Welcome back to Pokemon Movies in Review, a weekly recap of the entire Pokemon cinematic universe. This week we’re revisiting Pokemon the Movie 3: Spell of the Unown, a threequel that opened at number four in the US box office, earning less than half as much as the movie in first place, Spy Kids. Pokemon 3 was not a major box office success — despite it being the first Pokemon movie to premiere in IMAX — but it did set a tone and pace for the next 20 Pokemon movies that came after it. Unlike Mewtwo Strikes Back and Pokemon 2000, Pokemon 3 tells a smaller, more personal story, and in doing so manages to avoid making many of its predecessors’ mistakes. It’s an influential film not just for the Pokemon franchise, but perhaps for the MCU as well. The plot connections between Spell of the Unown and Marvel’s Wandavision are inescapable to me, but I’ll let you be the judge of whether or not the Wandavision creators are secretly huge Pokemon fans.
Pokemon 3 takes place entirely within the small rural town of Greenfield. There, Professor Hale and his daughter Molly live in a palatial estate. Molly’s mother has gone missing prior to the start of the film, and her father spends long hours conducting research on the mysterious alphabetic Pokemon Unown. While researching some ruins one night after putting Molly to bed, Professor Hale is sucked into the Unown dimension. Grieving the loss of her father, Molly uses ancient Unown tablets to spell out her parents’ names. This activates a spell that summons the Unowns. The Pokemon use their powers to turn her mansion into an impenetrable crystal fortress that constantly expands outward, turning the entire town of Greenfield into a crystalline hellscape.
Molly then wishes to have her father back, so the Unown create an Entei — a legendary Pokemon she and her father bonded over — that believes it is her father. The Entei grants Molly’s wishes and protects her by keeping intruders out of the fortress.
Barely eight minutes into the movie, the Wandavision similarities are already piling up. Molly and Wanda both experience tremendous loss — Molly with both of her parents, and Wanda with her parents, brother, and Vision. Alone with their overwhelming despair, they retreat into a fantasy world where they can have full control. Their loved ones are brought back, but of course, both Entei and Vision are merely magical echoes of their true selves. And while the bubble around Westview kept interlopers out in Wandavision, the jagged crystals covering Greenfield protect Molly from reality, while Entei scares off anyone that might try to rescue her. Neither Wanda nor Molly is actually responsible for taking over the town though, as there is a more powerful magical force working behind the scenes in both stories to protect them and grant their wishes.
Ash, Misty, and Brock arrive in Greenfield to discover that it has transformed into an endless crystal wasteland just as Professor Oak and Ash’s mom learn about it on the news. Oak and Delia Ketchum — who grew up with Professor Hale — rush to Greenfield to help, and briefly meet up with Ash. Meanwhile, Molly decides that her family isn’t complete until her mother comes back, so she sends Entei out to find one for her. Entei leaves the fortress and encounters Delia, who he hypnotizes and brings back to be Molly’s mom.
Delia goes willingly, but like the residents of Wandavision’s Westview, is occasionally able to shake off the mind control and remember who she really is. It’s unclear for how long she’s under the spell, but eventually, Delia seems to realize that Molly is also a prisoner here. Like Monica Rambeau, Delia plays her part and waits for the opportunity to rescue Molly.
As Ash and his friends (and Team Rocket) infiltrate the castle to rescue Delia and Molly, there are quite a few other small connections to Wandavision. Early on, Molly communicates with Oak through a TV, warning him not to enter the castle and that she is happy and everything is fine, just as Wanda did with the S.W.O.R.D. While Ash battles his way through the tower, Molly watches his journey on her own television, in a sort of inverse of the in-universe Wandavision show that Monica and Darcy watched to keep tabs on Wanda. Molly admires Ash as a trainer and tells Entei that she would like to be a trainer someday too, at which point she magically ages into a teenager, not unlike Wanda’s kids, Billy and Tommy.
In the end, Ash and his friends help Molly understand that, even though life can be hard and scary, she can’t hide from it. They teach her that the future is what you make of it, and that her friends will help her through the hard times. Molly realizes that Entei is not truly her father, and though the love they shared was genuine, she ultimately leaves the fantasy world behind. Like Vision, Entei comes to understand that he is not real, but he fights the Unown swarm to the death to protect Molly. It’s not a perfectly analogous story, but there’s quite a bit of overlap between the two, and the themes of grief and denial, as well as the core message, are very much aligned.
In the first Pokemon movie, Mewtwo threatens to destroy the entire world with a storm until Ash convinces him that all life has value. In Pokemon 2000, Ash becomes the chosen one, prophesied to save the world alongside Lugia by taming the legendary birds. But in Pokemon 3, Ash just saves one little girl. It’s a far more focused and intimate story, and in turn, its message is more relatable. It also follows the structure of a horror movie, and its subject matter is much heavier than the first two films in the series. Pokemon 3 feels like a watershed moment when the series started to grow up with its fanbase, and even though the anime may not have continued to mature, it’s evidence that Pokemon need not be immutable.
It would come as no surprise to me to learn the Wandavision connections were intended, but even if they weren’t, Pokemon 3’s legacy is self-evident. The film series has followed the path laid out by Spell of the Unown ever since with smaller, more focused stories. We’ll find out next week if the Pokemon film franchise was able to keep this same quality bar when we revisit Pokemon 4Ever, a movie that one reviewer said “had the emotional warmth of tin foil.” Fun!
Next: Pokemon: The First Movie Is A Lot Different Than You Remember
The sheer number of swatting incidents forced him to move out.
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