Sometimes as a film critic you have to see movies you don't know anything about or particularly care to know anything about. It's pretty much par for the course in this line of work. Most days I don't mind it and I tend to only really see what I want to see and let the other ones pass me by without a second thought. In the two or three years I've been doing this seriously, I've skipped over a number of family-friendly movies that I knew from reading about them and seeing trailers that I probably wouldn't like. I skipped all of the Pokemon movies as I never understood that craze, and until about Tuesday of this past week I was all set to skip Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Movie. After all, it looked to be pretty much the same kind of thing and having not seen the cartoon or played the card game it just seemed to be a wise one to skip. To add to that, it was screening on a Saturday morning at 10am, which didn't help it's case. So what got me out of my bed after only two to three hours of sleep. It certainly wasn't my editor saying we need to have a Yu-Gi-Oh! review. In fact, I can assure you that he couldn't care less if we covered this film at all. It was a friend who told me she wanted to see the movie, and so I figured I might as well go with her as she knew something about the series and thought it'd be fun. I guess ultimately that's a good enough reason for me. At least it was this time.
From what she's told me and what I can gather from the press notes on the film, Yu-Gi-Oh! is a best selling card game and series on the Kids' WB since 2001. Little Yugi is a high school student who just so happens to be the best player of the Duel card-game, a game of magical creatures and life points where people fight one another with a deck of cards. Each of the cards has special powers and the game holds a special mystical connection to Ancient Egypt. Yugi's deck of cards is aided by three special god cards which allow him to possess the strongest creatures in the game, making him no match for anyone other than Seto Kaiba, a rich college-aged student whose residence is the ultimate battle dome. Kaiba will stop at nothing to beat Yugi and when he plays the creator of the game, he manages to get the two cards that when used together allow him to finally take down young Yugi. What Kaiba doesn't know is that Yugi has a connection to the game's roots and that by playing his two newfound cards, he is setting a plan in motion for the Egyptian mummy god Anubis to come back from the dead and to continue his 500-year-old plan for world domination.
That's essentially the plot for the Yu-Gi-Oh! movie, which according to my resident expert is like one long episode of the TV show. If the plot sounds confusing to you, then your not alone, as I really had a hard time grasping what the hell was going on for most of the 88-minute running length. And if I, a 22-year-old, can't then how do they expect a 7-year-old to? Oh wait, the kids just want to see the duels. The biggest problem with the movie is that it's really not a movie at all. It's a series of exciting duels between two of the best (fictional) Duelers. The moments having to do with the fights between Yugi and Seto and the creator are by far the high points. However, by about the 45-minute point, I was getting bored with the so-called story and wondering just what was going to happen to sustain the final half of the film. The amount of story points included in the 88 minutes seems better suited to a 20 to 22-minute TV episode where things can be wrapped up quickly and without stretching things far beyond the believability point. Each of the battles is drawn out to kill time and I'm sure such a great strategist could probably forsee some of the problems that were occurring with his game techniques.
That being said, I did like some elements of the movie, starting with the anime animation, which was of at a pretty decent and respectable quality level. We aren't talking the level of Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, but I've seen much worse in terms of animation. Most of the characters seemed well-drawn and realized. Given the stylistic choice of the film, some of the character movement was a tad on the choppy side, but this isn't going to upset the kids and I'm certain that no one was expecting hyper-realism. Anyone who thinks that's the case, just look at the plot line. I also quite enjoyed many of the characters in the Duel game itself. From the magical fairy to the shiny dragon-like machines, there's something to be said for the creators' imaginations as the creature elements were pretty solid.
Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Movie is a movie aimed at a very specific demographic, and as a 22-year-old male I don't really fall into it. It's made for young kids aged 5 to 14, all of whom seemed to be having a fun time at the packed Saturday morning screening. It's also for fans of the card game and television series. Those of you much like myself who know nothing about Yu-Gi-Oh aren't going to get much out of it. Neither are the parents of the kids, who are going to have to sit through it. I guess if you like the cartoon then you'll probably like this movie. However, the person I went with didn't care much for the movie either, so it might be hit and miss with the game's older fans. It's not terrible and the anime animation isn't awful, but there just really isn't a need for it in the current market place. The last two Pokemon movies didn't do big business and neither will this. The successful kids' movies nowadays are something the whole family can go to like Shrek 2 and Finding Nemo. A good bet for hardcore fans, but for the casual movie fan, this is one to skip. The tagline for the film is "Could this be the final duel?". My only hope is that it is, on the big screen at least.
Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.