The world of Pokémon consists of several media. The video games are the primary source for the franchise, with the anime series and its related movies coming in second. On December 25, 2020, Japanese fans had the pleasure to see the Gekijō-ban Pokettomonsutā Koko movie in their cinemas; the movie was scheduled for an earlier release in the West, but the pandemic postponed it. On October 8, 2021, thanks to Netflix, we finally got the chance to see the movie, marketed as Pokémon the Movie: Secrets of the Jungle.
Pokémon the Movie: Secrets of the Jungle is actually the 23rd Pokémon and saw the series return to its traditional 2D animation after Mewtwo Strikes Back: Evolution, the CGI remake of the first Pokémon movie. Despite following Ash on a new adventure, this movie wasn’t actually part of the main narrative continuity, but rather an alternative timeline that began with Generation VII, and that gave us a new look at old events.
The plot of the movie is something new to the franchise, although there are a lot of recurring narrative elements that we have seen in other Pokémon movies. What especially amazed us is how the film managed to incorporate real-life elements of climate and nature endangerment, which are a recurring theme in the movie, with the world of Pokémon, which is not really troubled by these same issues.
The antagonists of this movie seem both like large corporations that cut down the Amazon rainforest for their profit, but also like those lowlife poachers that endanger animals in Africa. Okay, the issue here is not that large, but the endangerment of the Zarude habitat and the Great Tree seems to bear at least some resemblance to actual issues.
A lot of the plot is also closely related to Kipling’s The Jungle Book, a very popular children’s book about a human child, named Mowgli, who ends up being cared for by a pack of wolves and then, later, explores the jungle with a black panther named Bagheera and a bear named Baloo, all the way while trying to avoid being killed by Shere Khan, a tiger who holds a grudge against humans. Sounds familiar?
Sure, Secrets of the Jungle doesn’t really have that Shere Khan characters, but the humans led by Dr. Zed are the principal antagonists who are after both the Great Tree and, with it, Koko, who is the Mowgli-like figure in this film.
As far as Koko and his Zarude go, the relationship between them was truly great, especially considering the in-universe fact that Zarude is a generally a violent, aggressive, and territorial Pokémon who doesn’t really like strangers; this is also evidenced by how Koko’s Zarude is perceived by his own pack – and you cannot forget that Zarude usually stick together no matter what – for being different.
Still, Koko’s Zarude went against his own nature to protect a human child, developing a practically unbreakable bond between the two which was absolutely one of the highlights of this movie.
Another highlight is Koko’s character development. Okay, there is a lot that there that was inspired by Mowgli’s story, but it’s not really characteristic of the Pokémon franchise to go into such depths, especially if you consider the early movies, which have mostly been about saving the world and integrating the Legendary and Mythical Pokémon in the animated franchise.
Secrets of the Jungle has a very profound character arc that is not only about development, but also about perceiving our own humanity, as Koko considers himself to be a Pokémon, although he is aware that he looks nothing like Zarude and that he is very similar to Ash. The final reconciliation of his dual nature, that of a Pokémon raised by Zarude, and that of a human, was one of the most beautiful segments of this movie.
As for the other characters, we can only say that Ash is still only 10 years old, which is a tradition firmly preserved since the anime’s debut. Ash was portrayed just as you’d expect him to be, without any major changes to his personality and he is still the idealistic good guy who is ready to sacrifice himself for the benefit of others or the greater good. Team Rocket also returns and in the end, they turn out to be the unlikely heroes of the whole thing, which was a great twist.
As for the style, we finally see the franchise reverting back to its traditional 2D animation, but which is, of course, modernized and on par with the latest trends in Japanese animation. Unlike some other movies, and similarly to Pokémon 4Ever – Celebi: Voice of the Forest, and we’re not using this movie as a comparison by accident (wait until the end of the movie), the visage is far more colorful, as the nature-based setting of the movie allowed for a much more creative production design.
The forest, the Great Tree, and the whole concept were great, especially with the somewhat mecha element of Zed’s spider-like tank acting as a contrast. The machinery is portrayed as evil here and although that is not a completely new topic in film and animation, it is something new for the Pokémon franchise and we have to admit that the writers did a great job in incorporating these issues in such a movie.
Overall, the animation and the style were on a very high level and despite not being completely original, they were quite refreshing for the Pokémon franchise and they brought something new to the whole idea, which is especially noteworthy considering that Secrets of the Jungle is the 23rd film in the series, and that it is not always easy to remain fresh after 23 movies.
There was also enough humor in the movie to keep us entertained, both related to Team Rocket (these guys are always hilarious) and the Pokémon, especially Ash’s scene with Cramorant (as if Cramorant itself isn’t funny enough without any additional characters). There are also other forest-based Pokémon, like Skwovet, that empowered the creature cast of the movie, which proved to be essential in the end.
Secrets of the Jungle is a rather colorful and refreshing take on the franchise. It has brought several new elements to the world of Pokémon, while, at the same time, keeping what we love so much about the whole concept. It expanded upon the world, brought some new characters, and although it remains outside the main narrative canon, it is still a beautiful addition to the series nonetheless.
Secrets of the Jungle is available on Netflix from October 8, 2021, almost a year after its theatrical debut in Japan in 2020. The wait certainly paid off and we highly recommend this movie to all Pokémon fans, as it is certainly among the better cinematic installments in the franchise.
It still doesn’t top some of the earlier works (especially the ones related to Mewtwo, probably the most layered Pokémon in the whole franchise), but it comes quite close and that is why we have given it such a high rating and such a positive review in the end.