Pokemon lunch boxes became more and more commonplace as the franchise took the world by storm, with many of the designs used featuring human characters from the anime and Pokemon made popular by their appearances in the TV series and movies.
One part of being a kid at school that many of us can relate to is what sort of lunch box we had. After all, a lunch box wasn’t just something to carry your sandwiches and crisps round in, it was a statement.
Were you a sports fan, proudly showing off your lunchbox emblazoned with your favourite team? Or did you show off your love for Star Wars with an array of boxes decorated with Jedi and Sith alike? These are just a couple of examples of the endless stream of branded lunch boxes available, but in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s a new series of lunch boxes would find their way into schools.
Pokemon lunch boxes became more and more commonplace as the franchise took the world by storm, with many of the designs used featuring human characters from the anime and Pokemon made popular by their appearances in the TV series and movies.
Prior to the 1980’s, lunch boxes had been primarily made from metal. While metal lunch boxes were (and are still) used and produced, from the 1980s onward materials such as vinyl and plastic became increasingly commonplace as more films, TV shows and toy lines were licensed to be used on such products. Brands such as Sistema Plastics and Thermos made a variety of plastic Pokemon lunch boxes featuring a number of different characters, which proved to be extremely popular.
Thermos included their signature Thermos flasks along with their range of plastic lunch boxes, which were also adorned with popular Pokemon from the anime series, such as the Sandshrew flask below:
As well as plastic lunch boxes, Thermos also produced Pokemon backpacks that included a matching flask, though if you’re a collector looking to purchase one of these backpack and flask sets for your collection it may prove to be rather difficult to find a complete set featuring a particular design, as these pre-loved backpacks often tend to be missing the flask that originally accompanied them.
The Thermos range of pokemon lunch boxes and backpacks have remained popular throughout the various eras of the franchise and they still produce Pokemon lunch boxes, which remain very popular with younger fans of the franchise eager to show off their favourite characters at school.
Although the majority of Pokemon lunch boxes have been made from either plastic or fabric, the New York-based company Accessory Network produced a variety of tin lunch boxes in the late 1990s and early 2000’s. These lunch boxes were much more reminiscent of the classic boxes of yesteryear and in a similar fashion to the lunch boxes produced by other brands, their designs were also primarily based around Pokemon which had been key characters in the anime series and movies, such as Charmander, Mew, Mewtwo, Butterfree, Squirtle, Bulbasaur and of course, Pikachu.
As previously mentioned, fabric-based Pokemon lunch bags were also a common sight in playgrounds and school dinner halls during the height of Pokemania. Another New York-based company, Fab Starpoint, began producing Pokemon lunch bags and school bags during this period and continue to produce merchandise featuring modern Pokemon today. One of the most well-known household food storage brands, Tupperware, also joined in on the Pokemon craze and teamed up with Japanese advertising agency JR Kikaku (responsible for the marketing of the Pokemon anime) and produced a variety of lunch bags. These products again featured key characters from the anime and movies, particularly those from the Orange Islands and Johto series, along with the Pokemon 2000 movie, such as the bag pictured below.
Of course, the lunch boxes and bags featured here are only a handful of those that were produced, generally speaking as a franchise Pokemon extensively merchandised so many aspects of their intellectual property it would be impossible to list everything ever produced! The vintage lunch boxes and other meal-time-related items (plates, cutlery etc.) hold a special place in many collectors’ hearts due to the nostalgia and memories associated with them, as well as their designs being quintessential to the time period in which they were produced. We will be continuing our journey through this part of the Pokemon merchandise world with part 2 of “Gotta Eat ‘Em All!”, where we will be exploring some key pieces of vintage Pokemon crockery that should definitely take us on another trip down memory lane!
Written By Emily Carney Sources and Further Reading:
What’s cute, yellow and since 1996 has become a household name? Why, it’s the one and only Pikachu of course!
What’s cute, yellow and since 1996 has become a household name? Why, it’s the one and only Pikachu of course! Considering how synonymous Pikachu has become with the Pokemon franchise it’s strange to think that our little mousey friend wasn’t originally going to be Pokemon’s mascot, with that particular role originally set to go to Clefairy. This decision however, was changed as it was thought a mascot that would be perceived as gender-neutral in its design would be more equal in appeal to both boys and girls than Clefairy, the pink aesthetic of whom it was considered may be more popular with a female demographic. After taking center stage as Ash/Satoshi’s companion in the Pokemon anime, Pikachu would also become the star of Pokemon Yellow, a revamped version of the original Pokemon Gameboy games which took influence from numerous aspects of the popular anime series.
In the past two and a half decades Pikachu has continued to grace both the big and small screen in a variety of different Pokemon-related media. Along with an abundance of Pokemon video games, there have been Pikachu-branded planes, cars and more toys and pieces of collectable Pikachu merchandise than you can shake a Pokeball at. In this blog we will be exploring Pikachu’s impact on the success of Pokemon as a brand by taking a look at a few interesting pieces of vintage Pikachu merchandise from the golden age of Pokemania.
Tiger 35mm Pikachu Camera:
Despite being released on the cusp of the Millennium, here is a quintessentially 90’s piece of Pokemon merchandise if ever there was one. The 1999 Tiger 35mm Pikachu Camera featured a very cute Pikachu/Pokeball design with Diglett also making an appearance as the camera’s shutter button (I suppose out of all the Gen I Pokemon Diglett probably is the most applicable to be used as a button, as I can’t imagine the likes of Cloyster or Starmie would have made for very comfortable use of the camera). Fully functional, the Pikachu Camera came complete with a battery-operated flash and also had the added feature of being able to add a Pokemon-themed vignette frame around photos.
Similar in design to the original “Fat Pikachu” plushies (as featured in my previous blog on vintage Pokemon plushies), the 20″ Pikachu Backpack was a very popular way of carrying your books and P.E kit to school for many kids in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. With a simple, cute and cuddly design, the Pikachu backpack was also released in a smaller 14″ version and as a 10″ gameboy carry case.
Pikachu Bubble Bath:
Produced by Grosvenor Consumer Products Ltd, the Pikachu Bubble Bath was a large plastic Pikachu figure with a bottle of child-friendly Bubble Bath fitted inside, which could be accessed via the bottom of the figure. Grosvenor have created a variety of bubble bath figures over the years, including worldwide franchises such as Disney, The Simpsons and Doctor Who, so it was only fitting that a phenomenon as big as Pokemon (and with a mascot as cute as Pikachu) should also join their ranks. Upon the western release of the Pokemon 2000 movie, a second Pokemon Bubble Bath figure was released featuring the film’s star legendary Pokemon, Lugia, alongside Pikachu.
Pokemon Yellow/Special Pikachu Edition Gameboy Colour, Pikachu & Pichu Gameboy Colour and Pokemon/Pikachu Nintendo 64:
First beginning with the Special Pikachu Edition Gameboy Colour, Nintendo have released a variety of Pokemon-themed consoles over the years including many editions of the Gameboy Advance/SP/Nintendo DS/3DS, a trend that continues today with the recent Pikachu-themed Nintendo Switch accompanying Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu. The Special Pikachu Edition Gameboy Colour was packaged alongside Pokemon Yellow, which (as mentioned earlier) was an updated version of the original Pokemon games, where the player received a Pikachu as their starter Pokemon which would follow them during their adventures throughout Kanto, in a similar fashion to Ash’s Pikachu in the anime. The console itself featured bright Pikachu-yellow casing, with graphics of Pikachu and fellow fan favourites from the anime Jigglypuff and Togepi greeting the player alongside the screen.
In 2001, following the release of the second generation of Pokemon games, another Pikachu-themed Gameboy colour was made available. This console was produced in two different colours, yellow (the same bright yellow casing that was used on the previous Pikachu gameboy) and gold, with the border of the screen featuring Pikachu and his newly-introduced pre-evolution Pichu, one of the new baby Pokemon that made their debut in Pokemon Gold and Silver.
Prior to the release of the second Pikachu-themed Gameboy however, Nintendo’s first Pokemon-themed home console found its way into the hands of gamers upon the release of the Pikachu Nintendo 64 in 2000. Featuring a large plastic Pikachu on top of the console and a Pokeball as the power switch, a variety of different versions of the console were made available in various territories across the globe. The standard version featured solely the console and a Pokemon-branded controller, whereas Toys R Us shoppers in the USA were treated to an exclusive version packaged with a pocket watch and the game Hey You, Pikachu!
Over in Australia, an edition known as the Pokemaniac Nintendo 64 was packaged with a VHS copy of Pokemon – I Choose You!, the first volume in the initial series of Pokemon anime VHS releases. Japan received an exclusive orange version of the console, which has since become much sought after amongst collectors.
Tiger Pikachu Radio Control Car:
In 2000 Tiger produced a Pikachu-themed radio control car, which was likely influenced (though this remains to be officially confirmed) by the Pika-Bug cars, a small fleet of Volkswagen Beetles with Pikachu-style aesthetics which had been used to promote Pokemon across the United States of America from 1998 up until the mid 2000’s.
The Pikachu Radio Control Car was operated via a Pokeball-shaped remote which connected with the car through the use of radio frequency. The remote allowed the driver to change direction as they pleased by using the two joysticks that were found upon opening the Pokeball remote.
Pokemon Pikachu/Pocket Pikachu:
Originally released in 1998, the Pokemon Pikachu (also known under the name Pocket Pikachu in Japan) was a Tamagotchi-style digital pet that functioned as a pedometer. Instead of requiring users to feed/clean the Pikachu as many other digital pets of the same era did, the user’s relationship with their Pikachu grew stronger by increasing their number of steps when wearing the Pokemon Pikachu. Every twenty steps would be converted into a digital currency within the device known as Watts, which could then be used to buy presents for Pikachu and thus improving the users standing with their new digital friend.
The first version of the device featured yellow casing similar to that used on the Special Pikachu Edition Gameboy Colour, with black and white display graphics that would show Pikachu’s interactions with the user. Different animations would become accessible upon gaining specific amounts of Watts, depicting Pikachu eating, showering and watching TV amongst a number of other activities. If the user did not interact with Pikachu for a prolonged period of time, the Pikachu within the device would get angry with the player upon the Pokemon Pikachu eventually being turned on, even running away if the player’s absence went on for too long (Pikachu going AWOL wasn’t permanent however, as he could be called back by shaking the device).
A new version of the device, the Pokemon Pikachu 2 GS, was released alongside the second generation of Pokemon Games, however this time around the player didn’t have to take care of Pikachu and the watts gained through use of the pedometer could be exchanged for items in-game.
Hasbro Electronic Pokemon Pikachu:
Last but certainly not least, my last addition to this blog list is Hasbro’s 1998 Electronic Pokemon Pikachu. Although there have been a variety of electronic Pikachu-themed toys released by a variety of different manufacturers since Pokemania first hit the world, this one is particularly special to me as (along with the electric Charmander toy from the same range) it was the first piece of Pokemon merchandise I ever got. With light-up cheeks and Pikachu-voice sound effects, this toy is also quite notable in aesthetic terms for featuring Pikachu with a semi-white face and a much shorter and rounder body than would be seen in later toys, both aspects of Pikachu’s early design which were dropped as the franchise became more widespread and the overall appearance of individual Pokemon became more consistent with how they appeared in the anime series as opposed to their designs in Ken Sugimori’s original artwork.
More Pikachu Merchandise?
Of course, as stated earlier this blog only features a miniscule example of the amount of Pikachu merchandise that is in existence, as after over 25 years of success the Pokemon franchise has put their mascot’s face on an impossibly large amount of products, each as cute as the last (though the recent and rather terrifying Pikachu-centipede style plushie might be a slight exception…). As new incarnations of video games, toys, trading cards and anime continue to introduce new fans to Pokemon, our little electric mouse friend has become a pop culture juggernaut, instantly recognisable to people of all ages. As the world of Pokemon has continued to keep up with changes in trends and technology, Pikachu has stayed in his rightful place at the centre of the franchise and I hope he continues to for many more years to come.
Article by Emily Carney
Sources/Further Reading and Viewing:
The Toy Report – A Brief History Of Pokemon Toys:
The Phoblographer – This Pokemon Camera Will Make Your Inner 90’s Kid Swoon:
In the late 1990s the Pokemon franchise was taking the world by storm, a storm which grew even bigger upon the release of Pokemon: The First Movie and the subsequent Pokemon movies that followed…
In the late 1990s the Pokemon franchise was taking the world by storm, a storm which grew even bigger upon the release of Pokemon: The First Movie and the subsequent Pokemon movies that followed. Currently there are a staggering 23 animated Pokemon movies and 1 live action movie (Pokemon: Detective Pikachu) in existence, but for this article I will be taking a look back at the first 3 Pokemon movies and some of the merchandise/promotions that surrounded them. As a UK-based Pokemon collector a lot of the promotions I will be discussing here will be either UK-based, or were released in the UK alongside other parts of the world, however I do hope to include lesser known merchandise and information that will hopefully allow everyone reading to take a little trip down memory lane with Ash, Pikachu and the rest of the gang!
Pokemon The First Movie and Pokemon 2000 Burger King Toys:
The Pokemon franchise has teamed up with a multitude of different food and drinks brands/outlets over the years, particularly in the early days of promoting their movies. Burger King included an array of Pokemon merchandise with their kid’s meals when promoting the first and second movies, including beanie toys, light-up figures and action power cards amongst others.
These campaigns weren’t without controversy however, as during the promotional campaign for the first movie two infant children died due to getting part of the plastic Pokeball (in which the promotional items were encased) caught over their mouths and noses which led to them suffocating. This resulted in the toys being recalled and has since led to similar Pokeball toys (such as the ones that were included in Hasbro’s 1999 and 2000 action figure lines) having air holes implemented into the design of the toys.
Despite these issues, the Burger King toys remain popular on the Pokemon collectors market, as do other promotional items associated with the campaigns, such as the cardboard Burger King crowns and kid’s meal boxes from the Pokemon 2000 promotions which included branding featuring Ash, Pikachu and Lugia.
Pokemon Movie Soundtracks and Promotional Singles:
The first 3 Pokemon movies all received releases of their respective soundtracks onto CD (and audio cassette, in the case of the first and second movie). The scores to the movies were also separately released, however mainstream marketing tended to lean more towards promoting the soundtrack CDs, which featured contemporary pop artists and songs rather than the thematic instrumentals from the films’ scores.
The soundtrack for Pokemon: The First Movie was released in November 1999 by Atlantic Records and the tracklisting for the record serves as a sort of snapshot of late 90’s bubblegum pop, featuring artists such as *NSYNC, Britney Spears and Aaron Carter. Pokemon 2000’s soundtrack was similarly centred around songs from contemporary pop artists, featuring the likes of Westlife and Dream Street, however it did also include Pokemon-themed songs written by artists for the movie, such as Weird Al Yankovic’s “Polkamon”.
Pokemon 3’s soundtrack continued this theme with the majority of the soundtrack being orientated around the characters within the franchise, which is unsurprising considering many of the songs included could be found on other Pokemon soundtrack media, such as the Totally Pokemon CD. In the UK however, Pokemon 3 was promoted in the contemporary music realm with the single “Gotta Catch ‘Em All”, released by the band 5.0 Grind featuring Pokemon Allstars.
The single was available to purchase from UK music retailers upon its release, and a promotional CD-ROM sampler was also included with the Daily Express newspaper. 5.0 Grind performed the single on Nickelodeon UK (despite the fact Pokemon wasn’t aired on Nickelodeon at that time) and the single reached number #57 in the charts. The artwork for the copies of the single released into UK music stores featured Pikachu alongside Mewtwo, despite Mewtwo having nothing to do with the third Pokemon movie. This inclusion could be due to hearsay that Mewtwo was going to appear in Pokemon 3, which later proved to be misconstrued as Mewtwo actually re-appeared in Mewtwo Returns, a straight to VHS/DVD feature-length special which was also released in 2001.
In a similar vein to the contemporary songs associated with the previous movies, “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” is very much of its era, encapsulating the rap-metal/skate rock trends of the early 00’s (albeit watered down for a younger audience and occasionally featuring Ash Ketchum giving shout-outs to his various Pokemon). Personally, as cheesy as the track is I do find it to be quite catchy and I must give kudos to the band for the conviction they showed during their Nickelodeon performance, as I imagine it must be quite hard to simultaneously rock out in front of a crowd of small children and keep a straight face, particularly in the section of the song when a sample of Jigglypuff singing its lullaby plays over the top of the track.
Retail and Newspaper Promotions:
As well as the free Daily Express “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” CD-ROM, a number of other newspaper and retail outlets also ran Pokemon movie promotions during both the cinematic and VHS/DVD releases of the films. The Daily Mail gave away a free promotional VHS tape that gave fans a sneak peek at Pokemon: The First Movie and included other details about the franchise, such as interviews with staff from 4Kids Entertainment which provided a view into how the original Japanese version of the movie was adapted for western audiences.
Woolworths and Warner Brothers stores in the UK also ran Pokemon movie promos during the release cycle of the first movie, offering exclusive promo cards and money off vouchers upon the VHS release of the film. Pokemon promotions from this period also found their way onto snack foods, with Odeon Cinemas in the UK running a competition featured on their popcorn boxes in which fans could win a Nintendo 64 console and a copy of Pokemon Stadium.
Well I couldn’t really write a blog about the promotion of the early Pokemon Movies and not include the cards which were given to ticket holders and packaged with home media releases of the movies could I? Probably the most well known of these cards are the 4 Wizards Of The Coast Black Star promo cards which were available alongside the first movie’s cinematic release, featuring Mewtwo, Pikachu (still sporting his Ken Sugimori-illustrated roundness, which I personally feel is how Pikachu should look and would very much like to see the return of Chubbychu), Dragonite and rather randomly, Electabuzz. Following the extreme renewal of interest in vintage Pokemon TCG cards in recent years, the value of these cards continues to grow (particularly as a complete set) so if you have any in your collection be sure to take good care of them!
A new version of the Mewtwo card was also included alongside VHS copies of the first movie upon its home media release. Promotional TCG cards were also available during the theatrical release of Pokemon 2000/The Power Of One, with Moltres, Zapdos and Articuno being featured. An Ancient Mew card based on the one owned by the film’s antagonist, Lawrence III, was also released, however it was only available along with the purchase of a movie ticket during the first week of the film’s release, as after this fans would only be able to receive a card featuring one of the legendary birds. In a similar fashion to the second Mewtwo card that was released with VHS copies of the first movie, a new Pikachu card was included alongside home media copies of Pokemon 2000.
Later in the course of the early Pokemon movies, in 2001 a promo card featuring Entei was available for ticket holders upon the release of Pokemon 3: Spell Of The Unown, with another promo card featuring one of the Unown being included with VHS and DVD releases of the movie.
As well as the Wizards Of The Coast-produced TCG cards, Topps Trading Cards also produced a line of trading cards featuring images of scenes from Pokemon: The First Movie, Pikachu’s Vacation and Pokemon 2000. As well as the regular Topps movie cards, rare silver foil and rainbow foil versions of cards were also randomly inserted into some packs, mirroring the ever-popular shiny hunting that helped make the TCG cards so popular.
Some of the Topps cards from the Pikachu’s Vacation animated short are notable for having some errors when it came to the names of new Pokemon, with Snubull being incorrectly named “Buru” (which may have been a mis-translation of Snubull’s Japanese name, Bulu) and Marill being named as “Pikablu”, which is perhaps an indirect reference to the rumours of a new version of Pikachu named “Pikablu” that cropped up when Marill’s design was first seen by fans. These errors were probably due to the fact that the Gold and Silver games had not yet been released in the west and that the english-language names of several new Pokemon were still being revised, as the Topps cards themselves were put into production before the western versions of Pikachu’s Vacation and the First Movie had been completed and non-Japanese audiences were yet to be familiarised with the 100 new Pokemon that would be introduced in the Johto region-based games and anime.
Other Pokemon Movie Toys:
As well as the Burger King toys, numerous other Pokemon movie toys were released. Hasbro released several different packs of Pokemon figures showcasing characters that were featured in the first 2 Pokemon movies. These packs were similar to the battle figures that were also released by Hasbro, featuring the same card battle discs that came with each character.
Hasbro also released an electronic Lugia toy following the release of Pokemon 2000, which made sounds based off the ones Lugia makes in the movie. This was quite a large toy and it was possible to fit the Ash Ketchum figure from Hasbro’s 2000 Deluxe Trainer figure line on Lugia’s back and recreate scenes from the film.
As the Pokemon world featured a vast array of characters and locations, it was an ideal choice to be transformed into Polly Pocket-esque playsets, which were popular within a variety of franchises in the 1990s. Several playsets inspired by the Indigo League and Orange Islands anime series were released by Tomy under the Pokemon House brand (known in Japan as Pokemon Mate) and when it came to the early Pokemon movies they didn’t hesitate to create playsets for them either. Pokemon 2000 had the most of these playsets produced, with the Fire, Lightning and Ice Islands from the film all receiving individual playsets along with the shrine at Shamouti Island which included Lugia keeping a watchful eye over the shrine.
Pokemon 3 seems to have had much less merchandise produced for it in comparison to the first two Pokemon movies, which is a shame as I personally consider the animation and story in this film to be fantastic and I think it deserves far more recognition than it currently receives. A Pokemon House playset inspired by the third movie was produced, however it is incredibly rare to come across. The playset was a deluxe model, featuring the Hale family home in the crystallised Greenfield which Ash and Co. had to rescue Ash’s mother from in the movie.
Books and Comics:
As is common with many movies from franchises aimed at children, the Pokemon films were also adapted into novels. Mewtwo Strikes Back: Pokemon The First Movie was written by Tracey West (who also adapted the Indigo League, Orange Islands and Johto Journeys anime series into children’s books) and published in 2000 following the western release of the movie. The book proved to be a favourite at Scholastic book fairs, which is where I purchased a copy from myself as a child when a book fair was held at my primary school. As I recall, a lot of other kids also bought the book and I’m sure our teacher was thrilled when we all handed in our weekly book reports exclaiming that Ash’s “death” during Mew and Mewtwo’s stand-off was the world of fiction’s biggest tragedy since Of Mice and Men’s Lennie last told George about “tending the rabbits”…
The animated shorts that played before the cinematic releases and VHS copies of the first 3 Pokemon movies (Pikachu’s Vacation, Pikachu’s Rescue Adventure and Pikachu And Pichu) were also adapted into Tracey West-penned novels as were Pokemon 2000 Pokemon 3, however much like in other areas of merchandising, the novelisation of the third movie was (and still is) seldom seen in comparison to its two predecessors. The First Movie was also released as a five-part comic series by Viz Media in 2000. This comic was a re-release of a 1998 graphic novel version of the movie which had been originally published by Japanese media publishers Shogakukan Inc as a singular title. The first four issues of the comic collected the story from the main film, while the fifth issue presented the story from Pikachu’s Vacation.
Much like the first movie, the comic adaptation of Pokemon 2000 had originally been released in Japan as a singular graphic novel and was presented to western audiences in five monthly comic releases, with the initial four comics containing the second movie story and the fifth comic showcasing the story from the Pikachu’s Rescue Adventure short. The Pikachu’s Vacation and Pikachu’s Rescue Adventure comics were later collected into the All That Pikachu! graphic novel, which was released by Viz Media in 2006.
Unfortunately Pokemon 3 did not receive a graphic novel or comic book release, which I think is quite a shame as I personally find it to be the most visually enticing of the early Pokemon movies and feel that it would look excellent in a panel by panel format. In recent years the comic book adaptations from the movies (particularly the first movie) have become favourites for fans to get signed by the voice actors from the Pokemon anime and signed collections of these comics can be found quite readily, which could make for a very cool addition to any collector’s arsenal of Pokemon movie merchandise (provided you have a spare £150-£300 available).
As a Pokemon fan and collector, one of my favourite things about the early movies and all the merchandise surrounding them was how they perfectly encapsulated the buzz that accompanied the release of each film, as there was nothing more exciting as a Pokemon-loving kid in the late 90’s/early 00’s than discovering the latest legendary Pokemon and new places that came along with each movie. Personally I think it would be amazing if a new animated Pokemon movie were to receive as wide a cinematic release as the early films did, or perhaps if one of the first three movies were remastered and re-released into the cinemas (maybe even in conjunction with an upcoming event or milestone, 30th anniversary I’m looking at you) as I would love for Pokemon fans old and new to have the opportunity to relive the magic of Pokemania at the movies all over again.
Written by Emily Carney
Sources and Further Reading:
Pokemon The First Movie: Free Daily Mail Promotional Video –
Hypebeast – Pokemon The First Movie Promo Toys + Cards –