Hello friends and neighbors, welcome back to another blog post! This week's episode was a blast from the past and one of my personal favorites. Pokemon took my nine-year-old world by storm and I didn't come out of my delirium until I was almost in high school. I'm sure many of you can relate to the excitement of holding a shiny pack of new cards, tearing it open ravenously, throwing away the energy cards, and seeing which holographic monster you could add to your collection. Or maybe you were the kid that caught early morning episodes during the school week. I remember watching the show bleary-eyed and scarfing down Fruity Pebbles as Ash and his friends defeated Team Rocket yet again. Yes, it was truly a great time to be a kid in the 90s.
We all fell in love with Pikachu and his gang of elemental monsters, especially when they finally hit the big screen. I thought in this post we might take a deeper look at the five things you might not have known from Pokemon: The First Movie!
1. The Morally Ambiguous Mewtwo
The Japanese are a little more nuanced than Americans. There, I said it. Before you rush to your Twitter feed, let me first explain. When the film was still in development, the Japanese producers and directors of Pokemon: The First Movie wanted to make Mewtwo more philosophical in nature. They wanted to explore the ideas of life purpose and existentialism. It was their idea to have Mewtwo spend most of the movie trying to discover his place in the world and his purpose in that place. This made Mewtwo a bit more morally ambiguous than American filmmakers would have liked. When 4Kids Productions got hold of the script they decided to change some things, making Mewtwo “clearly evil” so that American kids could follow along. In the American version of the film, there's no doubt that Mewtwo is initially the “bad guy” who just needed some friends to show him the goodness in the world. There, now isn't that a little nicer to digest than Mewtwo questioning the existence of life?
2. The Names of Pokemon are Wrong in the English Dub
This little nugget of trivia I actually knew when I was a kid. Being fully indoctrinated into the cult of Pokemon I could list all 151 original monsters from memory. At one point I could rattle off the first fifty in the order that they appeared in the Pokedex. It was a sickness, I know. So, when 4Kids Productions fumbled the names of a few Pokemon in the movie, you better believe my nine-year-old butt caught it. During the film Pidgeot was referred to as Pidgeotto (the less evolved, and slightly weaker form of the bird-like Pokemon), Sandslash was called Sandshrew (again, a case of a more evolved Pokemon being called their former self), and Scyther was, well, apparently called Alakazam (this one wasn't even close). Upon the completion of the movie the name blunder was all the rage among my friends and I. It reached such a high fever pitch that we considered writing to 4Kids to have the names corrected. It was then we realized we hadn't learned how to write a formal letter, so the idea was quickly dropped.
3. The Voice Actor Dilemma
As a kid I remember being blown away when I discovered who the voice actors were behind some of my favorite cartoon characters. It was like unlocking some secret where I was finally able to pull back the curtain and see how magic was made. The realization that Ash was voiced by Veronica Taylor absolutely floored me and made me wonder what other actors in my favorite franchise at the time were also girls voicing male characters. Then there came Jay Philip Goede, the voice of Mewtwo, and his comments made on Facebook some years back. Goede stated that his name never made it to the credits and was instead replaced by his alias, Phillip Bartlett. At the time Goede cultivated a disdain for voice acting and didn't see those who performed the art as real actors. He wanted to remain anonymous while doing the film so he had the director change his name in the credits. Years later he retracted his statement and has come around on the topic. I couldn't imagine what the world would have been like for nine-year-old Zach if he'd learned that Mewtwo hated being Mewtwo. Although, maybe the Japanese could of run with that story line.
4. Several Actors Voiced Multiple Characters
Since we're on the subject of voice acting let's talk about how some of the actors voiced multiple roles. This isn't an uncommon practice in animated films as it saves costs and is relatively easy to do, especially if those actors are voicing minor or supporting characters. Yet, in the case of Pokemon these voice actors not only performed the dialogue of main characters, but also main antagonists. The voice actor who played Brock (Eric Stuart) also performed the role of James, the male counterpart of the inept group known as Team Rocket. Misty (Rachel Lillis) voiced Jessie, James' female companion. And finally, even Jay Goede who hated voice acting got in on a little more action as he voiced Doctor Fuji, the man who created Mewtwo.
5. The Longest Intro that was Actually Even Longer
The Japanese are never ones to shy away from good storytelling, even if it adds another thirty minutes to the prologue. What was so great about Pokemon: The First Movie was the fact that the viewer basically got two movies for the price of one. As discussed in the podcast this week, Pokemon: The First Movie opens with Pikachu's Vacation, a lighthearted short about Pikachu and his friends competing in games against other monsters. From there the actual movie starts. Not so with the Japanese version of the film. The ten minute prologue was extended to twenty in order to allow the writers to explain some backstory as to who Mewtwo was and why he resented humanity. American kids never saw this version as 4Kids felt like the run time would be too long and the Mewtwo backstory didn't necessarily add to the story line. It was only when the film was released to home video that Origin of Mewtwo was made known to our little American eyes. Even then, I didn't really much care for it.
That concludes this episode of the blog! Hope you guys enjoyed taking a stroll down memory lane with me and learning a little more about one of the most iconic cultural events of the late 90s. And as always, we'll see you in the next episode.