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"Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea" Floods the Competition

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As many fans can attest, the Pokémon movies have been getting steadily better, at least dubbing-wise. Last year, we got arguably the best movie in the franchise yet, Lucario and the Mystery of Mew. Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea isn’t as good as Lucario, but it has its own charms and is an excellent entry in the series.

The story opens on the high seas, where the pirate Phantom captures a strange egg only to lose it to a Pokémon Ranger named Jack Walker. To hide the egg, Jackie joins a traveling water circus, which just happens to meet up with Ash, May, Brock, and Max. However, Phantom soon crashes the party, and in the ensuing chase the egg hatches in May’s arms to reveal the Prince of the Sea, Manaphy. Thinking that May is its mother, Manaphy ends up guiding our heroes towards an undersea temple where the Sea Crown rests. He who gains the power of the Sea Crown will control the world’s oceans, and Phantom wants that power for himself. As Ash and Jackie team up to stop the dangerous pirate, May struggles to accept that she and Manaphy will soon be separated forever.

The film’s biggest positive is its sense of adventure and fun. Previous entries have had villains/antagonists who are very angst-ridden, tragic, or cruel. Here, Phantom is just a good, old-fashioned, bad-guy pirate with some really cool technology: he doesn’t have a tragic past, a chip on his shoulder, or a plan to wipe out all life on Earth. This general attitude and set-up gives Temple of the Sea a lightness lacking in the other movies. Phantom’s antics almost remind me of Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean (and I would be shocked if PotC didn’t at least partially inspire this movie), with Jack Walker acting like a combination of Jack Sparrow and William Turner. This is best seen during the opening scene in the movie, with Phantom cackling at his coup only for Jack to appear, steal the egg, and make a mockery of Phantom’s crew in a very humorous way.

However that’s only half the film. The other half is taken up with the May/Manaphy relationship, which many people have said mirrors the plot of Jirachi Wish Maker, in which Max and Jirachi bond and are then forced to separate. The many similarities to Jirachi Wish Maker include: an appearance by Brendan (the male trainer from Ruby/Sapphire) during the opening narration and a plot that takes the Legendary Pokémon to an out-of-the-way place to fulfill its destiny. It even features an appearance by Kyogre at the end, whose counterpart was the main focus of the previous movie.

But there are big differences, too, most obviously how May treats Manaphy like a beloved child while Max and Jirachi were essentially two little kids playing with each other. This change adds a lot of new wrinkles to the plot, such as scenes of May teaching Manaphy how to talk or May getting broken up near the middle of the film when she starts to consider what will happen when they reach the Sea Temple. Manaphy itself is also a bit more interesting than Jirachi, due to its endearing naiveté about the outside world (the scene where Manaphy runs smack into the submarine window and starts to cry is so cute) and its Heart Swap ability, which amusingly transfers people’s souls to other bodies. The May/Manaphy relationship also seems deeper than the Max/Jirachi relationship—possibly because of this film’s longer running time—making their separation that much more intense.

While I do like the increased running time for the movies now that the Pikachu shorts have been moved to Japan’s ANA Festival, this movie does seem to drag, especially during the Manaphy-dominated middle. And while Manaphy’s Heart Swap yields some really funny scenes, it matters little to the overall plot. My biggest complaint though is with the finale, where Ash suddenly jumps from the sidelines into the spotlight and does all the work. This leaves May, the “mother” of the featured Pokémon, and Jackie, who’s in the freaking title, with little to do. Ash even gains an energy barrier power thing to battle Phantom with. It seemed like the writers didn’t know how to conclude the story and came up with the most random thing they could think of. Oh, and Kyogre’s appearance was just a waste and could have easily been replaced a random Gyarados.

The dub is in beautiful widescreen, complete with the Japanese Toho logo in the beginning. I’m still not sure why Nintendo/Pokémon USA don’t want Americans to learn Japan exists with these Pokémon dubs (as we still don’t have a Japanese track) but at least we get some Japanese writing and the widescreen printing, which automatically makes the movie better. Even though this movie isn’t nearly as beautiful as Lucario, it’s still really nice to look at, with some great backgrounds, excellent settings, fluid animation, and amazing water CG. It really makes you appreciate how much time director Kunihiko Yuyama spends trying to create a special feel for each movie.

This is the first DVD release featuring the new dub cast since the Mastermind of Mirage Pokémon special that was packed with Lucario last year, and it’s amazing how much better the voice cast is with the original Japanese music. In the series, the often boring or overbearing American music makes the dub sound worse than it should, but here everything sounds wonderful. Ash, Brock, and Max could still use better voice direction (much like Naruto, the voices only work if given proper direction), but May is good for most of the picture, and all the new characters have excellent voices, especially Jackie and Phantom. We get a different ending song, and while it’s less cheesy than the one in the last movie’s dub, it still isn’t all that memorable. But the quality orchestral score more than makes up for it. Now if only Pokémon USA would be smart and use it in the series as well.

The main extra on this release is the addition of a second disc featuring Pikachu’s Island Adventure. Meowth and his cronies take over an island paradise, kicking out a bunch of Wynaut, Pichu, and a Buoysel. Pikachu and the rest of the main Pokémon (sans Sceptile, Swellow, and poor, forgotten Forretress), teach the Pokémon how to fight and try to take back the island. The short itself isn’t as good as “Gotta Dance,” but it’s not that bad, either, and the storybook backgrounds add some flavor to the short. However, the highlight is easily Ken Gates, the narrator. Now, many of the Pikachu/Pichu shorts have had the narrator speak as the Pokémon for years now, but 4Kids has always changed this to some other narrator (usually Meowth). Well, Pokémon USA fixed this and gave Ken Gates all the lines, and he is excellent in a role, providing charm and cuteness where the film would otherwise be boring. He makes this short worth watching. Unfortunately, this disc also shows off the Hoenn Pokérap, which is somehow worse than the Johto Pokérap. Why couldn’t Pokémon USA just dub “Glory Day” or something? Also, why is this short on its own disc instead of packaged with Pokémon Ranger? If they’re going to put this as a separate disc, then why not add the other two ANA shorts and the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon special?

There are other extras, too. The main disc includes a look at Kunihiko Yuyama scouting various locations in Italy to use as the setting in the film. It’s fun to see how much of the setting of the film is based on real life and how much effort was put into this project. Luckily, Pokémon USA gives us this in the form of a ten-minute featurette instead of the thirty seconds or so 4Kids did in previous films. The only problem is that the voice-overs sound rather flat, making me wish they had just subtitled the entire thing. There are also various other extras depending on where you buy your DVD from. Amazon will give you the first volume of Pokémon Advanced Battle; Target offers a sampler CD from the 10th Anniversary Soundtrack (featuring the horrible Hoenn Pokérap); Best Buy will have the Pikachu 10th Anniversary DVD; Suncoast/Sam Goody/FYE will have a special foil cover; and Wal-Mart copies will include a special Pokémon charm. If you never got the 2.B.A. Master soundtrack from back in the early days, I’d go with the Target version. Otherwise, go for either the Wal-Mart or Amazon versions.

Overall, if you’re willing to accept that Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea isn’t as good as Lucario and the Mystery of Mew, you will probably like this film. I know it surprised me.

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