This fourth bigscreen Pokémonotony is stultifyingly similar to the television episodes and films that precede it. Every man, woman and child in the world of "Pokémon" continues to be obsessed with capturing the eponymous beasts and pitting them against each other in cockfights euphemized only by the creatures' complicity and purported indestructibility. "4Ever" finds eternally prepubescent trainer Ash Ketchum, unencumbered by character development, rashly butting in on yet another attempt by a malevolent force to rule the world by abducting and wielding a particularly powerful Pokémon. On this occasion, it's a time-traveling, forest-dwelling, big-eyed winged onion-thing named Celebi, who escapes a hunter by zapping itself 40 years into the future--taking Sam, the young boy trying to protect it, along for the ride. That future is the present-day to Ash who, with the usual token assistance of his unlikely pals Misty and Brock, intrudes upon Sam's bildungsromanic adventure to once again hog the hero status.
Low-level bad guys Jesse, James and Meowth pratfall obligingly while the real threat--the Iron-Masked Marauder, whose Darkball turns Pokémon evil--captures Celebi and forces it to terrorize the timberland from within a cocoon of telepathically-suspended sticks. This "nasty nest," as James prissily terms it (garnering chuckles from the cynical newsies for once again calling his masculinity into question), takes the form of a monster that's a giant-scale hybridization of Little Otik and a satanic Frosted Mini-Wheat. It's a little scary for kids, and even the fey James probably wet his pants.
The creators seem to be getting as bored with all this as the rest of us. The imagination that didn't go into devising a new plot also wasn't expended on any of the recent additions to the Pokémon genus. The names are increasingly on-the-nose and the physical attributes are less than exotic, from Ursaring, a bear whose belly is emblazoned with a circle, to Bayleef, an anthropomorphic salad whose spice-laden scent incites pugilism. Without a fresh infusion of creativity, "4Ever" is neither a promise nor a threat so much as wishful thinking. Voiced by Veronica Taylor, Rachael Lillis and Eric Stuart. Directed by Kunihiko Yuyama (adaptation by Jim Malone). Written by Hideki Sonoda (adaptation by Michael Haigney). Produced by Choji Yoshikawa, Yukako Matsusako and Takemoto Mori (adaptation by Kathy Borland). A Miramax release. Animated. Rated G. Running time: 81 min