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NOVEMBER 22, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 20

The Man Who Just Didn't Get It

A movie critic is no more likely to ask for mercy than he is to dish it out. And his first rule is: Never plead ignorance. But this time a confession and a request are in order.

Cover: Pokémania
Their creator thinks of them as inner monsters, but the Pokémon have gone far beyond his mind to sweep Japan--and now the rest of the world
Review: The Man Who Just Didn't Get It
Psychology: Should Children Play with Monsters?
Strategy: A teenager explains the appeal
First Look: A sneak preview of the new characters

Online Exclusive: The Ultimate Game Freak
TIME speaks with Pokémon's creator Satoshi Tajiri

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Pokémon World
Everything Pokémon and more

Pokémon the First Movie
All about the first feature-length Pokémon movie to hit the U.S.

Join the Anti-Pokémon Quest
An anti-Pokémon advocate shares his views of doom and gloom

VideoCNN's Rick Lockridge reports on the video game turned cultural phenomenon known as Pokémon.
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Child psychiatrist, John Lochridge claims Pokémon brainwashes kids
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Pokémon: The First Movie
Know this, Pokémoniacs: your world is alien and barren to me. I have never so much as held a Game Boy--though in my role as uncle, I have held boys who were playing the game. I don't know the Pokémon toys, cards or comic books. I once watched 10 minutes of the Pokémon TV show, and that particular episode must have been the antidote to the one that provoked seizures in 700 Japanese kids; it put me near to sleep. So as I describe my exasperation with Pokémon The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back, be gentle in your derision. Sometimes the young have to indulge their elders.

I was ready to return the favor as I watched Pikachu's Vacation, a harmless, mildly inventive short cartoon that precedes the feature. The plot, eventually, is about the communal effort to pull a dragon's head out of a drainpipe. But the fun comes before, as the whole gang cavorts--heads rolling, bodies warping--in a cheery Dadaist vaudeville that echoes Bob Clampett's 1938 Looney Tune triumph Porky in Wackyland.

Then comes the feature, and charm is replaced by the dull treatment of a way-too-familiar scenario. As in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun, an evil genius lords it over a mountainous island patrolled by a supermonster. The monster here is Mewtwo, a kitty clone or copy cat of cuddly Mew. And as in Toy Story, the old-fashioned toys (like Mew) have to teach the mechanized ones (like Two) a bit about human values.

It would be great if someone would instruct the filmmakers about cartoon values. This picture has none. It lacks visual wit and expressiveness of movement. It has no pace, or even much of a pulse. As a Rastafarian moviegoer might say, "It's pokey, mon."

Last confession: I'm as eager to pretend understanding of a hot fad as any journalist. And I do like things kids like; this summer I read all three Harry Potter books, aloud and enthralled, to my wife. So I'm no grinch. Honest. I'm just a guy who loves good cartoons and, when he sees a bad one, gets a little ... bit ... UPSET.

Images © 1995, 1999 Nintendo/Creatures Inc./Game Freak Inc.; moving images by Adam Connors

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