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SECOND LOOK: Pokémon 3: Spell of the Unown

Each of the Pokémon films, or at least the early ones, explored surprisingly adult themes which were only replicated in later instalments. Pokémon the First Movie explores the horrors of science, self-identity, and a rather forced message describing violence as bad, while Pokémon 2000 explored the chosen one trope in the context of a disaster movie. But, the third film, Pokémon 3: Spell of the Unown, is the most interesting. Though dismissed by critics, they must’ve been watching the film with their eyes shut. Spell of the Unown is an engaging psychological film exploring the mind of a troubled child who is given the power of a god, and oozes with weird symbolism that is expressed through her realised dreams and wishes. And this is a film about Pokémon, but it isn’t like the franchise has explored a darker, more complex side before.

Now, this is not your usual run-of-the-mill Second Look and may deter some readers. It is also a little lengthy, but we shall try to remain brief without meandering onto every tiny detail or what could be conceived as something symbolic or important to the meaning of the story. This also is pure speculation and my thoughts alone, and by no means represents the opinions of the rest of the website’s staff. Just a Pokémon fan with too much time on his hands.

So, our focus will be on the film’s designated antagonist, Molly Hale, a little girl living in the town of Greenfield. Her father, Spencer Hale, is a scientist who studies the mysterious Pokémon, Unown, who resemble floating letters of the alphabet with eyes. Though in the games, they are relatively mediocre, in the movie, they are depicted as Lovecraftian-esque creatures who can alter the world using their psychic powers. Spencer leaves Molly at home to explore ruins connected to the Unown. It is implied that Molly’s mother disappeared due to Spencer’s research and he looks for the Unown to get her back. Yikes, that is pretty dark. Compared to the Japanese version, where Molly’s parents are divorced due to Spencer’s workaholism, I’d go with the English version. This film is depressing enough.

Things aren’t looking too good for Molly, who already is characterised as a bit of a lonely girl. It only gets worse when her dad is abducted by the Unown. It’s never really explained why they did this, possibly out of curiosity, which does make sense when they later interact with Molly. There is a fantastic bit of mise-en-scène, where Molly runs into a room and discovers the fate of her father from her butler and Spencer’s assistant Skylar. The final shot of the scene is a wide shot of Molly standing in the large, empty hall, symbolising just how lonely she has become and feels. This is what catapults her into a state of depression, melancholy, and rejection of reality for her dream world.

Molly plays around with some artefacts her dad found and cries on them, causing a portal to open and the Unown drop in for a visit. Molly assumes they are there to play with her, and they seem to comply, beginning to tap into Molly’s psyche to bring her dreams and PTSD to life. The house is soon transformed into a fairy tale-esque palace made of crystals, and the Unown create an illusionary Entei to act as Molly’s protector and father figure, possibly as an apology for abducting her dad. Why they can’t just puke him back out is unknown? This whole sequence has some great symbolism – the crystal transformation replaces the empty house Molly has come to hate in favour of a childlike version. Skylar tries to break in to rescue Molly but he and the servants are evicted from the house, representing Molly’s distrust of adults and her fear they will take more from her. She has rejected reality and cut off all ties to the world outside.

Entei himself is a pretty multilayered character. He was created by the Unown to be whatever Molly needs him to be like a parent, guardian, battering ram, etc. And Entei is well aware of this, yet goes along with it either out of actual love or because it is his purpose. However, this also means Entei is both a good and bad parent, lacking the moral judgement Spencer had, and will thus do bad things to make Molly happy. The film’s major themes from here on revolve around Molly’s perception of her world and reality, the differences and conflict between adults and children, and the overall symbolism of fantasy vs. reality.

Anyway, Ash, Misty, and Brock eventually come into the plot whilst planning to visit Greenfield, only to find it slowly being transformed into a crystal wasteland. The Unown likely intend on turning all of the world into Molly’s dreamscape, and it also represents the endless possibilities of a child’s imagination. It turns out the Hale family are friends with Professor Oak and Ash’s mother Delia, who promptly arrive in town to help rescue Molly. A news crew witness Ash and Delia’s reunion, which Molly and Entei also happen to be watching. I guess Molly has not let go of the outside world entirely, but this turns out to lead to an even darker moment. Molly, now aware of the powers on offer, exploits them and tells Entei that she “wants a mama too”, to complete her fantasy family. Molly is likely well aware that Entei is not her actual father but treats him as such since it is part of her choice to choose her dreams.

Entei ventures out to get a mother, so he brainwashes and kidnaps Delia. That’s pretty scary, transforming Delia into the perfect mother like he is meant to be the idealised father, and eliminating that pesky voice of reason that most adults have. You clever writers. And this actually gives Ash some personal stakes in a movie for once. Normally he is just in the right place at the right time, and while that happens here too, at least this time he has a better reason to get involved in the plot rather than just being a reckless idiot. This film keeps getting better and better. And it is surprisingly dark and creepy when you think about it; a little girl suffering from grief and trauma has been given omnipotent superpowers to create her own perfect dream world at the expense of everyone else. This is like Silent Hill after all!

The grown ups try to fight back against Molly’s new world order by demolishing the crystal formation with a bulldozer, but Molly gets mad, causing the Unown’s power to destroy the vehicle. This further emphasizes Molly’s rejection of adults and intrusive elements to her happy world, and hints at the lack of control the Unown will come to have when fuelled by a child’s emotions. Molly sends an e-mail to Professor Oak, warning everyone to stay away. While the adults try to plan a strategy through their limited resources, Ash, Misty, and Brock take matters into their own hands and break into the house using their Pokémon. The differences between adults and children is shown here, with the adults failing in their mission while the kids use more imaginative means of achieving theirs.

Team Rocket also show up in their hot air balloon, but Entei leaps up onto the roof and blows the trio out of the sky. Molly gives zero concern about Team Rocket’s welfare, only emphasizing her distrust of adults to the point that she cares not if they live or die. This girl has issues. Anyway, our heroes break into the house, Delia watching it on TV and snaps out of her trance when Ash nearly falls to his death. I guess her natural maternal instincts top the hypnotic power of the Unown.

Professor Oak calls Ash over the PokéGear to scold him, and explains how the Unown can bring to life a person’s desires. Still doesn’t explain why they kidnapped Molly’s dad though. Molly realises Ash and co. are Pokémon trainers and falls asleep, wondering what it would be like to be one herself. Guess where this is going. While Molly snoozes on Delia’s lap, Entei sneaks out and creates a duplicate of Molly…or a brings her dream self to life. It’s a bit weird. Molly transforms into a full-grown adult and she confronts Ash and co. While Molly is keen on having a battle, Ash is surprisingly focused on finding his mother and exposing Entei as a fraud. Both Molly and Entei object to Ash’s accusations, which will be further argued later on.

Brock challenges Molly to a battle while Ash and Misty leg it. Interestingly, Ash, Misty, and Brock all represent different stages of growing up: Ash is still a brash, immature kid, forever ten with dreams that are harder to gain that imagined; Misty is a teenager but on the path to being an adult, since she will come to inherit her family’s Pokémon gym while her free silly sisters are off being celebrities; while Brock is a full-fledged adult, albeit forced into the role from an early age if you recall his backstory from the anime. Molly trounces Brock’s Pokémon, further rejecting adulthood. This is emphasized perhaps the most when her tiny Phanpy sends the gigantic Onix flying. She also uses a Flaaffy, who is a sheep, thus symbolising her dreams, and a Teddiursa, who represents her childhood and innocence, because, well, he is a teddy bear.

Molly then takes on Misty and an awesome underwater match, transforming into a teenage version of herself to mirror our favourite redhead. The fight is pretty awesome, particularly between Staryu and Mantine. There is then a very touching scene between Delia and Molly, who admits she is lonely, opening the door for her to accept to truth. Anyway, Ash and Pikachu finally reach Molly’s bedroom where Delia breaks the unfortunate yet obvious truth to Molly about how she isn’t her mother. Did Molly forget what her mother was like, or did she just remember Delia being a good parental figure when her family visited Pallet Town?

As expected, Molly takes the truth as well as can be – by immediately refusing the truth, screaming, crying, and turning her lovely world into a nightmare. Giant icy spikes cover everything, a blizzard kicks up, and the house starts close into itself like a giant flower. A lot of the scenery appears to come from Molly’s storybook like Entei being her dad and the crystal spikes. Ash and Delia go to leave only for Entei arrive to kick some ass and gets mad when Ash points out how fake everything is. Ash’s Pokémon get whipped and Pikachu puts up a decent fight until Entei blasts Ash off a cliff. But who should snatch him out of the air but good old Charizard! Charizard watched Delia’s abduction on TV and came to the rescue.

Charizard is Ash’s most powerful Pokémon and the only fully evolved member of his team, so he basically represents adulthood fighting back against childhood. Entei and Charizard soon engage in an awesome fight, the ultimate clash of fantasy versus reality, which Entei wins, since the Unown are boosting his powers. Entei pins Charizard down and is about to execute him, which Molly steps in and begs him to stop the fighting. Molly has finally had enough, now ironically facing another very big part of reality through her imagined father – death. Molly at last accepts that her parents are gone and asks for things to return to normal.

Entei is about to leave, his role fulfilled, when suddenly the Unown’s power goes out of control and threatens to trap the group in the house. This also allows Entei to make his own decisions, choosing to protect Molly and the others against his masters. Our heroes confront the Unown, and after Ash’s usual method of body-checking the problem doesn’t work, Entei comes to the rescue. Entei ultimately decides he will sacrifice himself to protect Molly by destroying the Unown’s psychic shield. Not only does this cement his existence as an actual lifeform since he makes his own decision to die knowing what it will mean, but it also represents the sacrifices a parent can make for the sake of their child. God, I love this movie.

So Entei nukes the Unown and with their power gone, he sadly fades away after having a Mufasa moment. Sob! Spencer also gets puked out by the Unown back in the ruins and reunites with Molly at the end of the film. The magic of the Unown reverse everything back to normal, allowing Molly, Ash, and everyone else to go outside where the authorities arrive. Molly has accepted the truth and become a better, mature person because of it.

Though it is ultimately the offer to become a Pokémon trainer that coaxes her to leave her dream world, the deeper reason is because she refused to acknowledge her grief. Molly nearly got everyone else hurt because of her refusal to face reality, and she had to take a stand against her own protector, Entei, who enforced her dreams, her wishes, and her will at the cost of others. Entei represented how far Molly was willing to go to remain isolated, but when he nearly kills both Ash and Charizard, Molly has to drop her selfishness for the sake of others. And in another way, though she distrusted others outside her imaginary family, they were all working to save and protect her. Both Molly and Entei’s character arcs in the film are well-written, and neither serve as outright antagonists. The Unown aren’t evil either. Just misguided.

Considering the engaging story they maintain throughout the film without ever doing something stupid or incorporating a silly forced moral, the third Pokémon film remains the best out of the nineteen tie-in instalments so far. Beautifully animated, beautifully written, and being the perfect Pokémon film for fans, remaining exciting with the usual yet amplified battles. And even then, they are made cooler since they are set in an ever changing dream world where characters can breathe underwater and defy the established rules of Pokémon battles by throwing the rulebook right out the window. Great stuff.

What are your thoughts of the third Pokémon movie? Which is your favourite? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter feed.

About the author

Mark Russell