The early announcement of the original Pokémon movie in the US may have seen Leonardo DiCaprio step in as the voice of Ash Ketchum.
The latest episode of the new Spotify podcast Big Hit . Show Explains Pokémon’s journey to success in North America. The show has already been shown in Japan, and has been moved to 4Kids – an American production company owned by Konami – to be shown in the US.
In the podcast, Norman Grosfield — CEO of 4Kids from 1994 until 2009 — explained that his team struggled to sell the show to any major American children’s television companies, even after translating the name of every Pokémon from Japan and removing other Japanese cultural references from the show.
Ultimately, the original series was promoted—sold to individual channels one by one—before landing on The WB (Pokemon has since appeared on Cartoon Network, Disney, Netflix, and more). However, his eventual success led to 4Kids being awarded the rights to the first film, which was released in the United States in 1999. During this search, Grossfield says he received an unexpected offer for a lead actor from one of the studio’s executives:
He said ‘Hey, we really want this. We can make this work. We’re going to get Leonardo DiCaprio to play the Ashes sound. You’re going to get a lot of bang, we’re going to have a lot, and we’re going to get all these celebrities. It’s going to be really big.”
As Alex Papademas, host of The Big Hit Show, points out, in the late ’90s, DiCaprio was emerging from a few years ahead of the world. In addition to being nominated for an Academy Award for What Eating Gilbert Grape in 1994, he also had a starring role in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, and most importantly, Titanic. Whether he was interested in playing Ash Ketchum, we’ll never know – Grossfeld says he shut down the idea immediately, because kids watching the movie would have been confused by Ash’s new voice. The movie eventually went to Warner Bros., and the rest is history.
You can check out the rest of the podcast here, where Grossfeld discusses the origin of the series’ famous opening credits, and in which Pokemon head Tsunekazu Ishihara talks about the strange redesign of Pikachu suggested by some studios.
new junior The Pokemon World Champion won his title using one of the series’ basic moves.