Upon seconds into Pokémon the Movie: Secrets of the Jungle, watchers will see vibrant shades of green, colorful light flares, and a bunch of scurrying Pokémon trying to find berries to eat. You’ll be introduced to the Zarude, monkey-type Pokémon determined to protect the Forest of Okoya, giving their lives to watch over a tree and its water that has the ability to heal. Though taking up such a noble task for generations, the Zarude aren’t known in the jungle to be friendly, they can be caught stealing berries from the weaker Pokémon that live there as well.
The film takes a turn when one of the Zarude takes a detour to the river, and in a “Story of Moses” style, finds a baby floating in a basket along the water. This Zarude takes it upon himself to leave his group, and take care of this baby, naming the child Koko. The Zarude, now called Dada, raises Koko as any other Zarude Pokémon, but without ever telling Koko he’s a human boy.
Koko learns to ride through trees with rope accessories he made to imitate his Dada’s vine armlets. His hair is tied into two pigtails to look like Dada’s ears, and covers himself in white paint to copy a Zarude’s fur pattern. Koko is 100% living the way of the Zarude and all seems well. Up until one day, Koko runs away after an argument with Dada, and gets into trouble, leaving Ash Ketchum and Pikachu to save him.
This blossoms a friendship between the two boys, one that we learn will save the Forest of Okoya’s future. Koko finds immediate comfort that he has met someone that looks like him- having always felt like he never belonged, and the inability to wield Zarude attacks further causing him to feel like an outsider. The contrast between Ash and Koko was no problem for Ash, and through the power of understanding and trying their best to help each other, Ash and Koko were able to save the Forest of Okoya from the main villain of the film, Zed.
While this Pokémon movie sticks out to me with Team Rocket’s chiller antics, super implied murder between characters, and the parallels between Disney’s Tarzan and James Cameron’s Avatar – Secrets in the Jungle’s take on understanding those different from you was a surprising, comforting warmth I didn’t see coming.
All Pokémon movies ride on the message of “coming together to save others,” and Secret of the Jungle is no different. However, in movies, and in real life, when two people with vast differences, especially language, one or both are bound to show a bit of confusion or frustration out of not understanding something another says, wears, etc. Ash shows absolutely no problem when meeting a child that is speaking in Pokémon, and with no hesitation, shows Koko around town and helps him find his real parents. As someone that still struggles with language, seeing an interaction like that felt hopeful.
Learning English growing up meant I was faced with laughter or shock if I pronounced things funny. Every now and then I remember doing a reading in class, coming across “Plymouth” for the first time- pronouncing it “Pl-eye-m-ow-th.” The blaring laughter coming from my teacher is something I still hear in the back of my head. As the years pass by, similar occurrences have happened, and I’m guilty of doing it as well when learning Spanish speakers make a wild mistake. And now, living in a new country where I have to learn a new language again, I’m very scared of making a mistake – not for being wrong, but because I’ll be met with laughter or shock that’ll knock down my confidence.
Working hard to understand someone can be a graceful act. The way a person goes on about it might not be enough, and even take the other part several steps back from progress. Ash’s approach to understanding Koko comes from body language and key clues from the things Koko shows and gives him. As for Koko, he never conveys feeling ashamed about talking to Ash, and even mentions how grateful he was to have Ash as a friend. I believe Ash’s acceptance and empathy in never acting like talking to Koko was a difficult chore was what kept Koko motivated in his search for his real parents, as well as saving the Forest of Okoya.
Pokémon the Movie: Secrets of the Jungle is an amazing movie that is suitable for any age. I loved it so much, I watched it back-to-back. While I fell in love with the relatable messaging, its focus on environmental research and tampering, breaking the conservative idea of what a perfect family is, and bright visuals are all great things about this movie I know Pokémon fans will eat up.
Pokémon the Movie: Secrets of the Jungle is available to watch on Netflix!