“Pokémon the Movie: Secrets of the Jungle” has something for everyone

The 23rd movie in the franchise expands on the Pokémon world while staying true to what makes it so beloved

By Justin E Kim, Monta Vista High School

Koko eventually realizes his true origins after a chance encounter with the main character of the Pokémon anime, Ash, and his Pikachu. Photo courtesy of Netflix Inc. (Netflix Inc.)

Released on Oct. 8 and directed by Tetsuo Najima, “Pokémon the Movie: Secrets of the Jungle,” is the 23rd movie in the 25-year-old Pokémon franchise. The movie follows the anime’s main character, Ash (Sarah Natochenny) and Pikachu (Ikue Ohtani), as they come across Koko (Kimlinh Tran), a boy raised by his Dada, one of the mythical Pokémon Zarude (Edward Bosco), in the Forest of Okoya, and help him rediscover his humanity.

With its Tarzan-reminiscent plot that conveys two significant messages, “Secrets of the Jungle” has something in it for everyone — even for those without any knowledge about the franchise. By incorporating environmental destruction into the villain’s plans, the movie underscores the conservation of nature as an important theme, a topic that parallels the real-life deforestation in the Amazon rainforests. Its other theme stresses the importance of family and the eternal love between parents and children despite arguments and conflict through Koko and his Dada’s relationship.

Pokémon is often criticized for its shallow and kid-friendly plotlines, which shy away from exploring mature concepts in the real world. “Secrets of the Jungle,” however, does just the opposite. The movie embraces complex topics including murder, psychosis, child abandonment and family drama in an authentic, yet kid-friendly manner.

Koko affectionately refers to the mythical Pokémon who raised him, Zarude, as “Dada.” Photo courtesy of Netflix Inc. (Netflix Inc.)

Additionally, “Secrets of the Jungle” is commendable for managing to give all of its cast meaningful roles and character arcs that span the plot. Although Ash, the main character of the anime, is put on the backseat to allow newcomers to have intricate and in-depth stories, the movie finds the right place and time to expand on his backstory.

The breakout characters of “Secrets of the Jungle,” Koko and his Dada, form a moving emotional center with their complex, but cohesive father-son relationship, which is further developed through emotional flashbacks. Koko’s character arc is notable for not only focusing on his relationship with his father, but his perception of humanity. His movie-long struggle with accepting his dual identity as a Pokémon and a human culminates in one of the most heartfelt scenes in the movie.

The 2D animation used in “Secrets of the Jungle” is spectacular and maintains a perfect balance between being lifelike and appearing hand-drawn, with the illuminating fireworks, the green vibrancy of the jungle and the lively lushness of rivers serving as artistic highlights of the film. “Secrets of the Jungle” also has a beautiful selection of music mixing classical background ensembles with a modern and catchy OST. Its soundtrack never sounds out of place, emphasizing pivotal moments and themes effectively.

“Secrets of the Jungle” could have disappointed for reusing the basic concept of Tarzan, but the movie refines those ideas to create a refreshing story that also stays true to the franchise’s heart. Though the villain isn’t the most complex in terms of motives and their plot twist is easy to predict, the moment is very well written and the movie ties the plot back to the villain in a way that feels earned, allowing for several satisfying emotional scenes with multiple layers.

Koko’s search for his past eventually leads him to the Biotope Company, led by the mysterious Dr. Zed. Photo courtesy of Netflix Inc. (Netflix Inc.)

“Pokémon the Movie: Secrets of the Jungle” impressively manages to bring something new to the franchise, considering it has reached its 23rd film. Its intricate plot, complex character arcs, fitting soundtrack and vivid artwork make this film worth a watch for anyone with or without prior knowledge about the Pokémon franchise.

Rating: 4.5/5

This story was originally published on El Estoque on October 13, 2021.