As the cartoon’s 20th feature film, Pokémon: I Choose You! takes some ... interesting creative liberties in retelling the original anime’s storyline. These include changes good and bad, and one of the good ones is very, very, very good.
(Consider this the obligatory spoiler warning for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, although since the storyline is adapted from a 20-year-old anime ... what constitutes a spoiler is on you.)
Everyone remembers how Ash Ketchum ended up with a Pikachu instead of a traditional Kanto-region starter. The kid woke up late on the morning of his tenth birthday, and Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle were all scooped up. That doesn’t stop Ash from finding the three in the wild as he embarks upon his journey, earning a complete set early on in the anime’s original season.
Bulbasaur and Squirtle become Ash’s close allies, choosing not to evolve throughout the course of his travels as they prefer to take on other, less action-oriented roles. Charmander, however, begins its journey as a heartbreakingly abused and abandoned Pokémon. Ash scoops him up, and they forge a bond that still makes me cry to this day. (I sobbed in the theater as the movie retold this storyline.)
That remains true in I Choose You!, but then the film deviates dramatically from the original anime. Twenty years ago, Charmander evolved into a Charmeleon after several episodes and victories. When it did, it changed from a sweet, loyal baby Pokémon into a surly teen. And when Charmeleon became Charizard, it becomes even more of a brat, refusing to answer Ash at all. It’s a sad development that steps all over the intimate friendship the trainer and Pokémon built up.
That’s where the movie switches things up, for the better. After Ash saves Charmander when its caught in the rain and nurses it back to health, the two are bonded for life. When Charmander evolves into Charmeleon, it leaps into Ash’s arms for a hug. And toward the end of the film, when the Pokémon finally evolves into Charizard, it’s totally obedient to its trainer — just as it should be.
Charmander is a good, sweet kid, and its backstory is as dark as it gets in the anime. Thank goodness I Choose You! gets this part right.