For more than 20 years, fans of #Pokemon have been awaiting a live-action film adaptation of the game series. But how would the film studios do it right? When Pokémon first burst onto the scene in 1996, no one could have expected the #GameBoy title to have such an enduring impact, spawning a lucrative media franchise that remains to this day one of the most successful in history. It's honestly somewhat of a wonder that a film version has yet to be made by #Hollywood, but rumors of such a project persist.
Still, just how does one do a live-action adaptation of a series as bright, bold, otherworldly and as colorful as this? What parts of the franchise should be adapted, what areas should the studios experiment with, and which elements should be left untouched? There are many ways a Pokémon movie could be great, but there are just as many ways it could fail. For any aspiring filmmakers reading this (or Hollywood execs *wink, wink*), here are a few tips I'd recommend for adapting the Pokémon universe to the big screen.
1. Stick To The First Generations For Now
The potential filmmakers should for now stick to the first (and possibly second) generations of Pokémon. #PokemonRed and #PokemonBlue started things off strong, with 150 different species of colorful characters. That number has exploded to include some 718 pocket monsters as of this article's writing, with many more to come in the new #PokemonSun and #PokemonMoon games. The original games boasted such complete worlds that even adapting them alone would take several films. Any more than that could prove problematic.
I mean, just look at this image! Only a diehard fan would be able to keep all of this straight. Even I can't name all of these guys, and I've been with this series since its inception. To thrust this much on a new viewer would be overwhelming, and could repel them from becoming invested. This character count doesn't even include the various humans, towns, settings, myths and legends that populate the franchise. In fact, many of the creatures can (and already have) had anime movies of their own.
Pictured above are the original 151 Pokémon, and as you can see, there's already plenty to work with. What everyone must remember is that while longtime fans will make up a large demographic of a viewing audience, many more potential moviegoers may be coming into the fandom for the first time. If you start with too much too soon, a new viewer could easily be confused. Also, setting other characters and legends aside allows for these peripherals to be utilized later for any #sequels and #spinoffs that might come out of a live-action film, and most filmmakers looking to adapt the game would be doing it with film follow-ups in mind anyway.
I'm not going to lie. Many of my favorites games and characters are from Generation 2, so this is difficult for me to say. But it does make sense. In adapting a franchise as epic as Pokémon, it's important to take is slow, otherwise it will collapse from exhaustion before leaving the gate. So my advice is to stick with the Generation 1 for now. It will be a solid foundation on which to build a film series.
2. Don't Adapt The TV Series
Many people talk about a film adaptation under the assumption it will adapt the TV show, which told of the adventures of #AshKetchum and #Pikachu. The TV series was the first and most successful spinoff of the video game franchise, its characters becoming iconic in their own right. They certainly do have nostalgia on their side, but focusing on that for an adaptation may be a mistake.
The TV series is primarily geared toward young children, and Pokémon's fanbase now has a much more diverse demographic. I never expected to still enjoy Pokémon as I approach my 30s, but here I am, typing this article. Pokémon's most loyal fanbase is not newcomers, but rather, those who were there from the start; kids who have grown up and are looking to share the series with their own children. Because of that, Pokémon should be allowed to grow up with them. That's just one of the reasons the TV series should best be avoided for a big-screen adaptation.
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Pokémon has already enjoyed adaptations that did not feature Ash or even Pikachu, and all have been met with a warm reception. The #PokemonOrigins miniseries, for example, is a straight-up adaptation of the first generation of games. The lead character is the mysterious trainer known as Red, and his lead Pokémon is #Charizard. Pikachu only has a cameo in one episode, and Ash is never mentioned at all. That these adaptations enjoyed the success they did shows that Pokémon is much bigger than Ash and Pikachu, and a movie series should represent that.
Pokémon games are filled with so many creative stories and legends that on their own could make for imaginative films. You could make an entire movie out of the journey to Mt. Silver to challenge Red, the trip to the Whirl Islands to find #Lugia, the journey to the Cerulean Cave to capture #Mewtwo, and so on. The plethora of storylines is almost boundless, and if anything this should be a series where a filmmaker would be allowed to use their imagination. To simply adapt the show would stifle that creativity.
Ash and Pikachu have their place in the Pokémon universe, and that place is in the show and a few comic book adaptations. The fans have grown older, adaptations without the two characters have worked just fine, and there are any number of superior stories to chose from. These two characters stand on their own merits, as should a live-action rendering. So sorry, Ash and Pikachu, you two must sit this one out. Maybe you can, I don't know, get stoned or something.
Except for that awesome theme song. You can keep that.
3. Seek Inspiration From A Variety Of Sources
When it comes to adapting Pokémon to film, a filmmaker should be willing to take a risk in how to handle the property. There are many films that, while they may not be Pokémon, they do capture that spirit. Films such as this can serve as good models on which to build a solid adaptation. However, one must be careful, as seeking outside inspiration would offer many tropes in the games and TV show that might not work on the big screen.
Pokémon is a fighting RPG, and while that may be fun with a controller in hand, it can be tedious on screen. Battles are a central element in the series, but you need more than that on which to hinge a story — otherwise you get what amounts to a sports movie, like the epic Rocky saga. This could work for individual scenes — I mean, who doesn't want to see some Pokémon in an awesome sports training montage, set to rockin' '80s tunes? Still, Pokémon is overflowing with so much imagination and adventure that to make an entire movie like that would be a real waste of potential.
Films featuring kids with ensemble casts — such as #TheGoonies, #TheSandlot or #StandByMe, the latter of which was even referenced in the original game — would be good to derive inspiration from. All three of these films boast fans of all generations, as their humor and characters offer such wide appeal.
Perhaps most importantly, these films are all great examples of how to handle an ensemble cast. Pokémon junkies will be well aware that a team consists of a trainer and six Pokémon. That's seven characters right there. The Goonies features exactly that number of children and could serve as the perfect example for how to portray an ensemble cast.
Outside inspiration can also help filmmakers find a theme. After all, kids going around, collecting Pokémon and battling them is just a plot. What does it all mean? Stand by Me was about the painful realities of growing up. The Goonies was about fighting to enjoy youth before it's all gone. What could a Pokémon movie symbolize? The thrill and fear of leaving home for the first time? Rediscovering one's youth? That life is better enjoyed with friends than alone? All of these could work astoundingly well for a Pokémon film. A plot is just the icing, while the theme is the cake itself. As #CarlSagan would say, "What makes it all go?"
Remember, Pokémon is no longer a franchise enjoyed only by children. A large demographic of the fan base are well into adulthood, and getting them to the theater may prove the biggest challenge of all. There are plenty of other movies that could serve as great templates for a live-action Pokémon film, ranging from sci-fi to action, even horror. The Goonies, Stand by Me and The Sandlot may be about children, but they are enjoyed by fans of all ages, because the themes within are ageless. And what better way to bring out the fanboy and fangirl in all of us?
4. Keep The Look Of The Pokémon
One of the first questions prospective filmmakers might ask is: How to make the Pokémon look realistic? But does realism really matter? Pokémon has a very distinct anime style to it, and that remains one of the series' trademarks. To remove that from these characters would effectually be removing one of the sweetest toppings from the cake. You won't be doing the fans, or ticket sales, any favors. To depict these anime characters in a way that is somewhat realistic would be a challenge. Case in point, my favorite Pokémon of all, Mewtwo.
This is very much a cartoon character, right down to the enlarged and angular eyes. There is very little here that could be rendered realistically without taking artistic liberties, as any internet search for a realistic Mewtwo will show you. But this is the character as I grew to love them, and that's what fans want to see on the big screen. Because of that, realism should be secondary to style.
Pictured below is a rendering of Mewtwo that retains the anime style of the character as seen in the video game #PokkenTournament. It may not be entirely realistic, but then again, which Pokémon is? More importantly, it's instantly recognizable as the character.
The above picture is just realistic enough for moviegoers to buy, and any fan can tell you without hesitation that's Pokémon No. 150.
Realism is not an expectation, nor is it a desire of Pokémon buffs. One need only look at the premise to figure that out. What these fans will be going in for is to see their favorite characters and worlds brought to life in a theatrical release. Trying to make these characters look "real" would do little to satisfy fans who can name any of these creatures in a flash. Pokémon already has willing suspension of disbelief on its side. Since many long-term fans are already heavily invested in the Pokémon universe, having the characters look as one would expect them to will hardly take us out of the story.
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It's been 20 years since we were introduced to the original three starters. Since then, Pokémon has built a creative and in-depth universe, filled with wonderful myths and legends, a diverse cast of characters, and the same creatures that keep us coming back for more. In this stew of invention and imagination, there is the very real potential to pay something far greater than mere lip service. If this property falls into the right hands, a legitimately great movie may be on the horizon.
But remember, a lot could go wrong, too. If this property is handed to someone who doesn't see that potential, we could get a movie as boring as a fight between two #Metapods, and who wants to watch that for two hours? Give me Pikachu acting like Sylvester Stallone any day.
Do you agree with these suggestions for a live-action Pokémon movie? Let us know in the comments below! And in the meantime, enjoy this flashback to the first generation Red and Blue games.
[Image: Mewtwo as seen in Pokkén Tournament]