is not including the Pikachu related-short films or any other shorts/tie-ins
Ash’s Mom is Taken by Entei (Spell of the Unown)
One thing that has always stayed heartwarming within the canon of Pokémon is the relationship between Ash and his mom. We’ve seen this ponytail rocking parent go through it all – the struggles, the losses, the late morning yells, and the laughs. But no Delia Ketchum specific moment really struck an emotional chord quite like the one in Spell of the Unown – one that took our lead hero and his friends completely by surprise.
In the film, a little girl named Molly is orphaned when both of her parents (in the English dub) become lost in the Unown Dimension. Suddenly, the Unown hear Molly’s cries of sadness, and begin feeding off of her energy by making her dreams come true. First they give her a papa, in the form of an illusionary Entei, along with a castle. But then she asks for a mama, pointing towards the TV, and it just so happens to be Delia.
This leads Delia, Ash, and the rest of the gang to be completely caught off guard, as Entei leeps in front of their delightful picnic lunch, casting a spell on Delia – making her believe that Molly is indeed her only child. Ash screams out to his usually loyal mother, and becomes emotionally crushed at the mere thought he couldn’t do anything to stop Entei.
The reason this scene still plucks at your heartstrings with such intensity is because of the consistency we’ve seen in Ash and Delia’s relationship. She’s always been the mom that would go through hell or high water for her child, no matter what obstacles were in her way. But to see her become completely defenseless, and Ash not have any control over the situation, is truly heartbreaking – especially when you’ve seen their relationship grow more and more throughout the series.
Ash’s Strange Dream (I Choose You!)
There is always a moment where even the most predictable of properties takes an interesting risk – and for many, a specific scene in the I Choose You movie did just that. No, I’m not talking about a certain moment where a certain Pokémon begins to talk (we’ll get to that later) – nah, this one is a bit more of an visual risk. And it’s the kind that makes your mind spin more than a Dead or Alive record.
In the moment, Ash makes a dramatic statement – one in which he says he wish he had picked a different Pokémon as his starter instead of Pikachu. Suddenly, the mysterious Pokémon known as Marshadow puts him into a sleep-like state, sinking deep into a dream. When he awakes, we find him inside his room with his mom waking him up for school – which of course, he is late for. Everything seems to be going as it did in the first episode of the anime, until we (and Ash) notice the details – specifically that Pokémon don’t seem to exist in this alternative dream world.
This borderline Twilight Zone take on a world without Pokémon really gives the movie a somber and creepy tone. And though it is a moment that isn’t discussed for the rest of the film, it actually stands as the most powerful – especially to those longtime OG fans, who have witnessed the ups and downs of this Ash and Pikachu for 20 something years. It is absolutely gut-punching certified.
Pikachu Cries for Ash (Mewtwo Strikes Back)
When I think about my relationship to the Pokémon franchise, I go through a number of emotions. From the highs of seeing Ash win the most intense of challenges, to the deep feeling of sadness when he lets Butterfree go, the “feels” are a plenty. But none of them hold quite as important of a reaction than a specific moment from Mewtwo Strikes Back. One that I consider to be the first time I ever started to cry in a movie theater – and I’ll always remember it well.
In the scene, we as the audience have just experienced an epic battle between Mewtwo and Mew, one that sees our hero fall in the crossfire. These two incredibly powerful creatures fight with all their might to be the victor, but when Ash tries to break up the fight, the results are nothing short of heartbreaking – especially when you see Pikachu and the rest of the Pokémon, start to cry at the frozen sight of this heroic individual.
Maybe it was because I was 9 years old, or that I had fell in love with these characters and their world so much, but nothing had ever felt more gut wrenching in my entire cinema-going life quite like this. These are the moments that make Pokémon such a special piece of pop culture history – because the emotions set on screen, as Hallmark card-worthy as they are, are genuine to the core. And that’s something that will never changed.
Lugia’s Song (The Power of One)
One of the (arguably) best things about the Pokémon franchise is the music. Though American fans got very different soundtracks than the Japanese counterparts, this specific scene from The Power of One (with original compositions by Ralph Schuckett) shows that sometimes, in rare instances, the American version gets something really right.
Here, the three legendary birds (Zapdos, Articuno, and Moltres) have all fought a chaotic war, one that also involved the magnificent Lugia. Ash has just collected all of the treasures needed to restore peace to the birds and to the world at large, and Melody (a musically talented girl from the Orange Islands) sets foot inside the Shamouti Island shrine, and begins to play a beautiful song – one that lifts the spirits of the fallen Pokémon, and saves the world from total chaos.
And even after almost 20 years, this moment still retains that brilliant feeling of fantasies coming true, that wonder of finding presents under the tree on Christmas morning, that never gets old. Couple that together with stunning music, along with equally wonderful visuals, and it is hard to find a scene that captures the magical possibilities of the Pokémon franchise any better.
Ash and Latias Kiss (Pokémon Heroes)
The Pokémon franchise is no stranger to having Pokémon-involved romances. Brock fell for a ghost lady that ended up being a Gastly in the TV series, and in the film Pokémon Heroes, the legendary dragon-like Latias gets a crush on Ash. It is a tale as old as nostalgic time for us, but the melodramatic beauty of it still remains adorably fascinating.
In the film, Ash and friends reach the town of Alto Mare, known to be guarded by the dragon Pokémon duo of Latias and Latios. When Ash arrives, he bumps into a mysterious girl, who also appears to look almost identical to a local named Bianca. She and her grandfather protect the garden home of the legendary Pokémon siblings, and are in need of Ash and company’s help with making sure Alto Mare’s most precious artifacts (including said Pokémon) don’t fall into the wrong hands.
But of course, as there is in every Pokémon movie, there’s a threat of the world falling into some sort of chaos. But in the midst of such intensity, there is a strong bond that forms between Latias and Ash – one that, after all the battles are finished and Alto Mare seems to be safe once again, culminates in the most sweetest of scenes.
As they are about to leave, Ash sees Bianca running through the city, trying to get his attention. Silent, but with a twinkle in her eye, they meet on the dock. She hands him a painting and delivers a sweet innocent kiss. But the mystery of mysteries – was it Bianca or Latias? Though to the viewer it seems quite obvious, seeing Misty and Brock completely clueless to the answer is adorable, and Ash’s face is priceless – as is seeing a bit of romance in any of these Pokémon movies.
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Every Battle Within Molly’s Castle (Spell of the Unown)
Throughout the course of Spell of the Unown (which is my favorite of the entire Pokémonfilm series) we see our young antagonist Molly go through quite the array of battles – both emotionally and of the trainer variety. She is a little girl with a great deal of weight on her shoulders, the kinds that the mysterious Unown latch onto almost immediately.
This intense combo of a young child’s grief, paired with that of powerful Pokémon abilities, create some of the most visually interesting and emotionally intense battles in this franchise’ film legacy. But what makes it so hard to choose which of these scenes is the best, is due to their importance – it is nearly impossible to fully grasp the complexity of Molly’s arc if you only discuss one of the three battles she endures inside her crystal palace.
In each of them, she learns the fundamental basics of being a good Pokémon trainer, while also learning how to process her grief. Though she may indeed be “alone” in the sense of both of her parents being gone, she eventually begins to believe in them always being by her side and protecting her. It’s a powerful lesson for Pokémon, or any kids-geared franchise, to teach and Spell of the Unowndid it with grace, style, and lots of beautifully cinematic shots of people throwing Poké Balls on the ground.
Slowking Breaking the Fourth Wall (The Power of One)
Comedy within the history of Pokémonis a bit of a mixed bag. Some jokes have remained just a bit of an nostalgic awkward chuckle, while others still pack a punch in the funny bone some 20 years later. Among them (at least for this writer) are those that involve the breaking of the fourth Wall. And one such moment in The Power of One really tops them all.
After the grand finale of Ash (yet again) saving the Pokémon world, Team Rocket reflect on the insanity that just took place over the film’s 82 minute running time – specifically contemplating if anyone took notice of their heroic efforts. Suddenly, Slowking appears from the distance proclaiming that indeed someone knew of the trio’s heroism, and they were watching it right now.
Yeah, maybe the notion of characters coming to terms that they are in a movie is a bit immature nowadays (especially since John Hughes’ take on such a reaction is hard to top), but there’s something about a silly sounding, larger than life Pokémon such as Slowking, and Team Rocket, realizing that they are part of something much more grand than they could ever realize. The timing, the delivery – it’s all a bit of comedic perfection in that special Pokémon sort of way.
Lucario at Peace (Lucario and the Mystery of Mew)
In Lucario and the Mystery of Mew, we go back to the time before Poké Balls, in which a master named Sir Aaron, and his trusty Pokémon Lucario, are caught in an intense life changing battle. There’s a lot of exposition that happens here, but the main thing to keep in mind is that Aaron makes an incredibly important decision – one that leads Lucario to be stuck inside of a magical staff, unable to save his master from sacrificing himself for peace and prosperity.
But when Ash assumes the role of Sir Aaron, a thousand years later, Lucario is released from the staff, without any knowledge that time has passed. He slowly begins to realize what happened to his master so many years ago, and is filled with an incredible amount of grief. Fortunately, such regret is stripped away in one beautifully poetic scene, in which (after using the last bit of his energy to save Mew and the world), a magical time flower reveals Aaron last moments – where he asks for Lucario’s forgiveness, bringing the Pokémon some peace during his own final moments.
We don’t often get to see a lot of strong moments between a Pokémon and their trainer in the series outside of Ash and Pikachu’s relationship. So it’s refreshing to not only witness another strong bond (that spans centuries), but to also witness one that existed in a time before the typical modern Pokémon world we’re used to. Couple that together with the time-related melodrama, and the magic within the plot, and this scene knows how to bring on the waterworks.
Ash’s Opening Battle (Mewtwo Strikes Back)
For the American fanbase of the franchise, there is nothing more iconic than first theme song for Pokémon. “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” is as oddly uplifting as anything Schoolhouse Rock produced and it exemplifies the signature sound of what it felt like to be a child of the ’90s. And with the movie version cover by Billy Crawford, that feeling was turned up to a 11. The heavy guitar riffs, the pulsating dance beat, and Crawford’s boy band vocals just made everything cooler. But when you set that to the opening battle of a Pokémon movie? Well, nothing gets more epic, and decade-defining, than that
Though it seems simple enough on paper, it is the stylistic decisions, in addition to the music, that really amps an otherwise basic battle to a whole new level. When comparing it to the animated series, we had never seen Pokémon battles done on this scale before. The slow motion shots, seeing unique angles of Bulbasaur and Squirtle doing their thing, along with Pikachu bringing on the final blow, it all was a sight to be admired from beginning to end.
Pikachu Talks to Ash (I Choose You!)
Much of I Choose You is heavily tied to the nostalgia of the older Pokémon fanbase. Yes, younger fans can get some enjoyment from it, but there’s something definitely unique about seeing this film if you’ve been in it for “the long haul”. We’ve been with Ash when he choose Pikachu as his starter, his tough decision to let Pikachu go live on his own, and multiple battles that tested their friendship again and again. But among the toughest of those battles brought on the most interesting of reactions.
The moment occurs when a group of Pokémon are turned evil, and attack Ash and his friends. Pikachu runs into the crossfire of the battle, trying to protect Ash, but then falls to the ground. Ash questions why Pikachu wouldn’t go inside of his pokéball, to which (in human language) he responds “because I always want to be with you.”
Throughout the TV series and films, there have only been special instances in which Pokémon have been able to talk like humans. Either they were man-made Pokémon with super intelligence (Mewtwo), or have some sort of enhanced telepathic or legendary abilities (like Lugia or Entei), the decision to make a Pokémon speak in the human language is one that has to be handled with care. And to many, this one wasn’t. And especially when you consider how many intense moments Pikachu and Ash have had together, including many near-death experiences (that never needed Pikachu to say anything other than his signature “pika pika” or a facial reaction), moments like the one in I Choose You seem inherently lazy and cheap.
Regardless of your reaction, there is no denying how much of an impact this one decision has left on the Pokémon fanbase as a whole. From the outpouring of passionate tweets, posts, and articles written, this moment is absolutely iconic. It doesn’t have to have gained an overwhelmingly positive reaction, but it sparked the kind of debate that fans old and young will be having for years to come.
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