The first movie I ever saw free from adult supervision was Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back in November of 1999. It was the middle of a weekday, and there was no way my accountant mother was going to skip a bunch of work to sit through 96 minutes of a children's anime movie when she already had to tolerate me watching Pokémon every day before school, calming me down after episodes -- like the one where Pikachu almost leaves his main boy Ash to live at the Pikachu colony -- knocked me out on my inconsolable kid ass. The movie was where she drew the line, so she let me, a friend, and my brother sit in a mostly empty theater by ourselves. Her loss, because Pokémon the First Movie was amazing.
More than two decades later, a nearly scene-for-scene remake, Pokémon the Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back -- Evolution, has arrived on Netflix, falling into the streamer's Top 10, and taps into the memories of why I poured so much attention into all the Pokémon games, cards, and show in the first place. It should trigger a similar wave of sentimental nostalgia for anyone who's ever wanted a Charmander to call their own.
For a subset of passionate fans, Pokémon: The First Movie was a cultural event, breaking multiple box office records on its way to becoming the highest grossing anime in the United States to date. Reporting on the phenomenon, The New York Times noted the spread of the "Pokéflu," where kids like me called out sick (with permission -- thanks, mom) to go see it when they should have been at school since it debuted on Wednesday, November 10, 1999, one year and two and a half seasons into the anime debuting on the Kids WB and Cartoon Network. The anticipation was sky-high.
What exactly were all these Pokéflu-addled children going to see? The film opens with "Pikachu's Vacation," a breezy 23-minute short before the full movie, but the real draw was the much-hyped reveal of the legendary Mew -- forever my favorite -- and its clone Mewtwo on a screen outside a Gameboy for the first time in the franchise. It's easy to forget that Pokémon: The First Movie was edgy for a kids' film. As Ash and co.'s nomadic training journey is interrupted by the lab-made Mewtwo's disruptive quest for self-actualization, the movie peddles existentialism-for-kids and grapples with the ethics of genetic manipulation and cloning in between showy Pokémon battles. The climax features Ash's near-death experience trying to stop the galactic, interminable fight between Mew and Mewtwo, and (spoiler, I guess) the healing qualities of Pokémon tears fixes an unfixable scenario catalyzing a euphoric happy ending where everyone Learns an Important Lesson. In short, it was sick as hell.