My Little Pokémon: Friendship is Magic!
The Wind Festival has arrived in Fula City! Rick is in the hospital with a leg injury, so he begs his sister to Risa catches an Eevee for him. At the Festival, Callahan spins tall tales to his niece Kelly, pretending that he’s a master trainer even though he’s never caught a Pokémon. Toren, a Pokémon scientist with severe social anxiety, can’t find a speaker to present his research at an upcoming conference.
Kelly begs Callahan to enter a Pokémon-catching contest, and he cuts a secret deal with Toren: if Toren shares his extensive knowledge of Pokémon to help him win, Callahan will speak at the conference. Callahan indeed wins the contest; in his acceptance speech, he lies and says there’s a rare Pokémon nearby. Ash Ketchum becomes runner-up after saving a rogue Tyranitar.
Ash helps Risa catch an Eevee. Meanwhile, the elderly Harriet is being stalked by Pokémon, and she seeks Toren’s help because she can’t stand the creatures. Someone sabotages the Wind Festival, and everyone helps to clean up the mess, making Callahan late for the conference. Toren’s acceptance speech is a trash fire, and he accidentally reveals that he helped Callahan cheat. Kelly is heartbroken.
The festival will conclude when Lugia arrives to deliver the city’s wind power for another year—but the eternal flame that guides Lugia to Fula City has been stolen. Through clever sleuthing, Ash and Pikachu discover that the mayor’s daughter Margo stole the flame, hoping to distract everyone from the rare Zeraora living in the forest. To make matters worse, Team Rocket screw up a heist and release a powerful poison over the city.
Zeraora has a deep distrust for humans—people burned down its forest 50 years ago, after all— so Margo and Ash try to earn its friendship. In order to spread a neutralizing gas, Harriet and Callahan learn to work together with Pokémon, and Toren must face his very worst fear: social interaction. Since receiving a leg injury, Risa has been terrified to run, but with her Eevee’s support, she’s able to deliver the eternal flame back home.
Lugia arrives, putting out a forest fire. The mayor decides that everyone should live in peace with Zeraora. He shares Ash’s mantra with the city: people are always more powerful with Pokémon by their side.
I have a confession to make—I grew up in the nineties, and yet I’ve never seen Pokémon. Sure, I’ve played a few of the games, and I’m still trying to hatch eggs in Pokémon GO, but I’ve only heard legends of iconic characters Ash, Jessie, and James. If you’re in the same boat as me—if you’ve also lived under a rock for the past twenty years—this film is a great intro to the Pokémon world. Despite my lack of lore knowledge, The Power of Us is super accessible to me, and I had a great time watching it. Is this movie some kind of deep, eloquent masterpiece? Nope. But is it cute and silly and oodles of fun? You betcha.
The art style is charming, with fun and quirky character designs—Risa’s colorful hair streaks, the big floppy green bangs that obscure Toren’s eyes—and detailed environments. All vehicles are rendered using CGI, which has a pretty unsettling effect, but cars and trolleys appear so infrequently in the film that it doesn’t become off-putting. The best parts of the visuals are hands-down the legions of lovable Pokémon who populate the background of every scene, playing with each other and just generally being ultra-adorable.
In fact, that’s what makes this movie so delightful in the first place. The story isn’t particularly creative, but watching these super-cute creatures bond with their trainers is guaranteed to be heartwarming. It’s hard not to smile at the antics of Pikachu and Eevee and Chancy and Sudowoodo. I mean, Sudowoodo is a tree, but it’s a cute tree, dammit.
On the other hand, the movie’s main flaw is that it’s unfocused. The main conflict doesn’t really show up until the eternal flame is stolen, which is more than halfway through the film’s runtime. So while the contest at the beginning is fun to watch, it’s really not clear what we should be focusing on. We see Margo running around enjoying herself at the Festival, but we don’t know why she’s an important player, or how her story connects to anyone else’s. The same can be said for Ash, which is pretty weird—you’d think the protagonist of the entire Pokémon anime would have a more central role in what’s ultimately an ensemble piece.
Plus, some details in this movie are so unbelievable that they become distracting. There’s no way Risa could run down a rugged mountain with no shoes on without destroying her feet. There’s no way she could possess so much stamina after not having done any vigorous exercise in years. I’m not sure why Margo needed Smeargle ink to steal the eternal flame. And I really don’t get what Team Rocket’s goal was—they start the film deciding to sell lemonade, end up selling powerful berries, and then… steal poison? What are they even trying to do?
But it’s hard to fault Team Rocket when they’re so lovably camp and overdramatic. The same can be said for many of the film’s purposefully over-the-top characters. Toren’s anxiety is so extreme; it’s funny, tragic, and pretty darn relatable. His nervous body language never lets up for a second, and when he’s finally able to speak up for himself, it’s deeply rewarding. Callahan charms me in a similar way—he’s a blustering lying braggart, but all he really wants is to entertain his niece and make sure she’s having fun. To be honest, I don’t totally understand her dramatically negative reaction to his lies. Don’t many adults exaggerate their lives to make things more interesting for kids? My dad did that all the time when I was growing up, and I learned to detect when he was embellishing a story. It was no big deal. But it’s still satisfying to watch Callahan finally make friends with a Pokémon and realize that he doesn’t need to be the most powerful trainer of all time to make an impact.
There’s a good environmental message here, too. Although this film came out in July in Japan, the forest fire plotline feels extremely timely to the California wildfires of just a few weeks ago. The movie makes it clear that humans have a responsibility to respect animals (or, in this case, Pokémon), and can’t go destroying their habitats willy-nilly to serve humanity’s needs. If we do that, we’ll lose the valuable friendship of animals who could have served as our partners and friends. Zenaora’s story is a surprisingly thoughtful one about learning to trust again after trauma, and the idea that everyone is stronger with a partner by their side, while cheesy, is a nice message to send kids home with. Plus, Fula City runs on wind power, a reminder that clean energy is a good thing out there that exists.
There are too many characters and plotlines crammed into this short film, and I still do have a lot of questions. How does Lugia, in one visit, bring Fula City its wind for… the next year? But this is a silly movie meant for young children, so it’s best not to think too hard about it. The Power of Us is a fun, feel-good film that will brighten anyone’s day, whether they’ve been a Pokémon fan since birth or, like me, they’ve never seen the series before.