Spell of the Unown 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
Happily, the third movie is one of those where Ash's involvement in the plot feels quite natural. Partly it's the generally smaller scale of the conflict - there are no sinister villains or rampaging legendaries, but just a little girl and some ancient Pokémon that make wishes come true. Partly it's the fact it's all quite close to him - Molly is a friend of his family and what drives him to get heroic is very natural concern for his mother. And partly, Ash just isn't made out to be the hero - or more accurately, he is still the hero, but unlike the first two films, the other characters in the movie don't just stand there helplessly while he saves everyone, making it all feel much less, well, Gary-Stuish.
This movie, like the others, starts with a bit of a prologue. Professor Hale, a researcher and single father, is reading to his little daughter Molly from a book about mythical Pokémon, first showing her Unown and explaining that he is looking for them, and then Entei, where the illustration shows Entei with a young woman riding on its back. Molly remarks that Entei is just like him, and he plays along and pretends to be Entei for her. It's a pretty cute scene. Their game is then interrupted by an e-mail arriving on Professor Hale's laptop about a clue concerning Unown at some ruins (presumably the Ruins of Alph, but you never know). He has to go to continue his research, and thus he tucks Molly into bed and leaves.
He arrives at the ruins and begins to read the runes on the wall before glimpsing what looks kind of like an ancient Scrabble piece showing Unown P on the floor; he picks it up and we see a creepy 3D Unown P suddenly appear in the air beside him, squeak and then disappear before he's managed to turn around. Okay, so all is not right here. He sees a box which contains similar little Unown Scrabble pieces and picks some up, which causes the letters to start glowing and a whole bunch of other Unown to appear in mid-air, circle him and then suck him into another dimension. Yup.
His research partner looks around and sees only the box with the Unown Scrabble tiles as it falls to the floor; Professor Hale is nowhere to be seen, and he has no choice but to report to Molly and the family butler that the professor has vanished without a trace. He also brings the box with the Unown tiles, however, and when Molly is alone, she starts to play with those fun little alphabet tiles, spelling "Papa", "Mama" and "Me" before muttering that she misses her papa. The Unown tiles glow with the same blue light as before Professor Hale disappeared. This can't be good. A swarm of Unown in the ruins creates some sort of a wormhole through space and arrives in the family mansion, circling around Molly, who just thinks they're cute.
See, the thing about this movie is that it's actually quite creepy. The Unown start to create chaotic, wavy crystal growths that slowly take over the mansion and begin to creep ever farther into the world outside - a deeply unsettling concept to an adult, who will immediately picture them enveloping the entire world, encasing all living things forever in an out-of-control expansion. To a child like Molly who doesn't think that far, however, the crystals are just pretty and neat and dreamlike; in fact, they grow out of her own imagination, as what the Unown do is essentially to create physical manifestations of her desires. She looks into the book about the mythical Pokémon, sees the picture of Entei and quietly wishes her father could come back to her, and the Unown obey, creating an illusory Entei out of thin air. In Molly's mind, Entei and her father are one and the same, and when she runs up to him and calls him "Papa", Entei, who exists merely to fulfill her wishes, simply accepts the role she has created for him.
Meanwhile, Ash, Misty and Brock are traveling, and a random trainer they meet suggests they go to Greenfield, which incidentally is the place where Molly lives. When they get there, however, they see the place has become covered in crystal growths in a considerable radius around what used to be the Hale mansion but now looks like a creepy giant flower. A news report on the phenomenon is being aired on national television; Ash's mom and Professor Oak see it, recognize Professor Hale's name and decide to travel to Greenfield to investigate it.
When they arrive, Molly herself watches a news report on the investigation where she sees Ash's mom and idly tells Entei that she wants a mama too; Entei obediently runs off to get one for her, crystals forming under his feet where they touch the ground (a neat touch to emphasize that he is very much a part of the Unown's messed-up world). Seeing as the mama Molly was actually thinking of was Ash's, Entei kidnaps and brainwashes her to think that she is Molly's mother, which Molly is perfectly happy with.
Thus we have Ash's reason to get involved established: his mom has been kidnapped by Entei, and he wants her back. Much more personal and interesting than run-of-the-mill saving the world.
Some attempts are made that night to eliminate the crystal growths with bulldozers; Molly is horrified and the Unown make the crystals grow even faster and encase the bulldozer. To try to stop people from trying to invade her crystal palace with her new papa and mama, she e-mails Professor Oak to tell him no one should enter. Ash, still worried about his mother, decides to try to go in there by himself and is naturally followed by Misty and Brock, who want to help. As Ash climbs a waterfall with the help of Bulbasaur and Chikorita's Vine Whips, the ever-present news reporters are showing it live from the outside, and as Ash's mom sees him almost fall, she snaps out of her trance and realizes whose mother she actually is. Molly asks her if the boy on the screen is a Pokémon trainer, which Delia confirms.
As Ash, Misty and Brock make their way deeper into the mansion, the environment gets stranger, first with twisty, floating staircases and then what appears to be a pleasant field under a lightly clouded pink sky; all of this is of course created from Molly's imagination. Molly, meanwhile, wants to have a battle with the Pokémon trainers, so while her real body goes to sleep, the Unown create an illusory older body for her that rides Entei down to challenge Ash, Misty and Brock one at a time (though she never does get to challenge Ash, since he continues running up to where his mother is while the battles with the other two delay Molly). Note how at this point in the movie, Molly is starting to really know what she is doing. At first, the crystal growths were just an accident; wanting her father back got her a confused Entei; and wanting a mother got her a brainwashed version of somebody else's mother. Now, however, she is beginning to gain full control of her little world by being able to modify herself, create Pokémon battle arenas and breathable water with a thought and generate Pokémon out of nothing. (When she is battling Brock, there is also something particularly unsettling about seeing how the Pokémon she chooses are Flaaffy, Teddiursa and Phanpy, obviously the cutesy Pokémon that the younger Molly likes, but they are unnaturally strong because she wants them to be. Brock also tells her she has a nice smile, semi-flirting with her, but because she is still the younger Molly, she has no idea what it means and just says he's weird. These little touches to remind you she's a little girl in an older body trying to be grown-up make it all the more disturbing.)
As Molly is battling Misty, Ash gets to the top where his mom sits with Molly's sleeping real body. She wakes her and tells her the harsh truth, that she is Ash's mom, not hers; Molly screams no, and crystals spike out of the floor in an embodiment of her anger. As Ash and his mom try to flee, Entei arrives on the scene; Molly tells him Ash is trying to take her mama away, and naturally, Entei takes it on himself to fight Ash out of the crystal palace. While trying to fight Entei off with his Pokémon, he mentions that Entei is an illusion, which he refuses to believe; when Ash tries to say that he was created from Molly's mind, she is also upset at the suggestion and makes further crystal spikes grow from the floor. Entei roars that he is her father and continues to try to fire Hyper Beams at Ash as Pikachu fiercely attempts to protect him. Meanwhile, Delia calls out to Molly and pleads for her to remember her real father and mother.
Entei blasts Ash and Pikachu out through the wall, but as they are falling, they are suddenly grabbed - by Ash's Charizard, who was shown earlier in the movie watching some of those news broadcasts in Charicific Valley and rushing off to help Ash. Charizard flies them back up and Ash explains to Molly that his Pokémon are friends he found on his journey - something that resonates with Molly, who has just been battling with illusory Pokémon that, while cute, had never grown close to her on a journey like she must now realize Ash's Pokémon have. Ash begs for her to come with them; she conjures up her Flaaffy, Teddiursa and Phanpy, insists that they are her friends and tells him to get out, prompting Entei to fire yet another Hyper Beam. Ash's mom asks Entei if he really thinks he can be Molly's father and he responds that as long as Molly wishes he will be her father before lunging after Ash, who has gotten on Charizard's back.
There is a battle between Entei and Charizard around the palace. Ash pleads to Entei that if he really cares about Molly, he will realize that it's bad for her to continue to pretend he's her father, but Entei fiercely responds that even if he's wrong, he will grant Molly's wishes. Ash shouts that if this goes on, Molly will be alone for good, but Entei only continues to attack. Eventually Entei has knocked Charizard down to the ground, places a paw on its neck and prepares what is clearly meant to be a killing blow, but Molly suddenly steps in to beg him to stop. Naturally, he obeys.
Ash, Misty, Brock and Delia continue talking to Molly to soothe her, telling her about how she will be able to make real friends in the world outside and so on, and she is finally won over. The crystal flower covering the building, which used to be closed, now opens to symbolize the change in Molly's heart. Entei, however, feels that if she no longer wants him as her father, he no longer has a purpose.
All of a sudden, more crystals begin to sprout from the floor. Now that Molly's mind is no longer controlling the Unown, they can't control all that energy by themselves anymore and begin to chaotically create without direction. The crystal growths are thus beginning to expand again, but this time Molly has no control over it. Entei breaks through some crystals so that they can get down from the tower they're in; Molly is put on Charizard's back to keep her safe. Finally they arrive in the room where the Unown are still swirling around and they realize they must defeat them; Ash tries his usual approach of running as fast as he can at the Unown and then attempts to have his Pokémon attack them, but they have a powerful protective barrier that prevents it from harming them, and the Unown retaliate by creating more crystal spikes and beginning to cover themselves in more crystals.
Enter Entei, who bursts through a wall and fires a Hyper Beam at the crystals that are covering the Unown. He tells Molly he was happy being her father and that now he will allow her to go outside (by destroying or at least banishing the Unown, though he doesn't say this outright); he then tells her that since he is created from her mind, she only needs to believe in him. Can you believe it? It's a "you must believe in me", and it makes absolutely perfect sense in context. As Entei struggles to get through the energy barrier, Charizard and Pikachu join in to help, and Molly shouts for him to hang in there; this eventually succeeds in allowing Entei to fire a beam through the barrier and the Unown are swallowed by an ambiguous sphere of light.
Entei, of course, must now disappear too, since he was an illusion created by the Unown after all. He has the time to thank Molly for calling him Papa and saying he will return to her dreams before he vanishes. A dimensional portal appears and the Unown are sucked into it as everything they created in the physical world, from the Scrabble tiles to the crystal growths, disappears. Molly manages to see an Entei in the clouds to mutter a final thank you before they leave the mansion.
Just as the end credits begin, we see a portal open in the ruins and Professor Hale being dropped out of it from the Unown world to assure us he is okay. We then see him reunited with Molly and later even bringing a potential new mommy for Molly home. Aww. Unless her real mom was actually just lost and he found her again or something. But aww in any case.
The third movie is one of the very best thanks to the concept and plot. A little girl who can make her wishes come true creates a twisted nightmare in an attempt to replace her lost father and mother - it's original, captivating and a little creepy in a very good way.
I mentioned how Ash's involvement in the plot feels more natural than in the previous movies, but I also find myself simply liking him more in this one: we get to see him personally concerned about both his mother and Molly. Everything around Molly is very well done in my opinion, really, not just her uniqueness as a 'villain' but the many childlike aspects of her portrayal that make her feel more tragic. She has quite a lot of intriguing depth as a character: her loneliness and wish for father and mother figures more than her actual father and mother, her childish desire to be grown-up and a Pokémon trainer, her lack of proper understanding of friendship... Her confusion and eventual acceptance of reality felt pretty realistic and noncontrived. Also, believe it or not, I really like Ash's interactions with her throughout - everybody's, really. Normally speeches about friendship make me cringe, but Molly really, genuinely needed to hear it, and Ash just feels more sensitive and smarter than usual. There's something about the entire process of unwinding Molly's twisted mind through words that feels really right the way it's done.
There is also something I really like about Entei. The way he denies being an illusion at first, the way he exists to fulfill Molly's wishes but is still an independent character, his eventual decision to destroy the Unown - and thus by extension himself - for Molly's sake; he is a second candidate as the "villain" of the movie but is just as unique in that regard as Molly herself, and though his character isn't exactly explored, there is very interesting potential in him.
The visuals, particularly the crystals and everything around them, are creepy and beautiful at the same time. The generally twisted atmosphere of the whole movie works really well. I also like the music in the movie, although I was watching the Japanese version and the dub supposedly replaced all the music, so eh.
The Unown are probably the weakest link in the plot of this movie - mostly it's just that we don't know enough, really, but in any case it is just very hard to fully understand the Unown throughout. Why did they pull Professor Hale into an alternate dimension? What is their link to the Scrabble pieces exactly? Why did they decide to start physically manifesting Molly's imagination - why didn't they do that to Professor Hale, or pull her into the alternate dimension? Why did they release Professor Hale again at the end? The Unown aren't quite portrayed as conscious agents, which may be part of the problem - a lot of it could probably make sense if we could sensibly think of the Unown as wanting something or liking something, but it's hard to do so because they aren't really shown making any conscious decisions and we don't get the chance to pick up any sort of a pattern in their behavior. I can think of all sorts of theories that could explain the Unown's actions throughout the movie - perhaps they feed off imagination somehow while manifesting it physically and are attracted to children because they have more vivid imaginations than adults, for instance - but the actual movie doesn't really suggest any explanation or reason for what they do, making the Unown feel aimless and inconsistent.
Then there is Team Rocket. If you're thinking "Wait, Team Rocket was in this movie?", yes, they were, but their inclusion was so insignificant that I never felt the need to mention their presence in the synopsis, which should be a pretty good hint that they could easily be cut out of the movie altogether. There is only one scene in the entire movie where they actually interact with the other characters, and even then they are only arbitrarily there; otherwise they're just poking around in their own scenes doing absolutely nothing worth bringing up. I have a sneaking suspicion they weren't originally planned to be in the movie at all and somebody just added them in at the last minute after they figured Team Rocket have too many fans to just leave them out.
And... that's it. Aside from those two bits, the movie was great.
This is definitely one of the absolute best Pokémon movies. The concept is intriguing, the plot is captivating, the characters are interesting and the atmosphere is creepy. The inconsistency of the Unown doesn't really bother you until the movie is over and Fridge Logic kicks in, and even though Team Rocket's inclusion is pointless, they're not in it enough for it to start seriously detracting from the movie.
Page last modified July 09 2012 at 23:03 GMT