- The Washington Times - Friday, October 11, 2002

The word on the street is that the Pokemon craze seems to be winding down. The granddaughter who used to dazzle me with arcana acquired from Pokemon cartoons and trading cards has gone on to another body of lore. "Pokemon 4Ever" may be a kind of whistling-in-the-graveyard title, unless it turns out that a wave of Pokemon nostalgia is just around the corner. Given the volume and acceleration of pop-culture fads, I wouldn't be surprised.

Whether swan song or comeback, the fourth Pokemon feature is a reliable facsimile of its predecessors. Chapter 4 is even contrived to be informative in a way that would have been more helpful to baffled reviewers at the outset.

Pokemon movies have begun with abstract teasers that recall Disney's vintage Silly Symphony cartoons to a certain extent. They also have provoked double takes when the movie itself finally begins, shifting the focus from illustration without a narrative foundation to the adventures of the inimitable, high-voltage little critter called Pikachu and other bemusing specimens from the Pokemon menagerie.

"Pokemon 4Ever" sets the scene by explaining that Pokemon are magic creatures that have human masters called trainers if the trainers are skillful enough to catch them. The trainers possess pets that also are potential miracle-workers. Ash Ketchum, who resembles Skeezix in the bygone Gasoline Alley comic strip, is the trainer lucky enough to claim Pikachu.

We discover Ash and friends named Brock and Misty on a kind of Tyrolean cruise and nature walk. They're destined to cross paths with time-traveling characters who have escaped 40 years into the future: a trainer named Sam and his prize discovery, a timorous and elusive little doodlebug of a Pokemon called Celebi, also known in sylvan surroundings as the Voice of the Forest.

Sam and Celebi are escaping an evil trainer who succeeds in capturing and exploiting the little Pokemon for a while. Celebi disappears inside a hulk that suggests a hybrid of almost forgotten movie scourges: the Wicker Man crossed with the Magnetic Monster. He lumbers around laying waste to pristine forests and lakes until the animators run out of threatening and catastrophic illustrative ideas. Their stock is a bit low from the outset.

So much time is spent feigning alarm at the captivity of Celebi that Pikachu never gets an adequate showcase. He could almost phone in his performance. The house rascals Jessie, James and their complaining pet cat, Meowth also are stuck with lackluster escapades. A flying equine called Suicune is invoked to halt the ravages forced upon Celebi while imprisoned in the villain's "dark ball," clearly a weapon of mass destruction.

I was surprised to discover the actual spelling of Suicine, because on the soundtrack it comes out closer to "Sweetums." But then, I also had the curious impression that someone in the forest was calling the name "Steadman" from time to time. It must have been my imagination, because Oprah never turns up.

*1/2 TITLE: "Pokemon 4Ever"

RATING: G (Occasional ominous episodes, with cartoon depictions of monsters and cataclysms)

CREDITS: Directed by Kunihiko Yuyama. Written by Hideki Sonada, based on characters created by Satoshi Tajiri. English-language adaptation written by Michael Haughney and directed by Jim Malone. Animation supervisor: Yoichi Kotabe.

RUNNING TIME: 77 minutes


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