Here at Hollywood! Adapt This! we try to bring attention to obscure and vintage properties in need of a reboot or new adaptation. Pokémon certainly doesn’t need our help gaining awareness as it’s one of the more popular properties of the last two decades, but as it approaches its 17th anniversary, the franchise could use a little freshening up. Although there have been 14 Pokémon movies with a 15th on its way, there has yet to be a live-action feature that brings the titular pocket monsters to life on the big screen. Hit the jump to catch ‘em all. Hollywood! Adapt this: Pokémon!
Pokémon is a Nintendo property created by Satoshi Tajiri back in 1996. The U.S. saw its first Pokémon games, a Red and Blue version, starting in 1998. Pokémon put players in the shoes of a young trainer who wants to become the world’s greatest Pokémon master. To help on the quest, the player received one of three starter Pokémon: Bulbasaur, Squirtle or Charmander. Each Pokémon possessed different strengths and weaknesses and allowed the player to capture all of the initial 151 creatures via head-to-head battles and tournaments. Each version of the game featured slightly different Pokémon to collect, encouraging friends to link their Game Boys and swap exclusive creatures. The franchise absolutely exploded in popularity (it’s Nintendo’s second-most successful creation after Mario), helped along with an animated TV series, an animated feature film released every year since 1998 and a furry little critter named Pikachu.
Although Pikachu was just another Pokémon in the original game, his inclusion alongside partner Ash Ketchum in the animated series led to skyrocketing popularity for the Pokémon brand. Before long, the initial catalog of Pokémon had ballooned up to the current count of 649 creatures, released over a succession of new games. The property has also branched out into manga, a trading card game, toys, clothing, books and other video games. Thankfully, there are even Pokémon cosplayers! It’s been an absolute boon for Nintendo…the only thing missing is a live-action adaptation.
How Could / Why Should It Be Adapted?
Hollywood has been producing more and more features that blend live-action with CG animation, especially in the realm of family-friendly films. 2011’s The Smurfs has grossed over half-a-billion dollars worldwide with at least two more movies coming. The Alvin and the Chipmunks series has netted over a billion dollars globally. The market is certainly there for something as popular as Pokémon and today’s movie magic is sufficiently advanced enough to bring the little monsters to life in a believable fashion alongside flesh-and-blood actors. But is money and technology reason enough?
One great aspect of the Pokémon series is the theme of competition. The protagonists travel across the land, capturing wild Pokémon and battling other trainers to gain experience. Eventually they wind up in league-sanctioned competitions where besting a gym champion grants you a badge, which speaks volumes as to your level as a trainer and fighter. In all of the best competitive movies (Rocky, The Karate Kid and obviously The Little Giants), the audiences can really get behind an underdog hero/team, especially when those stacking the odds against them are not the most virtuous of characters. Competition brings out the best and the worst in individuals; Pokémon would be a great medium to showcase that contrast.
Perhaps the most fun part of Pokémon is not just the battling of pocket monsters, but the act of collecting them. What little kid who grew up with Pokémon didn’t want to wander out into the fields and forest scaring up wild Pokémon and capturing them in PokéBalls? And now that there are almost 650 of the critters, there’s a myriad of ways to get all the fan-favorites on screen. An adaptation would have to have Pikachu, that’s a no-brainer, but the entire kingdom of Pokémon is ripe for the plucking, even the nefarious sorts that tend to align with the perennial bad guys on Team Rocket. While it’s cool for fans to see the Smurfs and the Chipmunks running around on screen, a live-action Pokémon movie would be as close to going on an actual Pokémon safari as we’re going to get.
The greatest strength of Pokémon has always been the formative moral lessons the shows and movies tried to impart on kids. Of course they’re heavy-handed and cliche, but for young minds, they almost need to be. Pokémon offers a lot of opportunities for these lessons that, if deftly done, could be expressed in a much more subtle way that works with the story, such as themes of fair play, good sportsmanship, healthy competition vs cheating, caring for animals, teamwork, etc; the list goes on and on. In the animated series, Ash and Pikachu were always strongest as a team after they’d experienced a setback, either physically or emotionally. This dynamic would most assuredly be at the core of a live-action Pokémon story and, if successful, possible franchise.
I played the first two series of Game Boy games as a kid and took my brother to go see the first two movies, so of course I’d love to see a return to Pokémon’s origins in a live-action adaptation. The creature designs are way too cool not to see them realized on the big-screen in realistic CG and the human characters are more than likable and relatable enough to ground the audience. Pokémon is an opportunity for a fun family-friendly franchise that ups the action along with life lessons rather than resorting to low-brow jokes and potty humor that has parents wanting to pull their hair out (though even that would be better than seeing The Oogieloves).
Pokémon also has an advantage over The Smurfs and Alvin and the Chipmunks in that there is already an established plot in addition to its global fanbase. I’ve seen on some comment sections that fans would like to see Ash and his pals earn one badge at a gym in each movie. This would be way too slow for pacing and would most likely exhaust audiences by the time the concluding movie rolled in, but something on the level of three or four badges per film could work, with the final film showing Ash’s battles against the Elite Four and Regional Champion in order to become the Pokémon Master. Along the way, it would be important to establish the relationships between not only Ash and his friends Misty and Brock (who are rivals as well), but also the trainers and their Pokémon, who are the real stars of the show here.
It appears as if there’s at least some interest in a live-action Pokémon movie if other Pokémon-related media is to be believed. There was a Pokémon stage show called Pokémon Live! in late 2000, a fan-made trailer for a live-action short (with a much, much darker tone…but still pretty funny), plus similar suggestions have been made elsewhere on the vast internet. If done properly, a live-action Pokémon movie would be an absolute cash cow generating numerous sequels while entertaining families and educating children on some much-needed social decencies. If done poorly, well…it’s been a while since we’ve had a Howard the Duck to make fun of.
What do you think? Are you pro-Pokémon or not? Which Pokémon would you absolutely have to see on screen to be interested and who do you think could play the human roles? Let us know in the comments below! Make sure to check in next week when we’ll take a trip back to the early 60s and revisit a lesser-known series that featured television’s first beatnik! Groovy!