Pokémon Heroes 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. As 4Kids significantly rewrote the movie for its English-language release, there will be some differences if you have only seen the dub.
Thoughts and Synopsis
Oddly, this movie may have the most significant dub rewrites of any Pokémon movie. The first and second movie dubs change various nuances, some of them thematically important, and rewrite a lot of dialogue, but for Pokémon Heroes, the backstory behind the movie's plot was also simply thrown out and replaced with a different one that only slightly resembles the original. As noted above, I watched the Japanese version and will be commenting on that in the synopsis, although I will also touch on the dub's changes later in the review, since I also watched the dub of this movie.
The film starts with a legend being narrated by a mysterious female voice, illustrated with images that look like simple paper cutouts. Once upon a time, on the island of Alto Mare, there was an old couple, and one day they found two injured children, a brother and a sister, by the shore. They nursed the children back to health, but one day a monster attacked, and just as it was consuming the island, the two children began to transform: they were the legendary Pokémon Latios and Latias, and they called a swarm of other Latios and Latias down to help them defeat the monster. They used a jewel called the Soul Dew to banish it and then gave it to the old couple before they left. Peace returned to the island. After that, Latias and Latios continued to visit frequently, and the island was never attacked again.
We zoom out to see that the images we have been seeing are (animated versions of) pictures in a book, which is hurriedly closed as footsteps are heard. Two sisters, Annie and Oakley - the latter having narrated the legend - are crouching near a huge bookcase in a library. They are master thieves, they are stealing the book, and they intend on capturing Latios and Latias, stealing the Soul Dew and finding out the secrets behind the legend. The pair escape handily from the library's nightguard and fly away in their rocket car (yes, they've got a rocket car) towards the city of Alto Mare.
It just so happens, of course, that Ash and company are also visiting Alto Mare. While Brock watches, Ash and Misty are about to compete in a Water Pokémon race along the canals of the city, which is obviously based on Venice - resembling water skiing, the competition has the contestants stand in little hollow half-sphere boats, pulled through the water by their chosen Water Pokémon. Ash and his Totodile are doing pretty well for the first bit of the race, but then invisible creatures (Latias and Latios, their shapes visible to the audience as distortions in the air) start to interfere, saving him from a crash and then dragging him and Totodile ahead, before suddenly pulling him into a wrong turn as he's in the lead. He suspects nothing, assuming Totodile simply made a mistake, and Misty wins the race thanks to her Corsola reaching across the finish line with its antlers. Afterwards, Ash, Misty and Brock are invited on a boat ride with the former champion, who tells them about the legend of Latios and Latias and how they're believed to be watching over the city even now.
Meanwhile, a flying spy camera lands on a windowsill above a sunny square in Alto Mare. It belongs to Annie and Oakley, and it's not just a camera but an infrared heat camera that they're using to scan the area for Latias or Latios - they can take on human form, as the legend details, but they have a lower body temperature than real humans, allowing the infrared camera to spot them in a crowd. It's not long before they spot a suspiciously cold human...
After their boat ride, Ash and company go to get some food, but Pikachu is thirsty and heads into a square with a public water pump. It can't pump the water by itself, but a young woman with a suspiciously Latias-like haircut pumps some water for Pikachu just before Ash arrives to help. She walks right up to Ash's face and stares at him from several angles, then leaves without saying a word.
This woman, of course, is actually Latias, and Annie and Oakley follow her in a motorboat as she walks along one of the canals of the city. When they catch up with her, they send out their Espeon and Ariados, who chase after her as she runs. Pikachu hears it and rushes to help, and Ash naturally follows, leading him right to where Ariados has trapped Latias in a Spider Web. Ash immediately starts to tear away at her bonds while Annie and Oakley play innocent; Annie then orders her Espeon to attack Ash, so he has Pikachu retaliate with a Thunderbolt. With Latias freed, they run for it through a maze of conspicuously CG streets, followed by the thieves' Pokémon. Latias soon takes the lead, directs Ash back to where he started, and then vanishes when he isn't looking her way.
Although puzzled by the mysterious girl, Ash goes with Misty and Brock to visit a large temple in the city. Fossils of Aerodactyl and Kabutops are embedded in the floor; a tour guide, Lorenzo, explains that many fossils are on display there. The temple is dedicated to Latios and Latias as an expression of gratitude, but it's built around a strange machine that has been there longer than the current incarnation of the temple itself. Supposedly the machine exists for the sake of keeping the peace, but nobody knows how it is operated.
While Lorenzo is telling them about this, however, Ash notices the strange girl he saw earlier, painting on a canvas on a higher floor of the temple. He rushes after her when she leaves the building and asks her why she ran away back then, but she responds that she has no idea what he's talking about and continues on her way. This, of course, only makes him all the more determined to follow. Just when he thinks he's lost her, she pops up again on a bridge and beckons him to follow her. She leads him into an alleyway and then simply walks through a wall there, followed by Pikachu and then by an incredulous Ash. This gets him into a beautiful garden hidden away in the middle of the city.
Suddenly he is attacked by the huge, near-invisible shape of Latios. Pikachu tries to Thunderbolt it to no avail, until Latias - still in the form of a girl - steps in and places herself between Ash and her brother. Latios makes himself visible and makes a couple of angry grunts while Latias shakes her head, still protecting Ash. Then, before things can escalate, a girl arrives - one who looks just like Latias except that she's wearing a beret and carrying a sketchpad. Naturally, this is the person Ash saw at the temple, who had no idea what he was talking about. She is suspicious of Ash, but then Lorenzo the tour guide, who turns out to be her grandfather, arrives on the scene and vouches for him.
Latias, it turns out, only wanted to play, having taken a liking to Ash after he saved her from Annie and Oakley earlier. The real girl's name is Bianca, and her family are the guardians of the secret of this garden, where Latias and Latios can reside safely when they come to the city. Latias merely sometimes takes Bianca's form as a human disguise. The two legendaries play with Ash and Pikachu a little in the garden, and Latios shows Ash his "sightsharing" ability: his eyes glow, and then Latias and whoever else she lets in on it can see through his eyes. Obviously, this will be relevant later.
Finally, Bianca tells Ash the legend told at the beginning of the movie, which is written on ancient stone panels in the garden, only with the addition that this garden is where the Soul Dew, the jewel that the ancient Latios and Latias used to vanquish the monster, is kept. The mysterious machine from the temple is actually a way to unleash and direct the power of the Soul Dew, with Latias or Latios's help, in order to protect the island from threats. They show Ash the Soul Dew itself, which is kept in a pool of water in a large basin, and make him promise not to tell anyone that he saw it. Unfortunately, Annie and Oakley's spy cameras were watching.
That night, Annie and Oakley use Espeon to incapacitate Lorenzo and break into the secret garden. After a struggle, Latios is immobilized and persuades Latias with urgent grunts and wails to leave him, get away and find help, then takes a couple of attacks for her so that she can dive into a canal and escape. Annie and Oakley don't mind so much, since they only really need one of the two. They grab the Soul Dew and decipher the instructions about unleashing its power through the machine in the temple from the stone panels. The ancient writing warns that if the Soul Dew is used for evil, it will be corrupted and lost, and so will the island; however, Oakley dismisses the warning, and they leave.
Annie and Oakley haul the unconscious Latios into the temple and place him on a section of the floor encircled by three metal rings. Once he's there, the metal rings levitate out of the floor to suspend him in mid-air and the machine begins to unfold. Lorenzo and Bianca barge in, having realized the Soul Dew was gone, but Annie's Espeon simply knocks them both out with a Psychic, and the two women continue as if they'd never been interrupted. They place the Soul Dew where it's supposed to go in the mechanism, and the machine springs to life.
Meanwhile, Latias flies in through the window of Ash, Misty and Brock's hotel room, where they are sleeping, to get help. (Ash appears to sleep in his jeans, because he jumps right out of bed wearing them.) He introduces Latias to Misty and Brock, but she looks anxious and on the verge of tears, and unfortunately, even in her human form, she can't speak to communicate what's wrong.
At the temple, Bianca and Lorenzo have regained consciousness, but they've been wrapped up in Ariados's Spider Web, leaving them immobile and helpless. At Bianca's shout, Latios finally wakes up just as Oakley steps into the spherical cockpit from which the machine is controlled. He tries to break out of the metal cage, but can't; instead, he sightshares with Latias to show her where he is. Conveniently, since Latias is with our heroes, she can show the vision to them too. As they watch, Oakley uses the power of the Soul Dew to revive the Kabutops and Aerodactyl fossils from the floor and orders them to capture Latias and bring her to them - they do want both Latios and Latias, after all, even if only one is necessary to power the mechanism.
Latios stops sightsharing, and Oakley continues by activating a control that closes intricate metal gates across every street in the city: this is what the citizens of Alto Mare used to prevent enemies from getting into the city, but she is using it to prevent anyone from getting to the temple to stop them. Ash and Latias barely manage to get out on the streets before a gate closes all exits from the house they were in. He steals a gondola and begins to try to make his way towards the temple. Aerodactyl appears on the way and snatches Latias, but Pikachu fries it with a Thunderbolt, causing Ash to fall into the canal and Latias to turn invisible and fly away in a panic. Aerodactyl destroys the gondola with a Hyper Beam, but Latias reappears and they find some of the little half-sphere boats used in the Water Pokémon race and use one of those, with Latias pulling it. They shake Aerodactyl off pretty easily.
Brock and Misty try to get out, but fail; Misty worries because Ash doesn't have his Pokémon with him (except for Pikachu, of course), and they decide to send their own Pokémon to help Ash instead (as opposed to, you know, just sending out Ash's own Pokémon from the Pokéballs Misty is holding in her hand and having them go find him). Meanwhile, Kabutops comes after Ash and Latias, but Brock and Misty's Pokémon arrive just in time to fight it off.
Back at the temple, Oakley is starting to go mad with power. Through the power of the Soul Dew, she can see anything that goes on in the city, notices Ash and Latias coming, and decides to send a mini-tidal wave after them. Lorenzo protests, reciting the legend about how if the Soul Dew is used for evil, it will be destroyed forever. As Ash and Latias approach the temple, Oakley tries to surround them with a vortex of water and drown them, but Latias uses her power to clear the water away and they rush inside the temple.
Trying to drown people, however, is exactly the kind of evil that will destroy the Soul Dew, and thus the machine goes berserk, sparkling with electricity. As the machine spins chaotically with Oakley still in the cockpit, Annie is clearly worried for her. Ash has Pikachu Thunderbolt Annie and Espeon and then runs up to Bianca and Lorenzo, releasing them. Ash, Pikachu and Latias then try to ram Latios's cage and manage to free him, and the machine whirs to a stop.
This leaves Oakley dizzy and exhausted in the cockpit, and Annie moves up to check on her before she tries to grab the Soul Dew. (Brock and Misty barge in here, somehow having made their way to the temple despite all the closed gates.) But the jewel has changed: it's now black with swirling red inside it. Lorenzo shouts she mustn't touch it, but he's too late, and the Soul Dew releases a blast of power that knocks her straight into the cockpit with Oakley, breaks the Soul Dew for good and starts up the machine. Lorenzo recites the legend yet again: if the Soul Dew is used for evil, not only will it be destroyed, but also the city itself. Outside, the water begins to drain out of the canals of Alto Mare, only to return as a humongous tidal wave spanning the entire horizon. Latios and Latias fly out to meet it, a white sphere of light forming around them as they smash into the wave and destroy it, saving the city.
Inside the sphere of light, Latios has turned translucent while Latias is opaque as ever. This can't be good. They touch one last time before Latios begins to fade away into the light, and Ash and company see a bright beam shoot up towards the sky. The ocean calmly rises back to its former levels, refilling the canals of the city as all the protective gates finally open. Kabutops and Aerodactyl vanish into sparkles of light and return to the temple floor, and the people of Alto Mare look out their windows as they would on any normal day. Annie and Oakley squabble inside the control chamber for the machine, stuck. Everything seems to be okay... except that Latios and Latias are still nowhere to be seen.
In the morning, Ash and company go out on a boat with Lorenzo and Bianca to look for Latios and Latias. Eventually, they come upon Latias, who is being carried unconscious by a wild Mantine. They take her into the boat as she regains consciousness and ask her where Latios is, but she only looks sadly up towards the sky. Latios sacrificed his life to save the city and Latias, and nothing will bring him back.
He's not entirely gone, however: Latias's eyes glow, and she sightshares with them, showing them what Latios is now seeing. They see themselves inside a sphere that looks suspiciously like the Soul Dew, ascending ever farther from the Earth. Pokémon Heaven, it seems, is in space. The sphere around them condenses into a small light which then falls into Bianca's hand as the sightshare ends: it's a new Soul Dew, formed from this Latios's soul. They head back to the secret garden and place the Soul Dew in the basin where the old one used to be.
As Ash and company leave town, somebody who could be either Bianca or Latias (but is probably Latias, judging from her demeanor) comes up, hands Ash a drawing and then kisses him, much to the horror of both Brock and Misty.
During the end credits, they see two Latios and a Latias flying in the sky, showing there are more of them around. Annie and Oakley are also rescued from the machine and arrested, and they are seen in prison reading a book about Lawrence III - yup, the guy from the second movie. Never would have thought he'd ever be seen again, huh?
Annie and Oakley are pretty good villains. They feel competent at what they do, they're fun to watch, and I like their relationship with one another - it's fun to how Annie cares a great deal more about Oakley than about capturing Latias and Latios and becomes visibly concerned and alarmed when Oakley starts to get reckless and power-hungry. I also love the setting and the music of this movie (which was thankfully kept in the dub). The city of Alto Mare is beautiful, and all in all the movie is aesthetically pleasing. And I liked how Latias's human form was done a lot - she's always a bit inhuman and just off, without being outright creepy.
After several Pokémon movies with fake-out not-really-deaths that felt cheap and overwrought, Latios here gets to actually make his heroic sacrifice without being unceremoniously brought back to life afterwards, and the movie is much better for it. It's genuinely sad, particularly because of Latias's reactions, and strikes the right chord without being overdone or cheesy. In general the relationship between the siblings is sweet, and despite being unable to talk, they're strongly emotive and sympathetic and what they're thinking comes across clearly in their scenes, making them work well as characters driving the story.
And the plot and pacing are pretty tight here too; the action starts early and keeps up pretty well throughout, and while the story isn't anything particularly amazing - it's just one of the "villain wants a legendary's power, Ash and company must save the legendary from their grasp" movies - there's nothing egregiously nonsensical. All in all, it does well at creating emotional stakes and investment and making the viewer care.
A lot of the characters in this movie really don't contribute much. You might notice that like for the third movie, I didn't mention Team Rocket anywhere in the synopsis. They're still in there, but it's even worse than in the third movie: this time, there is literally not a single scene where Team Rocket interact with any other character at all. All they do in the whole movie is get a few of their own, separate, non-plot-relevant scenes consisting of them being the universe's buttmonkeys or reacting to things; they could easily be completely cut out and no one could tell anything was missing, and all in all they add nothing to the movie. The fact they're fans of Annie and Oakley is sort of fun, but we can easily see that they're competent master thieves without Team Rocket's say-so, and since unlike with the Iron-Masked Marauder in the fourth movie we don't actually get to see Team Rocket interact with the pair, that's about all they could theoretically be considered to contribute.
It's not just Team Rocket, however. Brock and Misty are also almost completely extraneous, and their role consists almost entirely of just hanging around with Ash in a few mostly non-plot-relevant scenes: every time Ash is doing something that matters - chasing after Latias, finding the secret garden, going with Latias to help Latios - he has been separated from them for one reason or another. The closest they ever come to relevance is when their Pokémon save Ash from Kabutops, once, in a scene with no further repercussions that feels inserted solely to give them something to do. And while Lorenzo the guide at least serves as Mr. Exposition in several scenes, Bianca also gets strikingly little to do, with her main apparent purpose being to be the basis for Latias's human form and thus fueling the mystery early in the movie before we find out she and Latias are different people.
Now, even Ash doesn't have that much of an impact when you get right down to it: he saves Latias once at the beginning and comes with her to the temple to save Latios, but ultimately Oakley orchestrates her own downfall by misusing the Soul Dew, and Latios and Latias stop the tidal wave, while Ash is mostly a spectator. I don't think Ash's relative background role is much of a problem for the movie, however; he isn't really the hero here. By befriending Latias, he has an emotional stake in what's going on, and their relationship strengthens Latias's character; overall this movie actually integrates him better than many of the others. Meanwhile, it really feels like the writers had no idea what to do with Brock and Misty or Team Rocket, and Lorenzo and Bianca ultimately feel like plot devices more than characters.
There is also some noticeable conspicuous CG here; most glaringly, the computer-generated first-person shots of the streets of Alto Mare when Ash and Latias are fleeing through the city really stick out like a sore thumb, and the machine in the temple is also pretty obviously computer-generated and off, though at least that's a machine so it's not supposed to look perfectly natural.
There were some little things that bugged me: Brock and Misty magically appearing at the temple at the end even though the gates hadn't been opened yet, the unnecessarily drawn-out scene of Latios and Latias playing with Ash and Pikachu in the garden, the other little illogicalities mentioned here and there in the synopsis. But none of that is terribly significant or hurts the movie to any serious extent.
The dub of this movie, however, makes a number of odd changes that render it a worse film, even leaving aside the general issue of making unnecessary changes in the localization of a movie. So here are some of the flaws that are added in the dub, but are not present in the Japanese version.
First of all, the dub changes the backstory completely, to one that's irrelevant to the actual plot and doesn't make a lot of sense to begin with. In the dub, the Aerodactyl and Kabutops from the temple belonged to an evil trainer who made them attack people, and then Latios brought water to the city and drowned them. Aside from that being strangely morbid - outright killing Pokémon for doing what their trainer taught them? - it's also just weird; didn't they have any good Pokémon trainers that could have fought against the Aerodactyl and Kabutops? Why would the people then put the evil Pokémon's remains on display? And when this random Aerodactyl and Kabutops are made into the centerpieces of the movie's backstory, their lack of importance to the actual narrative becomes incongruous and puzzling. When I first saw this movie, as the Icelandic dub (based on the English one), this really confused me; I expected them to be the bigger bad once they were resurrected, only for them to be quickly, anticlimactically defeated and forgotten about.
Secondly, the dub leaves us with no good reason why the tidal wave appears, since it leaves out the part of the legend about how using the Soul Dew for evil will destroy both it and the town. In the original film, the machine in the temple is simply a way to direct the power of the Soul Dew, and it is implied that using its power for evil intrinsically corrupts the Soul Dew and causes it to bring calamities. In the dub, however, the focus is on the machine itself (the "Defense Mechanism of Alto Mare") being an amazing weapon that Oakley wants to get her hands on from the beginning, while the Soul Dew is portrayed merely as a prop to power it, which is a strange thematic shift. Oakley does read from the stone panels that it may only be used as a last resort or the Soul Dew will be destroyed and the water will leave, but it says nothing about destroying the town, leaving the tidal wave as a confusing side-effect. Perhaps they changed it so that the prophecy would be properly fulfilled as stated - after all, thanks to Latios and Latias, the town doesn't end up being destroyed. But I think this is missing the point. This isn't really a prophecy, predicting future events that will happen - it's a warning about what could happen. That's perfectly consistent with Latios and Latias actually averting that fate, and changing it weakens a vital link in the movie's chain of events, rendering it less coherent.
Thirdly, in the dub, Bianca tells Latios to sightshare when trying to wake him up - but she has no way of knowing that sightsharing would be useful right now. She has no idea what happened to Latias, let alone that she's with people who could help if only they could see what's going on. It makes sense for Latios to do it, because he knows Latias escaped and possibly even told her to get help, but by making Bianca be the one to urge him to, the dub creates a minor plot hole.
Finally, they changed Latias and Latios's voices and made them a lot more chatty, such that in the dub, they end up spending most of their screentime giving off annoying, loud, high-pitched wails. It was somehow even worse in the Icelandic dub, but even in the English one, they're desperately irritating to listen to for very long, and that hurts the movie a fair bit because caring about Latias and Latios is crucial for the emotional stakes of the movie. In the Japanese version, they still do squeak, but they're not as high-pitched (especially Latios), generally not as loud, and they use their voices more sparingly.
All in all, I like this movie - or, at least, the Japanese version of it. The compelling villains and Latias and Latios's relationship are highlights, while the low points are mostly fairly minor. Personally, I'd rank it relatively highly on the list of my favorite Pokémon movies. The dub, however, brings it down quite a bit with its odd rewrites, cuts and changes - I highly recommend finding a fansub if you haven't already.
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