The Other Side of Animation 99: Digimon The Movie Review

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There is nothing wrong with having nostalgic attachments to a movie. As we grow up and absorb the media of TV shows, films, games, books, and so on, we will have fond memories and attachments to these things. However, there is nothing wrong with being critical of those things either, if you go back to them and they don’t hold up. When it comes to reviewing, one thing that I have run into a couple of times is where I was honest and critical of something, and got pushback because it was super nostalgic to those people. I think the thing that makes me a great reviewer is that I don’t hide behind a persona. I don’t sugarcoat my opinions. If I like something, then I really like it. If I don’t like something, I honestly don’t like it. I’m not going to be hyperbolic or lie just to get views or to keep people happy. Now then, let’s talk about Digimon The Movie. This is a very notorious animated “film” from Japan that Fox Kids and Saban Entertainment pushed out into the world because, at the time, they were jealous of WB making huge bank on the first Pokémon movie. Unfortunately, as most people will tell you, this is not technically a movie. Instead of having one grand adventurous film to just simply dub and shove into theaters, Fox had three specials that ranged from 20 minutes, 40 minutes, to 60 minutes. Instead of releasing them as an anthology film with three complete stories, like “Tales of the Digimon” or something simple, with a $5 mil budget, they chopped it up, and sewed the separate stories together into a “complete” movie. As a result, the film only made $15 mil. While technically not bombing and being a small financial hit, it feels like a waste of time. Especially since this was probably everyone’s first introduction to the amazing Mamoru Hosoda and Dragon Ball Z director Shigeyasu Yamauchi. Yeah, Mamoru Hosoda, the man behind The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, Wolf Children, and The Boy and the Beast directed two of these specials that got cobbled together into one movie. Now then, let’s digidive into the movie. I am sorry/not sorry for the pun.

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There is something shown before the actual film that I will get to when we talk about the overall experience. The actual “plot” begins with a story that supposedly takes place before the start of the first series. The story then cuts to a plot that I think takes place after the show, since the kids from the show are back in the human world and have to take down a virus Digimon that is threatening to blow up the entire world with nukes. The final part of the story goes a few years into the future, where we follow some of the protagonists from the first and second series. They try to find this kid who was constantly mentioned in the previous two plots as he deals with one of his two Digimon going evil. Before I move on, I know that is not a hugely stellar way of summing up what’s going on, but yeah, you will see why it sounds so chopped up.

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First off, if anyone says that The Emoji Movie is the most cynical cash grab animated film of all time, yeah, Digimon The Movie is, in my opinion, worse in every way possible. The film doesn’t even start with the Digimon footage, it starts with this obnoxious short from the series Angela Anaconda for five straight minutes. Five minutes out of the 88-minute run time, is stolen by this hugely unrelated property. That’s like if we had a Dragon Ball Z movie, but the first five minutes were taken up by a Pokémon short. These first five minutes aren’t even connected to the story, so why have it? By the way, these five minutes are not just in the theatrical version like some cute and darkly comedic PSA from Alamo Drafthouse about turning off your phone. It opens up every single copy of the movie. Why?! Kids are there to watch Digimon. Why waste their time!? Even after that bit of pointless and jumping into the actual “movie”, the film opens up with an action sequence you are going to see 10 minutes later.

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The pacing and the overall flow of the story of this film is so utterly terrible. The film will jump into the future after every “chapter”, and since this is a cobbled together nightmare, nothing is truly connected to one another. Everything moves at a breakneck pace, and most of the dialogue is either huge amounts of exposition, bad puns, or tech talk that only fans of the show would get. The film oddly says that you can watch this without knowing much about the show, but you really can’t. It’s very hostile about getting everyone on board with what’s going on, which is probably why a lot of the dub is exposition. You can’t feel emotionally attached to anyone or anything, because even if you didn’t know that this was a Frankenstein monster of animated specials, the story doesn’t really give you fleshed-out characters or time to breath. In the end, you get characters that have no real arc or endearing personality to them. This is especially true with Willis. This character is just one of the worst aspects of the film. Not only is his character dumb and inconsistent, he is only in one of the actual specials that make the overall film. That’s right, a character that is constantly mentioned throughout the entire movie as a plot point to keep the three stories connected, is only in the last 30 minutes of the film. Due to the cobbled-together nature of the film, they also ruin the tension that is “gained” while watching the film. The second act is a way bigger ordeal with a virus Digimon taking down all electronics, and launching nukes in all directions like it was in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol or something. After that, though, the film then dials it down to a more personal story, and that would be fine, if we didn’t just skip into the future once more and again, nukes. Normally, I would say the acting is pretty good, and to be fair, the actors from the show are doing their best, but they move at such a fast-pace and have such poor dialogue, I don’t really care for any of them. Again, there are no stakes, since the movie flip-flops so much. There is a lot of action, and even as a mess of a film, Hosoda’s art style and animation make the fights fun to watch, but it’s all very hollow. You sit there watching what should be cool action sequences with fun designs, and yet, there is no tension, since nothing makes sense. In general, what makes a good movie and a good story are the characters and how they are played in the experience. You want to see them overcome a challenge and succeed, but since this film can’t and I really do mean can’t give you that, everything rings hollow. They even try to shove in a forced moral of Willis learning what true friendship and teamwork is, and oh boy, it doesn’t even make sense, or fit in with what happened.

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I’m sure Saban had their hands tied behind them by Fox/Fox Kids to make this heaping dumpster fire, and had to come up with something, but I don’t even think kids that this film was aimed at would understand what was going on. Yes, sometimes kids will not know what quality entertainment and movies are, but at the same time, Pokémon: The First Movie gave them a complete story. Granted, the story was hypocritical and went against the overall theme and idea of Pokémon, you had a plot and characters in which to invest. I guess the people who were in charge of this didn’t have any wiggle room either, since this “film’s” budget was a paltry, by even then $5 mil. It probably went more towards buying the rights to the “I love the 90s” sound track, and to have the late great Don LaFontaine narrate the trailer. I’m sure everyone at Saban was just dreading this heap, since they knew every single day of the week they worked on this that it was so cynically motivated. Yes, I would have thought they would have more say in the matter, due to how powerful they were as the content provider of two of Fox Kids’ best series, Power Rangers and Digimon, but still. It’s hard to come up with what’s really wrong with this film, since it’s not even a real movie and is more a hatchet job with a huge script rewrite to make everything fit. Even if this was a movie as presented, it’s loud, way too flashy, annoying, and pointless.

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So, what is actually good about this disaster? Well, the animation is pretty good. Let’s not beat around the bush, the TV show had a really lousy budget and character designs until later series, looked kind of clunky with the large heads and thin bodies. Hosoda and the director of the third part, Shigeyasu Yamauchi, do polish up the designs a bit, and everyone is very expressive, and their movements are smooth. You can even catch a lot of Hosoda’s earlier quirks. For example, you know how the internet in this film is portrayed as a wide open space with Ferris wheels and floating gears? Yeah, you see that motif used in his other films like The Girl Who leapt Through Time and Summer Wars. Outside of that, there is not much else. I mean, besides some nostalgia for, of the time, current tunes.

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On one side of the coin, as a movie, it’s one of the worst movies I have ever seen. Probably one of my top five worst, but I would have to think about it. It has horrible pacing, bland characters, too many characters, too much exposition, and no tension or any real reason to feel invested into it. It’s constant flash and noise. On the other side of the coin, it’s one of the most, if not the most cynical cash grab theatrical animated film of all time. It’s only goal in life was to be made to get some of that sweet Pokémon money that WB was making back then, but with no real effort into actually giving the fans a good project. It’s a shame because this franchise is not a stranger to complex story elements and themes of death. In all honesty, Digimon had a lot more edge than most anime aimed at a younger audience. It still had its goofy and terrible elements, but it has aged better than most kids shows. If Fox really wanted this to be a huge hit, they probably should have just released the specials that were made direct-to-video, or release it as an anthology or compilation DVD. That way, they wouldn’t force Saban and the writers to cobble together some mess of a plot and make their brand look bad. Just avoid it unless you really do want to see what happens when a distributor pushes out an animated film with the only goal in mind is to make a profit. I feel badly for the people who had to work on it, since I’m sure cobbling this entire thing together was not an ideal situation, but they still gave it to us, and I’m not going to give the film a free pass because people liked it when they were kids. So then, we are here at the 99th review, and are going to be moving on toward the 100th review with what I consider the worst animated theatrical film that I have ever seen. I won’t tell you what it is, but you will just have to find out next time. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist