Continuing with our Pokémon movie retrospective, next up is a movie that was almost about a giant T-Rex skeleton (no seriously) and arguably the best Pokémon movie of the now 20+ bunch, Once titled Lord of the Unknown Tower (probably changed due to parent concerns), it is Pokemon 3 Spell of the Unknown (Entei).
This movie has been my favorite ever since I saw it as a kid with my mom. After rewatching, it still holds up. Unlike the second Pokémon movie which definitely aged less gracefully and has less to offer older fans aside from nostalgia, Pokémon 3 is a genuinely good movie and has quite a modern story where there really is no villain, just bad circumstances. The movie is also, for being about colorful and collectible critters, very human. The movie opens with Professor Spencer Hale looking around a picture book about ancient Pokémon legends with his daughter Molly. She notes he looks like entei with his mane of hair and the two romp around the room. Oh what could ever interrupt such a happy family?
An email arrives from Hale’s work buddy and he’s off to ancient ruins to find the mystery of the Unown. While there, he discovers a box of tiles that have Unown on them. He finds out the tiles summon the Unown shortly before they whisk him away to their alternate and parallel dimension. The news of his disappearance is broken to a very distraught Molly back home who now, at the age of five, has lost both of her parents. For some reason, they bring the box of tiles back and she unleashes the Unown, who are attracted to her child-like imagination. She only wishes for her parents back and Chekhov’s bedtime story has the Unown bring back her father in the visage of an Entei. The Unown then begin to crystallize the mansion she lives in and the world around it.
Many have wondered, why crystal? The answer is really simple. Shudo, our good friend who wrote the previous two Pokémon movies, read the book “The Crystal World” by J.G. Ballard and liked the imagery. I loved it too as a kid. I still love it. The creativity of the environments in this world are amazing still and the movie looks beautiful from the cel work to the CG. It’s all very subtly integrated and just looks stunning.
Back to the synopsis, Ash fights a trainer on his way to the city and discovers the crystal mass. Meanwhile, Ash’s mom sees the mansion on the TV and is worried about its inhabitants, having been good friends with the family and childhood friends with Spencer Hale. She talks to Professor Oak and they decide to head over and see what they can do to help. Upon their arrival, May is quick to capture Ash’s mom for her own mishmashed, imagined family. This is what sets Ash on his adventure into the mansion to save his mom and the little girl inside and to try to stop the spell of the Unown and their encroaching formidable crystal wall expanding ever forward.
None of the characters here hold the idiot stick and opposed to the previous movie, they all work together very well without any of the weird jealousy, just genuine friendship. They all quickly assess the situation and despite Molly unwittingly trying to slow their rescue mission, they’re all nice to her because they know she’s just a child who doesn’t know the eldritch horror she’s unleashed. Team Rocket still get laughs even as an adult, but their jokes this time seem to be more for the parents in the audience than the kids. The writing in general is smarter. Another good point is that they never forget the characters in the scene which is a bad habit of a lot of anime from the time. When Ash’s mother is trapped behind a wall, they still show her working to be helpful. She’s also extremely smart and not a damsel in distress despite being kidnapped. She tries to soothe and help Molly just as much as anyone.
As I said before, there really is no villain. True the Unown steal Spencer Hale into an unknown universe, but it seems to be a benevolent action. The creatures live up to their name as their full powers and motives are absolutely a mystery. They create so much power keeping up with Molly’s imagination and the spread of the crystal, they lose control in the end and must be calmed and sealed away again. Despite that, it never seems to be an antagonistic force that people are actively against, but more a necessity due to the situation to attack them. The true driving force is the loss of a little girl and her coping. It’s really sad. You feel this little girl’s loss and while she does get her father back at the end, it’s only still the two of them.
Or that’s how it was when Shudo signed the ink and said that’s a wrap. Unknown to him, the studio added a post credits scene of May’s mom coming back somehow and their reuniting. This actually marked the beginning of Shudo’s departure from the company. He was furious and said that they had fundamentally misunderstood his movie. Had he been in Molly’s shoes and his own mother alive, he would not have abducted another to replace his mother. It’s why the credits weirdly stop for this scene because they were not originally in the movie and never the intention of the screenplay.
There were many reasons for Shudo to be upset all surrounding this one movie. Originally, the gold and silver games, thought to be the last for the franchise, were being delayed. So that left Shudo with 151 Pokémon and Lugia which he had created. So where could the movie go? That’s where the T-Rex skeleton comes in.
There’s not too much information beyond what Shudo wrote in his blog. The original script for this version of the movie is lost media. It was auctioned off for one billion yen (approx 8 million dollars) to a man in his thirties at the time and has never been heard from since. What we do know is that Shudo wished to explain what happened to animals and why they no longer exist in this world while plants still do. And what makes a Pokémon different from an animal. He explains that any show of actual animals that happened in the early episodes of the show was laziness by the animation studio not paying attention to his show Bible. Basically, to tl;dr the little information there is, Shudo worked for 6 months on the script and what he came up with was a t-Rex skeleton was excavated and then somehow reanimated. It destroyed the lab of a professor who specialized in researching animals. Ash and friends would try to stop it and at one point it would destroy the Team Rocket hideout, bringing them into the movie.
As Shudo has suspected, the studio was not receptive to his screenplay. The first movie had been a smash hit, but the second had not performed quite as well. They said no one would be interested in a bunch of mineral running around on screen. In true Japanese fashion he thanked them for their honesty and said he would have another screenplay soon. In reality he was devestated since he had worked so hard and drank at home by himself for several days after. Snapping him out of his rejection pity party was the company shooting over the designs of the legendary beasts and the unown for him and saying they hoped this would help. It thankfully did and he left us with the best Pokémon movie to date.
This movie also has a lot of very bizarre details easily missed. The different rooms they go through for the three main battles of the movie (sans opening credits) are all based on one of the seasons; spring, summer, and winter. It’s why in the last room when Entei is attacking; there’s snow. This is also the last dub anime until the Diancie movie during XY to not use the Japanese score. This is also the best job the American scorers have done for the series. 75% of the tracks perfectly fit the mood and are quite beautiful. The mansion is based on the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. This is also the only movie to feature a full 6v6 Pokémon battle which happens during the opening credits.
The movie, sadly, earned half of what the previous movie had. Pokémon hype just wasn’t what it used to be. This was the last movie to air to a wider array of theaters in America. Despite the low sales, it’s still a great movie. If you enjoy Pokémon or are curious to watch an older anime movie, definitely check this out. It’s free on Pokémon’s TV app on their website and your phone so there’s no reason not to check it out. Mr. Shudo left on a positive note, but the series took a very noticeable dive after this. The quality wasn’t the same and Shudo passed away in 2010, but not before releasing a lot of this information on his personal blog with a plethora of great information. Seriously go check out some fan translations of the information. It’s a great read if you’re a fan.
Shudo may be gone, but his work is not forgotten and it still delights to this day. Thank you for your work and for many of our childhoods. May you Rest In Peace.