Pokémon the Movie: Secrets of the Jungle Review: Tarzan meets Avatar in a okay Pokémon movie
The latest Pokémon animated movie, Secrets of the Jungle, recently dropped on Netflix and attempts to rip off and combine the plots of two movies to deliver a fish out of water, environmental story of its own.
Like The Power of Us, Secrets of the Jungle isn’t fully focused on the franchise’s staple heroes Ash Ketchum (voiced by Rika Matsumoto/Sarah Natochenny) and Pikachu (voiced by Ikue Otani) and rather focuses on a new character – which is fine. By this point, we’ve seen Ash and Pikachu be the center of many adventures and the way they act as sort of a guide through other stories and regions of the Pokémon world is great. It’s nice that we get to experience these other stories and worlds within Pokémon alongside legacy characters. We even still get some delightful Team Rocket moments here and there as well as some fun moments between Ash and Pikachu. As said before though, the story isn’t focused on these two and is really focused on Koko (voiced by Moka Kamishiraishi/Kimlinh Tran) – a young boy who believes he is a mythical Pokémon called Zarude.
Abandoned as a baby, Koko was taken in by a Zarude (voiced by Nakamura Kankuro IV/Edward Bosco), a mythical baboon Pokémon that resides in the jungle, and raised by him for his entire life. Now as a human teenager, Koko acts like and believes he is a Zarude as he tries to create order within the jungle Pokémon and protect them at all costs. However, he and his father have been exiled from the main Zarude tribe within, so they are completely on their own, which spells doom for them as they become separated after Koko discovers his human past that’s connected to a group of scientists led by the suspicious Dr. Zed (Koichi Yamadera/Billy Kametz) surveying the jungle. So, after running into Ash and Pikachu, Koko requires their help to save the jungle and make self-discoveries.
Now while Secrets of the Jungle’s story is absolutely a rip-off of both Tarzan and James Cameron’s Avatar, there are some interesting aspects that come from this story. The perspective-based dialogue with Koko can be really cool and doesn’t go too far with it. When talking to other Zarude, Koko and the Zarude dialogue is in normal human language, but when talking with Ash or other people, Koko speaks like a Pokémon. It’s a very impactful way of showing how ingrained Koko is in being raised as a Pokémon and thankfully outside of the Zarude, we don’t get a movie where a bunch of Pokémon are just speaking like people. That would just be too weird.
The relationship between Koko and his Zarude father also has some nice, tender moments and it’s great how this jungle environment feels incredibly different than any other region we’ve seen. The sense of hierarchy with the Zarude is intriguing, the animation behind them zipping and swinging around the jungle looks super freeing, and the colors and thickness of it really make it distinct. The film plays around in this environment well and you can feel that it is a part of who Koko is. It’s also nice that Pokémon can have an environmentalist story as well and it plays finely because of how likeable and touching Koko’s story can be. However, it’s really a shame at how painfully obvious it is that this film is a complete rip-off of two far superior films.
Koko’s fish out of water story is far from unique and touches on the simple basics of him discovering people. He’s initially freaked out and then is able to help them solve a problem between people and Pokémon because he can communicate with Pokémon. Even as he discovers parts of his past, the only interesting thing we get is Ash giving a rare mention about his dad, which was admittedly pretty awesome. Other than that, everything we get about Koko’s past is pretty expected and just results in Dr. Zed becoming a crazed villain that’s super akin to the villain from Avatar – robot suit final battle and all. From how Koko’s goes through culture shock in experiencing humans to the “tree of life” they end up having to protect, it’s impossible not to see this as a two for one rip-off that’s hollow and doesn’t do anything to set itself apart. Also, the music doesn’t help any situation since it obnoxiously overtakes scenes in serious moments and while the opening theme song is solid, it’s pretty forgettable.
Secrets of the Jungle might be able to eke out some ideas that are interesting to see take place within the Pokémon world that still make it a decent watch, but it’s really just a shameless rip-off of Tarzan and Avatar that does nothing to get it out of their combined shadow.