Second Spin: Revisiting The “Pokémon: The First Movie” Soundtrack

Jonathan Riggs | July 22, 2016 11:58 am

Second Spin is our look back at our favorite pop gems that may not have gotten their due. They may be gone, but we’re here to make sure they’re not forgotten.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock—which is probably a secret Geodude—you’ve undoubtedly noticed that Pokémon has pokémastered the mobile gaming world. Seventeen years ago, it did the same thing to the charts.

Let’s travel back to November 1999, a time marked by great sadness (the prior year’s Great Spice Rift), great uncertainty (Y2K was coming, y’all!), and great hope (who was this newcomer Jessica Simpson and why were her kisses so sweet?). Into this tumult, the North American version of Pokémon: The First Movie hit theaters.

Although many adults didn’t quite get the phenomenon — “It’s hard not to be charmed by kids’ obsessive allegiance to Pokémon, even if you do feel that they’re being indoctrinated into some exuberantly cryptic multimedia consumer empire designed to shut parents out,” sniped Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman at the time — younger fans were hooked by the millions.

While it’s debatable whether the film holds up as anything but a hey-remember-this-battered-VHS-in-mom’s-basement pleasant memory, the soundtrack’s another story completely. Not only did it go double-Platinum in the US, but it’s shocking — (“Pika!”) — to see the murderer’s row of fin de siècle teen pop royalty assembled here: everyone from Britney and Xtina to *NSYNC and 98 Degrees. 

Kicking off with Filipino teen sensation Billy Crawford’s cover of the theme song/slightly disturbing manifesto (“GOTTA CATCH ’EM ALLLLLLLLL!!!”), the soundtrack moves on to its first and only single, Norwegian pop duo M2M’s “Don’t Say You Love Me.” Sweet and surprisingly smart — critics loved it — the song climbed to #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 and caused a minor pokéscandal: one line that mentioned (gasp) kissing was changed to protect pint-sized fans’ delicate sensibilities.

Even lovelier is next track “It Was You” by Ashley Ballard, featuring the impeccably named So Plush.

Although the pokéstars seemed aligned for Ballard to continue her industry ascension — she was also featured on the 2000 Center Stage soundtrack, but overshadowed by someone named Mandy Moore — her official debut single, 2001’s “Hottie” was more of a “Nottie.”

Fate had bigger plans for the next pair of blonde pop upstarts, with Christina Aguilera’s “We’re A Miracle” (creamily classy as a Pottery Barn catalog) and Britney Spears’s “Soda Pop” (steamily sassy as a Tiger Beat centerfold). The former’s a better production; the latter’s a lot more fun, even if it double-dipped from the …Baby One More Time album. A search through the YouTube comments reveals that many young fans thought “Soda Pop” was a duet between these two queens of pop. According to one commenter, “Wow, I never knew Britney even tried to sing!” (“Uh oh, here we go now!”)

As for the boys, *NSYNC contributes a truly excellent ballad, “Somewhere, Someday,” which features some of Justin Timberlake’s most understated and affecting singing. (Being totally pokéhonest, however, JC Chasez once again vocally steals the show.) This should’ve been a hit, and the only reason I can think of that it wasn’t is because of Team Rocket’s meddling. They must’ve been jealous of JT’s hair game.

On the fresher flip-side is 98 Degrees’s lite-funky “Fly With Me,” which soars along better than any of their true hits. Even better is this true Lachey life story yanked from the YouTube comments: “i remember saying 98 degrees sucked when i was at my grandmothers house, and her and my mom where like ‘what did u just say?’ and i ended up standing in a corner for however long =\ lmao. but then i heard this song on the pokemon soundtrack.” Indeed.

Although B*Witched’s “Get Happy” is a throwaway track by a throwaway girl group, despite its helpful opening lyric of “Don’t be a brontosaurus,” it tees up Baby Spice Emma Bunton’s triptacular “(Hey You) Free Up Your Mind,” which became the B-side to her first (and only) solo UK chart-topper, “What Took You So Long?” Pikachus crossed that this jam resurfaces with Emma’s new music with Spice Girls, or in her role in the Absolutely Fabulous movie.

Best of all is “Lullaby,” an ode to the sleep-inducing powers of the best Pokémon of all time, Jigglypuff. Although the song is credited to the mysterious Mandah, it’s actually Willa Ford, before she changed her stage name to avoid confusion with the aforementioned Mandy Moore. Silly, sure, but also spectacular, it’s the absolute best track on the soundtrack and should’ve been a hit. Hands down, this is the finest-ever duet between a pink balloon-y cartoon character…and Jigglypuff.

Another unfairly overshadowed pop star of the era, Vitamin C, turns in the everything-in-the-junk-drawer “Vacation,” which deserved to live forever as a child’s dance recital staple. Its surfy guitars, girls chanting “Let’s go!” and the flip-every-knob-and-dance production is a reminder of how creative the once and future Colleen Fitzpatrick was as an artist. No wonder she’s now the vice president of music at Nickelodeon. Billie Piper, who was bill(i)ed by her first name, also went on to bigger things: As good as “Makin’ My Way (Any Way That I Can)” is, she’s much more known today for her acting career, including her beloved stint on Doctor Who.

It all gets a little dicier towards the end of the album. Angela Via may have been the poor man’s Hoku, but she does her best with the annoying “Catch Me If You Can.” And the less said about Aaron Carter and his desire to “(Have Some) Fun With The Funk,” the better. That said, things close with two strong ballads. The first, “If Only Tears Could Bring You Back” is by a group called The Midnight Sons. But who, you may ask, were they? “They’re fictional and a one-hit wonder,” coldly writes Yahoo! Answers user “Kitty.”

The album ends on Blessid Union of Souls (Meh, Leonardo) and “Brother My Brother,” which certainly means well and sounds okay, but it’s hard to separate the song from the scene in which it appears, where all the Pokémon are confronted with their evil doubles and tearfully slap each other for the entire duration of this ballad, until they realize fighting is wrong.

Despite its occasional cloying aftertaste, the Pokémon: The First Movie soundtrack is the best candy-colored cross-section of kid-friendly teen pop the turn of the millennium had to offer. For many pokéfaithful, it was also their entry point into loving pop music, and a time capsule of an era where the charts, and the world, seemed a little simpler and sweeter.

What sums it all up is this YouTube comment: “If I ever was to go back in time, in the year 1999, I would changed the Oscar Nomination List For Best Animated Movie, Then I would Put “Pokemon The First Movie” In It and have Great Pokemon Trainer Ash Ketchum and Pikachu Accepting The Oscar.”

Do you remember this soundtrack, or is it new to you? Let us know below, or by hitting us up on Facebook and Twitter.