live-action pokemon movie

I don’t think younger Pokémon fans who have grown up with this series all of their lives can comprehend what it was like when the first games hit shelves in the late ’90s. It was a like a freight train had collided with popular culture. Everyone knew about Pokémon and everyone who played video games owned copy of Pokémon Red or Pokémon Blue. You saw Gameboys everywhere you went, each of them wielded by children and adults trying to catch ’em all and whatnot. For those with no interest in the series and its later incarnations in other media, it was a profoundly annoying couple of years. This was the rare game to achieve total cultural saturation.

In other words, a well-made live-action Pokémon movie feels like a license to print money, a fact that is certainly not lost on the three studios currently vying for the rights to produce such a thing. This is no ordinary bidding war, though. There are actually a few cultural roadblocks that have made this one a little more interesting.

A story over at The Hollywood Reporter has the details: Nintendo has been wooing Hollywood studios to make a live-action Pokémon movie and they’ve received bites from a few major players. Warner Bros., who distributed the animated Pokémon: The First Movie back in 1999, emerged as an early favorite. THR also describes Sony as “very interested” in the property.

However, this secretive auction is nearing its grand conclusion and a new frontrunner has emerged: Legendary Pictures, Thomas Tull’s production company that has had a hand in everything from The Dark Knight and Watchmen to Pacific Rim and Godzilla. Although Legendary has worked extensively with Warner Bros. and Universal in the past, it is now owned by China’s Wanda Group…and this is where the troubles begin.

On paper, the consistently geek-friendly Legendary feels like a good match for Pokémon. This kind of thing is their bread and butter. However, it’s easy to imagine many people balking at a Chinese-owned company securing the rights to a beloved Japanese series – tensions have never not been high between these two nations. Japan has been critical of Chinese activity in the South China Sea. China banned Japanese movies for three years, a ban that was only recently lifted. And that’s only recent history. The seeds of distrust between the two countries go back to World War II and beyond. The Pokémon movie ending up with a Chinese-owned company isn’t going to ignite an international incident, but it could rub a lot of people the wrong way.

This puts Legendary is an especially sticky situation, since they produced Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla with the approval of Japan’s Toho Co. years before they were bought by the Wanda Group. Tull’s company is standing center stage at the future of studio moviemaking, a future that will involve navigating an often unpredictable international landscape.

But anyway…a live-action Pokémon movie: I’d totally see it, and I haven’t played one of these games in over fifteen years. If whoever secures the rights attaches the appropriate talent, this could be a wonderful blend of fantasy and adventure, an excuse to highlight hundreds of nifty monsters. I dig it.

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