Saturday, October 14, 2000 by

One of life’s great cliches is that you know you’re old when you start complaining to your kids about the bleddin’ orrible racket coming from Top of the Pops. Whilst I still retain a vestige of musical credibility and can watch ver Pops without becoming my dad, I knew that middle age was fast approaching when I sat one afternoon, with my six year old daughter, and watched several hours of the Cartoon Network. I was, naturally, confronted by a series of characters that I had never heard of before.

The one that I had heard of was, of course, Pokémon. It’s difficult to imagine that there is any parent the length and breadth of this land that hasn’t heard of Ash, Misty, Team Rocket and all those bizarre little pocket monsters. The merchandising machine that backs this cult is truly staggering (in terms of gross sales, they’ve managed to outdo the Disney machine with consummate ease) and utterly invidious – witness the new, heavily advertised Pikachu Nintendos.

However, the bottom line is that children wouldn’t go so mental over Pokémon if it was over-hyped and failed to capture their imagination. Fundamentally, Pokémon is arguably the best children’s cartoon ever. I say that not as a brainwashed parent but as a cartoonaholic who has joyfully witnessed the resurrection of cartoons as not only a pure, joyous art form but also as a powerful tool to educate.

A big up and respect to these creatures. You may be unaware but the Pokémon card swapping game is a lesson in economics, relative values, strategy and using your imagination. It’s incredible to watch five and six year-olds grasping the concept of building their Pokémon hands to do battle with their peers. The cartoon itself is clever – but never too clever. Whereas Pixar, Disney and Dreamworks have pitched recent fare such as Toy Story 2, Antz and Prince of Egypt at the adult market as well as the children’s, the makers of Pokémon have resisted this tactic. The result has been a mass of adults, recently reared on literate, multi-level entertainment staring blankly at Pokémon and muttering “I can’t see what the fuss is about – it’s rubbish!” That’s why kids love it – it’s their own unique little world, one that adults rarely stray into.

The main characters are cutesy, yes, but sometimes they fail in their tasks. Pokémon get hurt, there is pain and tears and the task for Ash seems unending. The moment in Pokémon – The First Movie when Pikachu is taking a fearful hammering from the cloned Pikachu, was watched in stunned silence by the children in the audience. I hadn’t witness that kind of response to Star Wars or Toy Story 2. The children watched totally engrossed as the story unfolded, in a way that doesn’t happen during a Disney movie. The main concept of the film was that scientists had created, in effect, a GM Pokémon – it was intelligently handled and tried its best to answer the questions that were raised. In the cartoon series, weighty issues are given similar consideration – child abandonment, racism, sexism to name but a few – and almost always, they are carried off successfully.

That SM:TV Live chose to use Pokémon as an integral part of the package is no surprise. It was always going to be a ratings winner and attract a massive share of the Saturday morning audience – especially with the advert breaks on ITV offering so much potential. How long this phenomenon will last remains to be seen. What is assured is that Pokémon, for the foreseeable future anyway, remains the must-watch cartoon for children the world over and it’s going to take something special to knock it off its lofty perch. As Ash would no doubt say, “Pokémon – I choose you!”


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