Pokémon 4Ever

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Pokémon 4Ever

Cynical commercialism aside, the major flaws of the Pokémon TV/film/comics/merchandise series come from its attempts to place meaningful narrative onto a morality-free, fighting-for-fighting's-sake video-game structure. At heart, the series' good guys and bad guys often want the same thing: to catch rare, powerful "pocket monsters" and exploit their powers for personal gain. The bad guys are just more likely to gloat loudly about it. The irony gets a bit thick in installments like Pokémon 4Ever (the fourth Pokémon film to arrive in U.S. theaters), in which the series' usual heroes, while trying to capture new pokémon so they can become rich and famous, must forestall a villain who is, horrifyingly enough, trying to capture new pokémon so he can become rich and famous. Except, you know, in a cruel, evil way. The story starts when a boy named Sam interferes with a hunter's attempt to capture Celebi, an onion-headed, pixie-like critter that looks disturbingly humanoid when healthy, and even more disturbingly like a fetus in formaldehyde when it's ill. To escape the hunter, Celebi zaps itself and Sam 40 years into the future, with remarkably little effect; a new hunter promptly takes up the chase, this time using "darkballs" that make captured pokémon powerful and evil. Inevitably, Pokémon TV-series stars Ash Ketchum, his burbling sycophant Pikachu, his dead-weight hangers-on Brock and Misty, and his ridiculously incompetent Team Rocket adversaries all get involved. The entire predictable exercise takes place in a beautiful forest, where minutely detailed computer animation provides endless vistas of towering trees, shimmering lakes, and (eventually) horrific devastation. Thanks to the eye-catching environments, those dragged into theaters by underage Pokéaddicts (the only viewers who really have an excuse at this point) will at least be pleasantly distracted while waiting for the obvious story to reach its obvious conclusion. Pokémon 4Ever's eye-rolling, grimace-inducing factor is kept relatively low, though the cast is required to explain everything at least three times for the benefit of the slower 4-year-olds in the audience, and the vast flocks of wild pokémon milling about and incessantly repeating their own names become grating after the first few milliseconds. The movie has a tendency to seize upon an emotional moment—Celebi shows the kids the wonders of the forest, or the kids worry about Celebi's flagging health—and cling to it stubbornly for far too long. In the abstract, Pokémon 4Ever's refusal to move at breakneck, short-attention-span speeds is commendable. In the concrete, though, it's deadly dull. There's no point to prolonging the inevitable, except to pad the movie out to its barely feature-length run time.