Voice of the Forest Review
Although I use the English name of the movie and its characters, I was watching the Japanese version subtitled rather than the English dub. Due to the notorious editing done by 4Kids, the dub is often vastly different from the original that I am reviewing, so keep that in mind. If, by the way, I'm not using the correct official translation of some term or something, I'd appreciate a correction, since I'm trying to be consistent in that regard.
Thoughts and Synopsis
If there is such a thing as the archetypal Pokémon movie plotwise, it's probably this. There's an evil villain who doesn't treat his Pokémon as friends. There is a legendary Pokémon that goes on a rampage. There are scenes just to show off some Pokémon being cute. There is a raging deus ex machina at the end to make everything good and happy again once the kids have started to cry. That is not to say it is that bad, but if you made a Pokémon movie drinking game, this one would probably be pretty hard to get through.
At the beginning of the movie, we see Celebi being chased through a forest by a Houndoom and a Scyther (whoo, Scyther!). It is eventually lying mostly defeated on the ground and the owner of the Houndoom and Scyther comes along - a man on a motorcycle who throws a weird contraption at it like a Pokéball while saying it may have gotten away in Ilex Forest but won't get away this time. Celebi manages to dodge out of the way and continue to fly, even though it is exhausted.
Meanwhile, a boy (Sammy) who is walking through the forest is confronted by a woman who conveniently explains to him that the Voice of the Forest (Celebi, though she doesn't mention its name) can travel through time and then gives him some home-made bread for the journey. Soon afterwards, Celebi comes flying past him, followed of course by the Houndoom and Scyther, who quickly pin it down. Sammy, seeing this, is of course horrified and shouts at them to stop; this distraction gives Celebi time to produce some vines from the ground to entangle its captors and try to fly away, but it is too weak to fly very long, and Sammy grabs it in his arms as it is falling. The Houndoom and Scyther's owner quickly arrives and orders him to hand Celebi over, needlessly explaining in the process that he is a hunter who catches rare Pokémon and sells them to the highest bidder; Sammy protests that buying and selling Pokémon like property is wrong and runs off with Celebi, and the hunter naturally follows. Celebi stirs in his arms and cries out, which causes the leaves of all the trees in the forest to suddenly start glowing with a mysterious sound. Eventually Celebi begins to glow brightly, and it and Sammy vanish in a flash of white light, leaving only Sammy's sketchbook lying on the ground.
FORTY YEARS LATER, we see a picture of the forest on a wall and then pan down to a worn photo of the hunter standing by his motorcycle with this Houndoom. For some reason this is one of my favorite things in the entire movie. There's something so cute about it. And I know I'm crazy for finding some random photo of a Pokémon movie villain with his equally villainous Pokémon cute of all things, but I can't help it. It's giving this random evil hunter guy a hint at an actual life. In my head, he really loves his Scyther and his Houndoom and his motorcycle and would die for them, even though he's in a shady line of work and drinks a lot and stuff. But that's just in my head and probably has a lot to do with a character in my fanfic who completely coincidentally also has a Scyther, also drinks a lot and also refers to himself as a hunter, so ignore this.
The hunter himself, now old and gray, is thrown against the wall. We see the terror in his eyes (well, I see it!) as a hand grabs his chin and then we get a wider shot. The man who threw him against the wall is a really weird-looking guy with a yellow mask over his face, the Iron-Masked Marauder, which is a kind of a silly name; in Japanese his name is given as Vicious, which sounds a lot more menacing, but since I'm committed to using the official dub names, I'll do that. Behind him stands his Sneasel, looking evil. They're in a trailer of some sort, furniture toppled over and lying all over the place, empty liquor bottles strewn around the floor. There's obviously been a fight. The Iron-Masked Marauder demands to know the location where Celebi slipped from the hunter's grasp forty years ago; how he knows Celebi traveled exactly forty years into the future we will never know.
The Marauder drags the hunter outside, where the Pokémon he's captured are held in cages, and throws him on the ground in front of a timid-looking Tyranitar's cage. The Sneasel slashes the bars of the cage to let the Tyranitar out, and the Marauder grabs a strange-looking black Pokéball, which he explains is a Dark Ball: it turns the Pokémon it captures evil and soulless while powering it up. He captures the Tyranitar with it and tells it to destroy the place, which it happily starts to do.
The hunter begs for the Iron-Masked Marauder to stop it and swears to tell him where Celebi was in the forest. Then the Iron-Masked Marauder laughs evilly.
No, really. He laughs evilly. It is the stereotypical "MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!" and while we hear it we see the flames of destruction burning all around. This gets my vote as the definitive facepalm moment of this film by virtue of sheer clichédness. Gone is any hope of taking him seriously from now on. And he was making himself seem sort of cool, too.
Meanwhile, Ash, Misty and Brock are on a ferry, naturally near that same forest. They see Suicune in the woods while talking to a guy about going to his village. Once back on land, they contact Professor Oak on a pay phone and he tells them Suicune is the embodiment of the north wind and can purify polluted water before Ash's Muk creeps up on him and starts enveloping him. Yeeeah. Then they continue on to that guy's village via a cool boat that turns into an airship. Ash, Misty and Brock intend to just continue on into the forest, but are then confronted by an old woman with some oddly familiar hair and her granddaughter Diana. Hmm. As they continue, the trees begin to glow again with that same mysterious sound, and Sammy and Celebi appear on the ground a short way ahead. Ash and company don't notice Celebi but bring the unconscious Sammy back to the village. The old woman recognizes him as the boy that disappeared in the forest forty years ago after she'd given him bread. She gives him back his sketchpad, now looking old and worn, and explains he must have traveled through time to forty years into the future. He remembers Celebi and asks frantically where it is, and the old woman explains that the Voice of the Forest is Celebi, who travels through time and lives by the Life Lake in the forest.
Sammy remembers that Celebi was hurt, so he immediately stands up to try to find it; Ash, Misty and Brock of course insist on coming with him. At a particular place in the forest they see that wild Pokémon seem to be gathering, and Celebi is lying there in a hole under a tree. At first it tries to attack them, fearing that they're also trying to capture it, but Sammy goes on to explain they just want to be friends and Celebi eventually figures they might not be that bad and allows them to pick it up. They run with Celebi back towards the village, but are interrupted first by Team Rocket and then by the Iron-Masked Marauder in a giant walking mecha, who demands they leave Celebi and go away. He sends out the dark Tyranitar from before and it fires a Hyper Beam at Ash and co. They run for it while smoke suddenly fills the area: James, annoyed that somebody was stealing "their" targets, sent his Weezing out to stop the intruder. The Tyranitar quickly blasts the smoke away, and as Team Rocket actually get to see the Iron-Masked Marauder, they recognize him - apparently he's a really high-ranking member of Team Rocket, and they're great fans.
The Iron-Masked Marauder sends his Scizor and Sneasel after Ash and company just as Misty manages to injure her leg. Sammy and Ash team up to fight the two: Sammy sends out a Charmeleon in an old-fashioned Pokéball who fights the Sneasel while Ash sends out Bayleef to fight the Scizor (why is it that Ash keeps showing such reckless disregard for types?); naturally, they win, because they're the good guys, and for some reason they tie Scizor and Sneasel to the rocks there, where the Iron-Masked Marauder later finds them. Don't ask me where they got the rope.
Ash and co. get lost in the forest thanks to spontaneously appearing mist, but a wild Ursaring and Teddiursa show them the way on out of regard for Celebi; later the role of guide is taken over by a Stantler, and then by a Furret, who leads them to the Life Lake where Celebi lives. Sammy walks into the water with Celebi and puts it into the lake, and the water heals it - I suppose this makes somewhat more sense than tears and a flute, what with it being a special Life Lake where Celebi lives and all, but this random-thing-that-magically-heals device is getting kind of old. We are treated to a scene where Celebi plays around and Ash and Sam swim with it among the fish Pokémon of the lake before taking them on a psychic flight over the lake and the surrounding forest. (Why is it that whenever Ash gets to do something fun like that, his traveling companions get left behind and yet they never seem to get jealous?) Oh, and Celebi heals Misty's leg injury with a touch. Then Celebi points them to some tasty berries and acts ridiculously happy about it.
That night, they sleep in the forest, and Sammy sketches a picture of Pikachu and Celebi sleeping side by side by a tree stump. Ash wakes up and they talk a little; Sammy says he was traveling to decide if he wanted to be a trainer or not when Celebi whisked him away into the future and says his mom probably worried about him. Ash realizes his mom is probably worrying too, gets hungry thinking about her cooking, and they share that 40-year-old bread given to Sammy before he met Celebi. Then they watch a whole bunch of Metapod evolving, which I can't help but notice looks conspicuously different from when Ash's own Metapod evolved (then the husk ruptured and the white light shone out of the opening, with Butterfree climbing out of it; here the cocoons just glow white and transform into Butterfree like when any other Pokémon evolves) and watch the sunrise from a tree. In other words, there is serious male bonding going on and Ash and Sammy are now officially best friends.
Later, they continue traveling towards the village, but are then ambushed by Team Rocket and the Iron-Masked Marauder, who snatches Celebi away and captures it in a Dark Ball. Wild Pokémon proceed to go crazy; a flock of Pidgey starts trying to peck at the Iron-Masked Marauder's head, which helps Ash snatch the Dark Ball away, but unfortunately the Iron-Masked Marauder comes along as Ash has fallen to the ground with the ball and steps on his hands until he lets go of it. (Even though it's impossible to take him seriously after that evil laugh, I kind of like how the Iron-Masked Marauder is a lot more fond of human-to-human physical violence than most other Pokémon villains. It makes him feel a lot more threatening than otherwise, though as I said, the evil laugh kind of ruins that.) Wild Pokémon surround him, but he sends out Celebi from the Dark Ball and orders it to clear the wild Pokémon out of the way, which it does with creepy brainwashed eyes.
The Iron-Masked Marauder makes it show him more of its power while he laughs, not quite as evilly or lengthily as the first time but just the reminder of it is enough to kill the mood. Celebi basically forms a huge sphere of broken twigs and leaves around itself - Jessie of Team Rocket gets sucked in too - while Diana and her grandmother (her name is Towa in the Japanese version; is it the same in the dub?) notice the commotion from afar and come flying on the boat-airship to pick up Ash and co. James and Meowth stare after Jessie.
Meanwhile, up on a mountain, a CGI Suicune is standing, looking very conspicuously CGI, and then runs down the mountainside, still very conspicuously CGI.
Then we go back to Celebi, who has created a thick conspicuously CGI defensive sphere around itself with spikes sticking out of it; the Iron-Masked Marauder stands on top of it like the king of the world as it glides through the forest. Jessie is held captured upside-down by tentacle-like vines inside the sphere and the Marauder explains that he wants her to be a witness to his great power. He orders Celebi to destroy more, and the conspicuously CGI defensive sphere transforms into a conspicuously CGI giant mecha in the shape of some sort of a demonic skeletal Charizard-winged Celebi with mantis arms, which then fires a huge Hyper Beam at the Life Lake. No, really. Okay, so it's a giant mecha made of twigs and leaves, but still pretty much a giant mecha.
Jessie complains that he's done showing her his power and that he should get going to get Celebi to Giovanni; the Marauder laughs (again, not as bad as that first laugh) and declares that since he now has Celebi, he doesn't need to answer to some pesky boss of Team Rocket and can rule the world alone. Then he laughs evilly again, with the full dramatic "MWAHAHAHAHA!!" flair.
Ash and company are flying above in the boat-airship, realizing Celebi is in there before the Iron-Masked Marauder orders it to destroy them. The conspicuously CGI giant mecha fires a beam at one of the boat-airship's two balloons and they crash in the lake, where it fires another beam at them. Of course, they all survive. Pikachu tries to fire a Thunderbolt at the conspicuously CGI giant mecha, but it looks completely unharmed (no wonder, what with not being alive and all). The conspicuously CGI giant mecha then charges a Hyper Beam to fire at Ash and Sammy.
Suddenly, Suicune! The other legendary in this movie conveniently appears and snatches up Ash, Sammy and Pikachu before the beam hits. Thankfully, Suicune is at least no longer rendered with conspicuous CGI. The Iron-Masked Marauder sends out that Tyranitar from earlier, intending to capture Suicune as well, but Brock sends out his Onix to fight the Tyranitar while Suicune jumps up on the conspicuously CGI giant mecha's back, where Ash tries to shout to Celebi before it shakes them off. The Tyranitar throws Brock's Onix down, but Suicune stops it with a Bubblebeam, and then Onix manages to throw the Tyranitar into the lake before fainting. Suicune instead fires another Bubblebeam at the conspicuously CGI giant mecha and tries to run back up onto its back, but some tentacle-vines grab it before Celebi uses some sort of dark energy on it. The Iron-Masked Marauder laughs evilly and Ash and Sammy fall down onto the conspicuously CGI giant mecha's body. Jessie shouts to them that Celebi is somewhere above her before wondering why she keeps helping Ash in these movies.
They climb up towards where Celebi is inside the conspicuously CGI giant mecha and start trying to talk to Celebi and tell it it would never really do such a thing; it shakes its head and stops hurting Suicune for a moment, but goes back to it when the Marauder orders it to. Ash shouts that they're friends and Sammy begs it to come back to its true self; Celebi remembers flying with them and torturedly tries to shake off the Dark Ball's effect. Eventually Ash and Sammy get all the way to Celebi and hold it as it keeps remembering flashes of their interactions from earlier in the movie in between hitting them with dark energy; finally, it snaps out of it, and Celebi's Dark Ball self-destructs in the Iron-Masked Marauder's hand while the conspicuously CGI giant mecha falls apart. Celebi flies psychically with Ash and Sammy out of there before pretty much fainting in mid-air; conveniently, they're not too far above the surface of the lake then and the lake is very shallow where they land.
They meet Misty, Brock, Towa, Diana and the guy from the ferry at the beginning at the bank of the lake, but by then Celebi is starting to look suspiciously crumpled and withered: it's clearly implied to be half-dead, and Towa explains that this is probably because of all the damage that has been done to the forest and the lake. Conveniently, Suicune has the power to purify water, but even when the lake has been purified, Celebi is not healed when Ash lays it into the water. Everybody is sad, especially Sammy. Ash cries bitterly, and then so does everybody else and even the wild Pokémon and Suicune. I dare you to tell me you're not thinking "Wait, they're pulling this again?" But no; the tears don't revive Celebi either. This time they're just pulling bluffs, making you think Celebi is about to get revived and then - surprise! - it doesn't!
But then a glowing light appears in mid-air and the forest glows, and a swarm of Celebi burst out from the light, levitate the dying Celebi into the air and fly in circles around it as it glows with a blue light and is revived after all. My preferred interpretation of this is that the swarm of Celebi are all that same Celebi from different time periods traveling to this moment, since I prefer to consider the legendaries to be one-of-a-kind, but Sammy interprets it as Celebi having a lot of friends. There is no way to tell which of us is right, so I'll just pretend my interpretation is.
The swarm of Celebi disappear back where they came from and the revived Celebi flies around the lake being all happy... and then suddenly hands reach up out of the water to grab it. It's the Iron-Masked Marauder, who has somehow been hiding in the lake all this time without coming up to breathe. He has a rocket pack and takes off into the air, but Ash runs up and latches on to his leg. While the Marauder tries to kick him away, Ash tells Pikachu to use a Thunderbolt on the rocket pack, which it does, causing it to explode. They all fall, but Celebi psychically grabs Ash and Pikachu in the air to save them. Meanwhile, the Iron-Masked Marauder has a fall that ought to leave him splattered across the ground with every bone in his body broken, but in accordance with cartoon physics, he's mostly fine, though his mask falls off and leaves him looking jarringly like an average rather dorky-looking guy. Then he is surrounded by Towa, Diana, the guy from the ferry and a whole bunch of wild Pokémon and tries to beg for forgiveness before a bunch of Bug Pokémon wrap him in String Shot and Towa laughs, saying the forest clearly won't forgive him. This is the last we see of him, which is kind of ominous, but we're probably not meant to imagine he gets torn apart and eaten by all those wild Pokémon. Probably.
Finally, Celebi goes with Sammy back to his own time after a heartfelt goodbye between him and Ash; they seemingly nonsensically swear they will always be friends before Celebi takes him off.
Back in his own time, Sammy wakes up on the forest floor near the forest shrine, and the younger Towa appears to ask him if he's okay; he cryptically tells her he was just having a really wonderful dream. There is a time paradox here, by the way; in the present, Towa said he merely disappeared forty years ago and kept his sketchpad for him, but once he's back in his own time, he doesn't disappear and he keeps his sketchpad.
We see Jessie lying on her back in the Life Lake, and James and Meowth come along on a raft to save her before the Tyranitar from the movie destroys the raft and swims away, leaving Team Rocket... really happy in some really great water. Aww. We then see the Iron-Masked Marauder's Scizor and Sneasel standing together by the bank of the lake and then walking away. The movie is probably implying that the Dark Balls have been destroyed and thus all of the Marauder's Pokémon are freed and can go on their merry way, but nothing is made explicit.
The end credits start, and we see Ash, Misty and Brock leaving the village on the boat-airship. Then we see Professor Oak's lab, where Oak and Tracey are rearranging some old stuff and cleaning up; in a stack of dusty books, Tracey finds an old, worn sketchbook with some suspiciously familiar sketches in it...
Yes, this means what you think it means. "Sammy" was young Professor Samuel Oak after all. Was that a Pokémon movie being subtle? Surprisingly, yes! It's a little detail you could easily miss altogether if you don't watch the end credits, and even if you watch the scene, the full implication could still go over your head. Of course, when the movie was dubbed, 4Kids decided this was too subtle for the kids to get, so they had the original studio animate a special scene at the end of the movie, as well as reanimate another scene to fit in extra dialogue, to really bring the point home.
This movie does have some things going for it. Aside from the cheesy evil laughs and boring world-takeover ambitions, the Iron-Masked Marauder is one of very few examples of Pokémon villains you can actually really consider to be a pretty sick and twisted guy; he has more personality than most of the other human villains (it's clichéd and cheesy, sure, but most of the other villains have very little in the way of any personality at all) and feels more threatening, which strengthens the perceived urgency of the conflict. There is the aforementioned subtlety in the revelation that Sammy is Professor Oak, and the fact he is is actually a really fun fact; it makes you speculate about all sorts of things, like if that was the reason he moved to Pallet Town and helps Ash so much on his journey even compared to his own grandson. There is that hunter guy whom I like for some absurd reason. And there is the fact it has Scyther in it. They need to put Scyther in more movies.
I also actually like Team Rocket's role in this movie. They've been kind of just there in the previous ones, stepping in to save Ash when needed, but in this one we get to see them interact with a higher Team Rocket member, which provides a subtle exploration of them as characters, at least as compared to the Iron-Masked Marauder: they're treated like dirt but still admire him, and they have that unquestioning loyalty to Giovanni that he doesn't. And it's just cute how worried James and Meowth are about Jessie when she's been sucked into the conspicuously CGI giant mecha.
Then a lot of the movie looks quite pretty.
Well, first there's the cheesiness of the Iron-Masked Marauder. I mean, come on. He cackles evilly and wants to take over the world. As I said, it is difficult to take him seriously even when he's treading on Ash's fingers, and that's not a good thing for this movie.
Secondly, there is the downright painful amount of Conspicuous CG. I'm pretty sure the forest in the chase scene at the beginning is CGI, but that actually looks pretty good. Suicune's entrance and the conspicuously CGI giant mecha, however, are practically sitting there shouting "HI! DID YOU KNOW WE ARE COMPUTER-GENERATED?" They look really off with that too-smooth animation, and it really hurts the movie.
Thirdly, there's the deus ex machina, especially after the movie has not once but twice (if you've seen the first movie) made it look like Celebi was going to be revived without it working. It's like they're trying really hard to make you think they're going to subvert it but then they do it anyway. It always feels cheap when something serious happens in fiction and thanks to a deus ex machina it's suddenly all made just like before, but it's even worse when they've been getting your hopes up that maybe Celebi won't come back to life after all.
Fourthly, Suicune feels really out of place in this movie. It doesn't really do anything actually important: the purifying of the lake doesn't actually work to bring Celebi back to life, the only reason Suicune had to save them from the conspicuously CGI giant mecha's beam that one time is that they were written into danger specifically so that Suicune could get them out of it, and serving as transport from the ground up to where Celebi is inside the conspicuously CGI giant mecha isn't really a role befitting of a legendary. Overall Suicune has really little screentime and mostly feels like it's there just to be there; even Lugia in the second movie got to serve a more important role in the resolution of the plot.
Finally, there are little plot holes, like how the Iron-Masked Marauder knew exactly how far into the future Celebi went and where Ash and company got the rope to tie Scizor and Sneasel down, and painfully convenient expository dialogue such as the hunter introducing himself randomly to Sammy at the beginning.
This movie is odd in that it has quite a bit of good along with a lot of bad. It's not just unremarkably mediocre: it's partly quite good and partly very bad. However, because the good is only quite good and the bad is very bad, the net result is that it's unfortunately rather on the poor side. It's pretty fun to watch, largely because the Iron-Masked Marauder is a lot more fun than most other Pokémon movie villains, but it has several of those embarrassed-to-be-watching-this moments, too. Really, I think it depends on your relative tolerance for the bad aspects compared to how much you enjoy the good aspects.
Page last modified October 08 2009 at 02:39 GMT