Jirachi: Wish Maker Review
Although I use the English name of the movie and its characters to make the review more accessible to English-speaking fans, I was actually watching a fansub of the Japanese version of the movie. There may be some differences if you have only seen the dub.
Thoughts and Synopsis
This was the first Advanced Generation movie, featuring Ash's Hoenn companions May and Max in place of Misty (Brock's still around, however). It also marks a couple of other interesting firsts for the movie series: it's the first time a movie's plot is focused more around one of Ash's series companions over Ash himself, and perhaps more interestingly, the first time that ordinary, non-speaking, non-legendary Pokémon get to serve a significant role.
The movie begins with Ash and company attending the Millennium Comet festival, a sort of fair held in the middle of nowhere to celebrate a comet that appears for seven days once every thousand years. At the festival, they attend a magic show featuring magician The Great Butler, which culminates in a scene where Butler's assistant Diane appears from nowhere out of a sea of flames, holding up a huge, roughly egg-shaped crystal. Just then, Max hears a strange voice as the crystal appears to radiate in his vision. Puzzled, Max runs up onto the stage, asking about the voice, and Ash follows. Butler briefly nods to Diane before involving them in the show as assistants for his next trick, and just to add to the improvised ending, Team Rocket make an appearance before being handily defeated by Butler's Dusclops, to wild applause.
After the show, Butler explains to Max that the egg contains the legendary wish-granting Pokémon Jirachi, who awakens for seven days every millennium while the comet is there, and that Jirachi chooses a young boy as a partner or friend during this time. This time, it seems he has chosen Max, and he gladly accepts his role.
Butler gives Max the egg and he keeps it with him that day as they wait to get to see the comet in all its glory. That night, when Max has fallen asleep with the egg, May starts humming a lullaby their mother used to sing to them, and despite that being quite the opposite of the usual function of a lullaby, this is what finally wakes Jirachi from his thousand-year sleep. After he's been introduced to the group and Diane has invited them to stay in hers and Butler's RV, they excitedly decide to try out Jirachi's ability to grant wishes; Max wishes for a lot of candy, and Jirachi grants it by teleporting all the candy from a candy stall at the festival into the RV. Whoops.
Max and Jirachi fool around the next day until a sudden attack by an Absol. Butler manages to trap the Absol in a cage and makes his Kirlia put it to sleep with Hypnosis. Jirachi cryptically mutters that the Absol came for him, but a keen viewer may have noticed that when Max and Jirachi were on one side of Butler's stage and Ash, May, Brock and Butler were on the other, the Absol went for the latter without hesitation.
That night, Butler sneaks into the RV and kidnaps the sleeping Jirachi. Butler, you see, isn't who Ash and company think he is. He is a mad scientist who used to work with Team Magma, determined to resurrect Groudon from a fragment of its body. When he first attempted to demonstrate his technique to the team, he failed because his machine couldn't get enough energy to complete the process, and he was laughed out of the room. After this, however, he developed an obsession with finding a way to make it work, and he's found it: when Jirachi awakens, he absorbs massive amounts of energy from the Millennium Comet, enough to perform the resurrection. Butler and Diane dug up Jirachi's chrysalis in a place called Forina, where Jirachi normally resides, and then began to put on magic shows in order to find a suitable partner so that Jirachi would wake up and be able to gather the comet's energy. Now that he's awoken, there is nothing standing in Butler's way.
So Butler takes Jirachi to his magic show stage, where he's set up an elaborate machine, designed to absorb Jirachi's energy and revive Groudon with it. Diane is with him, but hesitant; she says the Absol was probably going to take Jirachi back to Forina and pleads for Butler to stop what he's doing before something horrible happens, but he only responds that everything he's done has led up to this day. He starts up the machines, and Jirachi is suspended in mid-air between what looks like a pair of magnets. He is obviously in pain, but Butler ignores it and orders Jirachi to open his true eye to absorb the energy of the comet. When Jirachi refuses to do it, he makes his Dusclops force the eye open with Psychic as the Absol roars and struggles in its cage.
May, however, noticed Butler sneaking around earlier, and she quickly figures out what's going on. She wakes the rest of the gang and they hurry over to Butler's dome just as Jirachi's true eye opens fully and a beam shoots out of it towards the comet, collecting its energy. (Physics is crying right now because even at light speed it should take more than the observed couple of seconds to reach the comet, but then again this is a movie where you can gather energy from a comet by shooting a beam at it, so I think physics is beyond help at this point.) The beam returns multiplied, but instead of resurrecting Groudon, the entire mechanism explodes. Max picks up the battered Jirachi, horrified. Butler is amazed by the amount of energy that came from the comet and resolves to successfully harness it next time, then demands Max hand Jirachi over, but of course Max refuses, and Diane steps in to beg Butler to stop again. He reiterates that he must get it working, then shoves Diane away as Max tries to run for it. Jirachi mutters that he wants to go back to Forina as Pikachu and the caged Absol, who manages to break out, keep Butler's Dusclops at bay. Diane, finally fed up with Butler's obsession, directs them outside and gets them all in the RV before driving off. Butler quickly sends his Mightyena after them to stick a tracking device on the RV.
As they drive, Diane tells them about Butler's work with Team Magma, his obsession with completing his work and resurrecting Groudon, and his plans for Jirachi. They all agree to take Jirachi to Forina together, but it's four days' drive away. On the way, they drive over some uneven land, dislodging the tracking device without them ever knowing it was there, but Butler can already tell where they're headed.
That night, Diane tells May about how she and Butler were childhood friends; all he wanted back then was to invent things to surprise and delight people. Her hope is that once the comet has passed, Butler's obsession will cease and he will return to his old self so that they can be together. Meanwhile, as the days pass Max begins to grow anxious at the knowledge that he will have to be separated from Jirachi forever in just a couple of days' time, and Ash makes an adorably awkward speech about how a thousand years pass like an instant for a comet to try to cheer him up. (The dubbers rewrote this speech to make it about how friendship totally lasts forever even if you never meet again and insert a random reference to Misty and how much he misses her, perhaps to please the shippers.)
Finally they arrive in Forina, a valley filled with tall natural stone pillars and a rich variety of greenery and wildlife. They sleep a night there, and the next morning a familiar Absol shows up to lead the way to where Jirachi was found. On the way, wild Pokémon watch them in wonder, recognizing Jirachi. Eventually they get down to the rocky caves where Jirachi was excavated, and after Max gives him a tearful hug, he levitates into the air to face the comet, which is visible through a hole in the ceiling. Diane explains that Jirachi gathers energy from the comet by opening his true eye and then, over the course of his thousand-year sleep, he slowly releases that energy into the environment; this is what has made Forina so fertile and full of life.
But suddenly, just as Jirachi has opened his third eye, metal cylinders like the muzzles of guns burst out through the walls and shoot purple lightning towards Jirachi, trapping him in a sphere of energy. The lightning generators pull Jirachi up through the gap in the ceiling and onto a huge, suspended metal platform high above, which wasn't visible from below until part of the ceiling is revealed to be cloth and falls away. On the platform stands Butler, who welcomes them to his magic show. He explains that because they earned Jirachi's trust and got him to willingly open his true eye (which seems to put him in some sort of a temporary coma), they've done a good share of the work for him. He then tells Diane that he's sure she'll come crawling back to him if this experiment succeeds before taking the unconscious Jirachi and placing him in the machine that's standing on the platform. Again, Jirachi's true eye shoots a beam towards the comet, it returns with the comet's energy, and Butler's machines begin to burn a (very) stylized image of Groudon onto the ground with lightning. This looks absolutely nothing like his previous attempts, so I suppose he started from scratch.
Meanwhile, the purple lightning forms a barrier around Ash and company that traps them down in the cave, and not even Pikachu's trusty Thunderbolt can pierce through it. But lo and behold! Absol comes rushing through the tunnel and shoots an Aerial Ace or something of the like at the muzzles producing the purple lightning, destroying a couple of them. And then a Flygon that they met in Forina earlier arrives from above and smashes the last two muzzles before landing on the ground next to them and offering them its flight to help. Ash, Pikachu and Max get on its back, and Flygon takes off into the air.
As Butler sees them flying up, he sends out his Salamence and jumps on its back, hoping to keep them away while the machines finish creating Groudon (his role in the process is over, so there's no need for him to be on the platform for the rest). Flygon drops Max and Pikachu off on the platform where Jirachi is and then takes off again with Ash to distract Butler as Pikachu Thunderbolts the machine holding Jirachi suspended, releasing him from its hold. The machine creating Groudon stops, and Ash and Flygon land again to pick up Pikachu, Max and Jirachi and take them down to where Absol has led the others out of the caves.
But just as they've reunited, there is an ominous rumble. They were too late: the machine had already finished carving Groudon into the ground by the time they disabled it, and now the carving is bulging up and coming to life. And there is something decidedly off about the Groudon that emerges as it grows to a monstrous size. Its pupilless eyes glow with a sinister light, and trees start to wither in its presence as it drains the cosmic energy distributed by Jirachi from the soil. Instead of the gray-brownish belly we're used to, this Groudon has pitch black interrupted by a glow of molten lava under the surface. When it roars, the inside of its mouth is filled with white-hot magma. And its claws and spikes turn into creepy green tentacles that begin to absorb all the Pokémon in the vicinity, starting with Absol, who is brave enough to try to attack it. This twisted, demonic thing is not the Groudon we know and love; it is a being of pure evil set to absorb the energy of all life into itself.
Butler lands his Salamence next to Ash and friends and stares in horror at what he has created as Diane asks him if this is really what he wanted. Meanwhile, the fake Groudon continues absorbing the various wildlife. Butler stumbles forward in confusion, muttering that this is not what Groudon should be, while a tentacle shoots towards him; Diane leaps in front of him to save him and is absorbed instead, her last words being that she loves him. Finally having realized the wrongheadedness of his actions, Butler screams her name in despair.
Butler quickly mounts Salamence again as more tentacles come towards them. Ash and company try to run, but a tentacle snatches May and Brock, then another comes for Ash, Pikachu, Max and Jirachi, which begins to absorb them until Jirachi teleports them away. Jirachi saves them again from the next tentacle, but when the tentacles approach a third time, a Flamethrower from above repels them momentarily - it's Butler's Salamence, and he shouts to them that the fake Groudon is after Jirachi's energy: having absorbed the energy of the comet, Jirachi has more of it than any other creature in the vicinity.
Yet another tentacle, its end formed into the shape of a snakelike head, comes towards Ash and Max, but is blasted apart by a beam of energy from above. Who should it be this time but Flygon, here again to rescue them? They waste no time before climbing on its back again, and it shoots off the ground just as another tentacle lashes out. They manage to escape the Groudon's grasp, but only with the help of Jirachi's teleportation ability.
Butler approaches on his Salamence and explains that the only way to destroy the fake Groudon is to put Jirachi into the machine again, but set it to reverse, so that Jirachi will absorb energy from the Groudon. They still don't entirely trust him, but he says quietly that he just wants to rescue Diane. Some tentacles come along, and Butler's Salamence flies in front of Flygon, first blasting a tentacle apart, but then getting enveloped by the next as Butler falls off, plummeting towards the ground. Jirachi, however, teleports Salamence down so that Butler lands back on its back. Since Jirachi has decided to trust Butler, Ash and Max decide to trust him too.
Somehow they all find the chance to land somewhere pretty far away from the Groudon without its tentacles coming after them, and there they formulate a plan: Butler will try to set the machine while Ash, Max and Jirachi try to distract Groudon on Flygon. This goes okay; the platform with the machines, however, has been weakened and is getting wobbly, and when Butler is done throwing all the switches, he drops the fragment of Groudon's body, which is necessary for the process (though it's hard to tell why). It bounces off the platform and begins to fall, only to be caught in the air by Ash on Flygon's back. They land on the platform, Butler puts the Groudon fragment back in in reverse, and they place Jirachi where he needs to go. As Groudon notices them and approaches, Flygon and Salamence both heroically fly out to distract it long enough for the process to work. The platform rocks again, and Butler falls off the side just as he is about to turn the machine on, but manages to hang on to some side wires as Groudon comes ever closer. Salamence and Flygon rush in to attack again, but are swallowed by more tentacles that come rushing towards them. Meanwhile, Ash makes his way towards the switch and turns the machine on.
As promised, it begins to suck energy back from the Groudon, and the monster roars and shoots its tentacles straight towards Jirachi. This time it's Butler who jumps in the way to sacrifice himself, and he is swallowed, apologizing with his final breath. As Jirachi absorbs more energy from it, the evil Groudon becomes weak and confused, its tentacles flailing but not quite managing to focus on Jirachi, and then it walks into the cliffside they're stuck on and simply begins to melt. A creepy crimson mud leaks down in globs and begins to envelop Ash, Max, Pikachu and the now-glowing Jirachi, but the energy Jirachi is receiving expands into a solid sphere of white that keeps Groudon off them. In the middle of the white light, Jirachi rockets upwards, the melting Groudon smearing across the top of the sphere like a topping on a scoop of ice cream, and heads towards the stars. Groudon disintegrates into tiny fragments that rain down as they burn up like fireworks, and Jirachi teleports everybody Groudon absorbed, including all the random wild Pokémon, safely down onto the ground. Butler and Diane land next to each other, and Diane embraces him, having forgiven him.
Jirachi, bathed in golden light, comes back down to Max and the gang, and they all promise they'll be friends forever. Then Jirachi makes his own wish, which is for them to sing that lullaby of May and Max's mother's again. They do so as Jirachi curls up and forms a new crystal egg around himself, which then sinks into the ground below to wait for the comet's next appearance in a thousand years' time.
In the morning, Butler and Diane explain that they want to stay in Forina to try to restore the land that was damaged and study the flora in the area. They then offer to take Ash and company to the next settlement. As they leave, Max hears Jirachi's voice one last time, assuring him he'll be watching over him forever. Aww.
Cue ending credits, with a full vocal and instrumental version of that pretty lullaby. There is no wrapping up of storyline elements in the credits this time, but we do see Ash and friends looking at the stars and recognizing Pokémon versions of familiar astrological signs. This is one of my favorite things in this movie for some reason.
While this movie is basically a "villain wants a legendary's power, Ash and company must save the legendary from their grasp" plot, there are several unique aspects that make it stand out a bit. First of all, once the fake Groudon comes into play, I think it has one of the most intense and memorable final confrontations of any Pokémon movie. Pokémon movie villains have been passably evil before (see the Iron-Masked Marauder from the fourth movie), but never nightmarish; the Groudon, however, is a twisted, positively demonic creature, and that really adds to the feeling of urgency and horror. The way that its claws and spikes turn into slime-tentacles absorbing everything that breathes is just fantastically weird and wrong and unsettling, and it's so massive and horrifically powerful that it seems impossible to defeat - but instead of some weird, unrelated, arbitrary action that will magically make it stop just because, the movie has actually set up a mechanism to unmake the Groudon that's pretty easy to accept as logical within the premises of the film. The "secondary legendaries" in the movies often feel tacked on and extraneous, like Suicune in the fourth movie, but even though the fake Groudon doesn't have a huge amount of screentime, it's been set up well enough and the fight against it is gripping enough that it doesn't feel that way at all.
This is also the first movie to feature ordinary, non-speaking, non-legendary Pokémon in actual heroic roles, which is something I really enjoy. Human characters tend to do an abnormal amount of the world-saving considering the franchise is called Pokémon, and when the Pokémon themselves are in the spotlight, they're usually portrayed as distinct from other Pokémon somehow, usually by being legendary or if not at least able to speak with some sort of telepathy. Ordinary Pokémon, meanwhile, have gotten to be victims (first movie), bystanders (second movie), even briefly helpful (fourth movie), but otherwise generally only serve as an extension of their trainers or as just another part of the scenery if they're wild. In this movie, however, Absol and Flygon are simply ordinary wild Pokémon who several times step in at the last moment to steal the scene in actual acts of heroism completely on their own terms. They as individuals are brave and strong and believe they should help the main characters' cause, without having to speak or be legendary or otherwise "special", and make their own choices in the service of that goal. I think that's great, and I wish the franchise did a little more of it - it's understandable that the most important Pokémon characters are generally able to speak, since developing a character who can't talk is harder, but I'd love to see more wild Pokémon side characters acting on their own.
This movie also generally looks very good. It uses CGI in some scenes, but for whatever reason most of the CGI looks better than the CGI in any of the previous movies and a lot of the following ones too; you can tell it's CGI, but for the most part it doesn't look as glaringly out of place as it often does (with some notable exceptions, like the scene near the beginning where Diane raises the crystal egg). The fake Groudon looks pretty great as well, and I really like the comet imagery, particularly because it's actually pretty correct in showing both the gas tail pointing straight away from the sun and the dust cloud that curves away from the comet's direction of travel.
I also enjoyed the music, and of course the Pokémon star signs in the end credits.
Unfortunately, the entire Jirachi aspect of the plot of this movie doesn't really hold water if you think about it a little. It's definitely fridge logic, not something that hits you while you're watching the movie for the first time, but it's pretty distracting once you do realize it.
We're told that Jirachi lies buried in Forina for a thousand years and awakens only for the seven days of the Millennium Comet, but he only wakes if he has a human partner. This is very strange: if Jirachi's egg usually just lies buried in an uninhabited area, how on earth does Jirachi normally find a partner? Perhaps Jirachi usually just becomes partners with a wild Pokémon that digs his egg out of the ground - but if that's the case, then why does Butler appear to believe the partner should be a human child and go out of his way to put on elaborate magic shows to find one, instead of looking for an appropriate wild Pokémon? Why does Jirachi need a partner to awaken at all, when the partner doesn't seem to have to do anything besides keep Jirachi company? If the comet energy is what keeps Forina fertile, wouldn't it be disastrous if Jirachi didn't get a partner one millennium and the energy didn't get replenished for a thousand more years? The partner requirement feels distinctly like something arbitrarily inserted simply to entangle Ash and friends in the plot, and that makes it kind of forced.
Moreover, just how in the world do people know all this stuff about Jirachi? Again, if Jirachi is supposed to awaken only for seven days every thousand years, and he's supposed to be in Forina when that happens, exactly when did humans find out Jirachi even exists, much less exactly how he awakes? The only time they could have witnessed it and found out exactly what Jirachi is doing and how and why is if they coincidentally happened to be wandering around Forina a thousand years ago, at which time (at least judging from our world) science and technology probably barely existed. And if they didn't figure it out then, they'd have had to do it two thousand years ago. This timescale just doesn't make any sense - realistically, there might at most be vague, mangled legends from a thousand years ago, and that's if a traveler happened to be passing by during those seven days and noticed Jirachi. In the movie, however, they know exactly when he appears, for how long, under what conditions, that he can supposedly grant wishes, how he absorbs energy from the comet using his true eye, and even what he does with that energy after going back to sleep. How did anybody find any of this out?
In a similar vein, the Millennium Comet festival is pretty bizarre. This is an event that happens once every thousand years - this is, pretty much inevitably, the first time it's happened since the beginning of modern civilization. So how are there established traditions around the appearance of this comet, special merchandise, folklore about making a wish on each day? Everything about this movie would make a lot more sense if the comet appeared once every one hundred years, or something in that vein - long enough for Max to be very unlikely to ever see Jirachi again, but still short enough for there to have been plenty of appearances in recorded history, plenty of time for people to gather reasonably confident knowledge based on a few encounters with Jirachi, and perhaps even time to build up sensible traditions around the appearance of the comet.
The pacing of the film also unfortunately isn't great. Very little actually happens until the last half-hour: Jirachi only hatches shortly after the twenty-minute mark, then Jirachi steals a bunch of candy, then Absol stumbles in but is quickly defeated, then Butler kidnaps Jirachi only to blow everything up almost immediately, then they drive for Forina - the first semblance of a threat or conflict is at thirty minutes in, and even after that five-minute confrontation there's another lull until Butler actually kidnaps Jirachi again at the end. The last thirty minutes definitely make up for it in general intensity and excitement value, but the movie remains pretty slow to kick off properly.
My third issue is with how the movie handles Butler. He has the potential to be a fascinating villain, but I don't think the movie ultimately manages to get there. The way Diane describes what drives him, it's essentially the joy of performing, entertaining and impressing other people, and I like that - it shows why he'd try to put on a show for the Magma members, take it very badly when he fails in front of them, and become obsessed with doing it successfully. But why was he involved with Team Magma to begin with? We never see any sign that he actually believes in Team Magma's ideals, or that he had any particular reason for wanting to resurrect Groudon of all things. When he sees the fake Groudon he's horrified and mutters that this isn't what Groudon should be, but exactly what should Groudon have been? What exactly was he hoping to get? Did he actually want to use Groudon somehow, or did he just want to show Team Magma that his technique worked after all? I think this movie would be significantly improved if his motivations were explored better; as it is, it's a bit hard to get a good grasp on him, and when you want a villain's redemption to be satisfying and believable, being able to understand the reasons for their villainous behaviour is crucial - we need to believe that they wouldn't do it again, and we can't do that if we don't properly understand why they did it in the first place.
Compounding this is the fact that he has a few moments of villainy that go quite a bit beyond mere obsession with Groudon, and these aren't really addressed; the viewer appears to be expected to just forget about them. When he has Dusclops force Jirachi's third eye open, he's screaming in pain, and yet Butler just stands by, smirking, without so much as a wince at the knowledge that he's outright torturing an innocent creature. The way he insists Diane will come running back to him when he's finished resurrecting Groudon is pretty creepy and makes her into a prize to him. And the way he gloats about using the heroes' friendship with Jirachi for his own purposes is downright disturbing. All in all, it feels a little uncomfortable to accept him as a good guy after all this, and I wish they'd handled that better.
Team Rocket, once again, are in the movie but contribute basically nothing to it. Annoyingly, at the beginning it seems like they're going to have a bigger role when they strike at Butler's show, but then for the rest of the movie they're sidelined and don't interact with the main characters at all. Worse, this time they spend their scenes talking about doing stuff like trying to capture Jirachi for Giovanni, but then never even attempt to act on it, even though there's no particular reason for them not to. It's disappointing and distracting.
Finally, the way the characters' lips are drawn and animated when they're humming just bugs me. They're not in sync with the actual humming and don't really look like lips at all, making the characters' faces look dorky and comical. I don't know what they should have looked like, but it wasn't this.
I think I probably like this movie more than it deserves. Above, I've written a couple of things under "The Good" and a long rant under "The Bad", and yet this still ranks pretty highly among my favorite Pokémon movies. I just really like the entire sequence with the fake Groudon, and a lot of my complaints are nitpicks, fridge logic that you don't notice unless you stop to think about it. It's entirely possible you'll weigh it differently, however, so take my overall liking for it with a grain of salt.
« Previous review (Pokémon Heroes: Latios & Latias) Next review (Destiny Deoxys) »
Page last modified June 16 2018 at 01:54 UTC