Trading cards, dolls, Nintendo, a TV series, and now a major motion picture: It’s hard not to be charmed by kids’ obsessive allegiance to Pokémon, even if you do feel that they’re being indoctrinated into some exuberantly cryptic multimedia consumer empire designed to shut parents out. Pokémon: The First Movie may turn out to be a hip prepubescent smash, but what I saw was a dismayingly impersonal piece of anime, genial yet chaotic, with characters, such as the pip-squeak runt Pikachu, who can be described as either monsters or mascots but are really children’s twinkly abstract projections of themselves. With these sorts of buddies, why would a youngster bother to look anywhere else?
Like the cuddlier (and far more ingenious) Teletubbies, the Pokémon menagerie — 150 characters and counting — are at once pre- and post-verbal, occupying a winsome world of kitschy-koo narcissism. In the film, Pikachu and Ash, the Pokémon ”trainer” (whatever that is), face down the evil clone Mewtwo, a kind of loose-limbed Darth Vader of Pokémon. As toys, the Pokémon crew are eminently collectible fun, but as figures of fantasy they raise a question: Will the kids who flock to this movie ever want to be entertained by something that doesn’t walk or talk with the burbly synthetic coldness of a videogame? It’s not an irrelevant issue; those kids are the teen boom of tomorrow. C+