It’s Pikachu vs. Keanu as Pokemon Heroes Reloads in Theaters Today

The fifth installment in the Pokemon film franchise Pokemon Heroes opens today nationwide. This latest adventure of trainer Ash Ketchum and his yellow pet Pikachu takes place in a Venice-like dream city, where the clan tries to stop a pair of thieves hiding out in the canals and alleyways in the water capital of the world. The film also introduces two new Pokemons, a brother and sister pair called Latias and Latios, who are protecting a treasure known as the Droplet of the Heart.

Alternately titled Guardian Spirits of the Water Capita: Latias and Latios, Pokemon Heroes is directed by Jim Malone and Kunihiko Yuyama, based on a script by Malone and Hideki Sonoda. The film is 72-minutes long, is rated G, and has some scenes of cartoon violence.

It must have been Miramax head Harvey Weinstein’s big push for family films that caused the arthouse champ to pick up this animated adventure (Previous outings were distributed by Warner Bros.) The original Pokemon TV series has been a huge ratings grabber all over the world since it debuted in 1997. Stateside, it’s also been one of Kids’ WB!’s most watched toons since 1998. The Pokemon concept was created by game designer Satoshi Tajiri, and the series is animated by Japan’s Shogakukan and OLM Animation.

Regardless of the previous history of the franchise, it’s hard to judge the film from its early reviews. They range from kind (“A reasonably entertaining entry that thanks to its exotic setting and several new characters, should prove engaging for the small fry and not too painful for their adult chaperones,” says Hollywood Reporter‘s Frank Scheck) to positively devastating (“Subjecting kids to such shoddy junk when they could be watching Spirited Away or Finding Nemo should count as cinematic child abuse,” warns Josh Larson of Sun Publications). Perhaps Gene Seymore of Newsday says it best: “Pokemon Heroes gallops along at a quick easygoing pace. Grown-ups may have to scrub the sugar from their frontal lobes. But it’s not about them, is it? Never was. Never will be!”

Since the whole Pokemon phenomenon has been critic-proof, the film should perform respectably this weekend. Of course, it doesn’t have any other major G-rated competition. Holes, The Lizzie McGuire Movie and Daddy Daycare target older audiences. We have a feeling those poor little pocket monsters will be sent packing on May 30 when Pixar/Disney’s Finding Nemo storms into theaters and Klasky Csupo/Paramount’s Rugrats Go Wild starts frolicking on June 13.