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POKÉMON: THE FIRST MOVIE – Ralph Schuckett

November 12, 1999 Leave a comment Go to comments

pokemonmovieOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

There are a few things that decent, upstanding members of society don’t admit to having in polite company. Chronic flatulence is one. An illegitimate love child living in Mexico might be another. The third, and possibly worst of all, might be a liking for anything to do with Pokémon, those horrendous little Japanese things that children the world over have taken to collecting. It fills me with pride to say that, to date, I have never seen an episode of the Pokémon cartoon series, except for perhaps a couple of stupefied minutes when channel-hopping. I am also fortunate enough not to have any eight-year-old relatives, and therefore was not dragged to see Pokémon: The Movie 2000 (AKA Pokémon: The First Movie) when it opened in cinemas in the UK back in April.

The whole Pokémon phenomenon has completely passed me by – I don’t know one end of a Pikachu from another, and I wouldn’t be able to recognize a Jigglypuff if it came up and bit me on the backside. What I do know is that a whole legion of parents lament the invention of these odd little fighting creatures, and that as a result the massive Nintendo corporation, who came up with idea of Pokémon in the first place, are even more wealthy than they were. I had vowed to myself that I would never become caught up in anything vaguely Pokémonesque, not least because I’m sure that by doing so I would have become legally insane and would instantly be committed to a local sanitarium. And so it is with great personal shame that I make the following confession. I am not proud of what I have done. The awful, shocking truth of the matter is that I, Jonathan Broxton, maintainer of the soundtrack faith and respected film music critic, have bought the Pokémon score CD. What’s even worse is that I like it as well.

Having witnessed the proliferation of Pokémon-related CD marketing scams littering the high street soundtrack shelves of late, the last thing I ever expected was for a score to be released. I had heard some vaguely positive remarks made about the film’s music from the film critics who had braved it in order to write their reviews, but beyond that never gave it a second thought. The bulk of the music for Pokémon: The First Movie was written by composer Ralph Schuckett, whose previous work (if there is any) is completely unknown to me. Assisting Schuckett in his scoring duties are a veritable plethora of co-writers, orchestrators and arrangers, all of whom are similarly unfamiliar. The surprising thing about their collective work on this score, though, is the fact that is not as bad as one might expect. It’s largely orchestral, thematically strong, surprisingly grand in scale, and wholly enjoyable in a crowd-pleasing Saturday morning cartoonish kind of way. I’m not saying there’s any real artistic merit to the work of Schuckett and Co., but as a throwaway soundtrack it’s actually rather good.

‘The Birth of Mewtwo’, which opens the score, contains some lovely, if a little morose, writing for oboe and harp, with some attractive ascending string harmonies that are unfortunately marred by a somewhat irritating and amateurish trumpet flourish. One of the score’s few recurring elements is also introduced in this track, a vaguely menacing three-note brass motif for the evil Mewtwo, which re-occurs at the end of ‘Surviving the Storm’ playing in counterpoint to the opening theme, and in short bursts during several others.

The quieter moments are the strongest elements of Pokémon as a whole. Schuckett’s arrangements for soft strings, woodwinds, harp and sampled choir are quite lovely, with ‘Invitation to Danger’ and ‘Mewtwo’s Island’ being standout cues. The former actually begins sounding like something from Edward Scissorhands, an innocent xylophone melody of which Danny Elfman would surely be proud. ‘Tears of Life’ is probably the best single cue on the album, moving from a large-scale action piece to an achingly beautiful theme with ease, and hinting at the kind of music Schuckett could be capable of if he was provided with the right resources. At the other end of the scale, ‘This Is My World Now’ is a frantic and exciting action cue with a knockout piano element, and which further belies the slapdash image of the whole Pokémon concept.

The score’s problems, of which there are quite a few, are probably down to the inexperience of the composers more than anything else. Many of the other action tracks are written in an over-the-top cartoon style, changing tack and tempo seemingly at random, resulting in music which has no real coherency or identifiable structure other than the various ostinatos that underpin everything. Similarly, Schuckett seems to have been trying much too hard in terms of his more expansive themes, too many of which push the boundaries of absurdity with their heroic fanfares and excessively cheerful outlook. It’s also disappointing that quite a bit of the orchestral score seems to have been overdubbed with unnecessary electronic embellishments, tired-sounding synth pad loops and somewhat childish parts for woodblocks, glockenspiels and other offbeat arrangements. The last three tracks, all of which were written for the short film “Pikachu’s Vacation” rather than the main feature, are grossly guilty of this. Cheesy doesn’t even come close. We know the score was written for a kids movie, guys, but when it comes to the music it’s always better to ignore the fact that it’ll be mainly five year olds who are watching.

Considering that it took at least seven composers to write the thing, the score for Pokémon: The First Movie is an astonishingly accomplished finished product, with enough good parts to balance out the not-so-hot ones. It’s sure to upset the film music purists no end, 99% of whom will quite rightly have very little regard for this type of film score. Comparing the work of Ralph Schuckett to that of Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota and John Williams is like comparing a bag of chips to the finest gastronomic creation of a top chef. But, when taken on its own terms and considering the truly awful film it accompanies, Schuckett’s work is about as good as it possibly could have been. I guess that, in the long run, owning this album might not the musical crime against humanity I thought it might be. Still, I think I might have to go out, say three “Hail Mary’s”, and ask for forgiveness from the film music fraternity before I can show my face in public again.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • The Birth of Mewtwo (4:01)
  • Dragonite Takes Flight (2:09)
  • Invitation to Danger (2:48)
  • Surviving the Storm (5:18)
  • Mewtwo’s Island (1:49)
  • Pokémon vs. Clone (2:40)
  • Tears of Life (5:31)
  • This Is My World Now (3:07)
  • Three on Three (4:38)
  • Mew’s Theme (0:33)
  • Freeing Charizard (from “Pikachu’s Vacation”) (4:40)
  • Adventure in Paradise (from “Pikachu’s Vacation”) (3:19)
  • All Good Things Must End (from “Pikachu’s Vacation”) (1:55)
  • Pokémon Theme (written by John Loeffler and John Siegler, performed by Jason Paige) (3:13)

Running Time: 46 minutes 12 seconds

Koch Records 333-64-2 (1999)

Music composed and conducted by Ralph Schuckett. Orchestrations by Ralph Schuckett, John Lissaur, Manny Corallo and John Loeffler. Additional music by John Loeffler, John Lissaur, Manny Corallo, John Angier, Ben Grey and Deniz Hughes. Recorded and mixed by Gary Chester, Tally Sherwood, Martin Kloiber and Larry Alexander. Edited by Sue Shufro and Julian Schwartz. Mastered by Rick Rowe. Album produced by Ralph Schuckett, John Lissauer and John Loeffler.

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