Digimon: The Movie is a baffling anomaly. Back in 1999, Digimon debuted on television in both Japan and the US. Though it was quite different from the white hot Pokemon franchise and TV show, comparisons between the two were inescapable, due to their similar titles and their placements in the “pet monster” genre of children’s anime. Apparently, Digimon’s distributors at Fox must have also drawn comparisons between the two, and tried to play a game of one-upmanship with the Pokemon brand by releasing a Digimon movie in 2000, after the success Pokemon saw with the releases of its first two theatrical features in the US.
There was just one problem… No Digimon movie existed at the time! But the studio was impatient, and didn’t want to wait for the release of a Digimon feature in Japan. So what did they do? They took three largely unrelated Digimon short films from Japan, spliced them together, and called it a movie. The results were…interesting, to say the least.
I was eleven at the time Digimon: The Movie was released, and Digimon was still the coolest thing ever to me at the time. So my naive younger self tolerated it. And while I still find it to be something of a guilty pleasure (Digimon was my childhood show), watching it now is a strange, almost surreal experience. It’s one of those rare instances where you may be left scratching your head wondering how such a movie even exists.
To be fair, Digimon: The Movie has at least one highlight in its animation. While the Digimon TV series had less-than stellar production values, they made up for it with surprisingly strong (if sometimes convoluted) storytelling and genuine character development. But the exact opposite seems to be the case with Digimon: The Movie, as the drastic editing and splicing of things together makes the plot an incoherent mess, while the animation is captivating.
It should be noted that each of the short segments that comprised Digimon: The Movie were all directed by Mamoru Hosada, who has since become one of Japan’s top animation directors. Even here, Hosada’s finesse with animation was apparent. The character’s designs from the TV show (which could admittedly be a little garish) have been toned down and simplified. Not only does this make the animation look more charming, but more of its recourses were able to go into how fluidly the characters move, as opposed to presenting a bunch of stiff, overly-designed characters.
As previously stated, each of the film’s three segments are largely unrelated, due to their original nature of being separate films. This English release tries to weave an overarching narrative across all three, but that only makes it all feel disjointed and confusing.
The first segment details the first encounter the “Digidestined” (primarily original protagonist Tai and his sister Kari) had with the Digimon when they were wee tykes. The second segment takes place shortly after the events of the first season/series, and sees Tai and Izzy (the two most important characters in the series), as well as Matt trying to stop a virus-infected Digimon from destroying the internet and causing a nuclear war. Finally, the third segment takes place during the events of the second season, with that particular installment’s own characters Davis, Yolei and Cody taking center stage, as they meet up with an American Digidestined named Willis, who is being haunted by a Digimon from his past.
Again, these segments were all originally unrelated (which you could probably tell by the above summaries), but Digimon: The Movie attempts to string them together with a storyline that Willis created the Digimon that was infected in the second segment, and that said virus eventually corrupted the Digimon from his past.
It…doesn’t really work, and it all just ends up feeling sloppy and incoherent. If the studio needed to release a theatrical Digimon feature, they would have been better off simply dubbing the shorts and releasing them in their entirety as a package film, instead of splicing them together as a singular entity.
The whole thing lacks any sense of cohesiveness. Because the already short films have been cut even shorter, they don’t have time to properly develop their stories, and the drastic and sudden switching of characters becomes jarring.
To make matters worse, popular songs of the time were inserted into the film, and seemingly at the most random moments. Not only do the pop tunes not mesh into the film at all, but they even detract from the moments in which they’re present. And like any film released in 2000, the movie even ends with Smash Mouth’s All-Star, which just feels comically dated.
Overall, Digimon: The Movie remains an interesting viewing, if maybe not for the right reasons. It’s wonderfully fluid animation is great to look at, and any Digimon fan should find at least a little enjoyment out of it – whether for the nostalgia or the irony – and there’s even some fun quips of dialogue here and there (some seems like faithful translations, others seem like they were added in the dub). But the incoherent plot that’s been added, and the butchering that’s been done in editing each short makes it all feel incredibly muddled. The stories are never allowed to flow properly, and audiences have no time to know the characters before the focus shifts on a different cast. And the obnoxiously implemented, dated pop songs only detract from the experience all the more.
Digimon is a franchise that can be a whole lot of fun at times. But Digimon: The Movie feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of the franchise that’s run amuck.