A first step for the US release of the original Pokemon movie could have seen Leonardo DiCaprio step in as the voice of Ash Ketchum.
The latest episode of Spotify’s new podcast The Big Hit Show dissects Pokemon’s journey to success in North America. Already well established in Japan, the series was entrusted to 4Kids – an American production company owned by Konami – to be presented in the United States.
On the podcast, Norman Grossfeld – CEO of 4Kids from 1994 to 2009 – explains that his team struggled to sell the show to all of the major American children’s TV companies, even after translating the name of every Pokémon from Japan. and erased other Japanese cultural references from the show.
Eventually, the original series was syndicated – sold to individual channels one at a time – before landing on The WB (Pokemon has since appeared on Cartoon Network, Disney and Netflix, among others). Its eventual success, however, led to 4Kids becoming responsible for the rights to the first film, which was released in the United States in 1999. During that search, Grossfeld says he received an unexpected pitch for a lead actor from an executive. studio:
“He said, ‘Hey, we really want this. We can make this work. We’re going to bring in Leonardo DiCaprio to do the voice of Ash. It’s going to be a lot of noise, we’re going to have a lot, and we’re all going to have these celebrities. It’s going to be really big’.”
As The Big Hit Show host Alex Papademas points out, in the late ’90s, DiCaprio had just beaten the world for a few years. In addition to an Oscar nomination for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in 1994, he also had a starring role in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, and more importantly, Titanic. We will never know if he would have been interested in the role of Ash Ketchum. The film 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 The Pokemon Company President Tsunekazu Ishihara talks about the bizarre Pikachu redesigns suggested by some studios.
The new junior The Pokémon World Champion won his title using one of the series’ most basic moves.