In 2003, 4Kids was still plugging along with Pokemon. As they were dubbing the fifth season, Master Quest, they also had to dub the fifth Pokemon movie, Pocket Monsters the Movie: The Guardians of Altomare, which would be retitled Pokemon Heroes.
Once again distributed by Miramax, the theatrical release of the movie was another disaster – somehow even worse than Pokemon 4Ever. The number of theaters given the movie for its premiere dropped again to a measly 196. To make matters worse, and weird, the number of theaters showing the movie fluctuated over its run. 196 theaters had the movie for May 16-26. Then it dropped to 45 for May 30 – June 1, rose to 200 somehow June 6-8, then dropped again to 78, 48, 22 and finally 14 between June 13 and July 6.
On its opening weekend, it only scraped together $260,372. And, in the end of its run, it only made $746,381. It stands as being the lowest grossing Pokemon movie in the United States to date. However, once again, the movie would be more heavily touted as a DVD release and would do slightly better when released on home video.
As a result, subsequent Pokemon movies would never see a theatrical release, instead shifting every future Pokemon movie to direct-to-DVD. This trend would continue for 15 years until 2017 when, at the behest of fans, the 20th anniversary movie, Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You! was given a limited theatrical release by TPCI and Fantom Events. The release even included creating a new Pikachu plushie and special trading cards that were sold in stores. Unsurprisingly, they’re all cards of Pikachu. However, the trend immediately started back up again as the franchise isn’t considered profitable enough to continue releasing the movies in theaters. I Choose You was an outlier that banked on being a 20th anniversary special event that would also be able to lean heavily into nostalgia for older fans, considering it’s largely a revamp of Ash’s origin story.
With critics, Pokemon Heroes did about as badly as Pokemon 4Ever as well, earning nearly identical scores on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, and one reviewer, Lou Lumenick, from the New York Post even being so bold as to say it was “surely a form of child abuse,”….Okay dude, calm down. However, among fans, it seems to have been received just fine. Many of the reviews on IMDB are favorable, and many posts I found discussing it speak of it as an underrated gem among the Pokemon movies.
In regards to the dub, it’s another mess. While 4Kids didn’t make new scenes for the movie or anything, they did cut the prologue, changed several aspects of the story, changed the antagonists’ backstory and replaced the theme songs. However, 4Kids was particularly lazy when doing the theme song this time – opting to just take the TV version of Pokemon Master Quest and extending it with the instrumental track, creating the illusion that it’s a movie remix. Miramax also made a notable change to the movie themselves in that they made it, for some reason, very blue when it wasn’t originally. This blue tint is not only completely unnecessary, but it’s also insanely distracting and makes some scenes a pain to watch.
The short, Camp Pikachu, however, fared a lot better, despite, again, not being included in theaters. Dogasu’s Backpack even claims the short has the best Pokemon dub ever. Unlike the main feature, it’s presented in widescreen, and nearly everything is kept, even the music, except the Japanese vocals to the theme songs, which are either replaced by English singing or removed entirely. However, the footage is made darker, and, despite being kept in 16:9, the footage is still cropped a little for whatever reason.
Like before, the theatrical release barely got any promotion. 4Kids didn’t make any new toys for it, and, this time, no trading cards were offered with a movie ticket. Japan had an exclusive reverse holographic Latias and Latios card given away in theaters, but the card was never released in America. Miramax only made one trailer for it, which would be re-used as the DVD trailer, and, again, they only made one poster, which would also wind up being the DVD cover art.
However, again, Miramax did better with the DVD release – including the short, which was originally released with the movie in Japan, and including exclusive Nintendo Black Star (After obtaining the TCG rights from Wizards) promotional Latios and Latias cards with the DVD. The DVD had additional special features such as a Pokemon trivia game, a behind-the-scenes featurette of the animation, and a special on-location scouting in Venice, which was the inspiration for Alto Mare.
However, their re-releases have the same issues Pokemon 4Ever did. All of those special features, including the short, despite being listed on the box art of the re-releases, have been removed, but they were still included on the box information. In 2020, the re-releases removed the mentions of those features on the box art, supposedly because they finally either learned their lesson in re-using DVD box information on re-releases that don’t contain the same features, or because they were getting flak from fans for seemingly scamming them out of content that they advertised but didn’t deliver.
On the television side of things, 4Kids still needed more content for the Fox Box, especially since, by mid-2003, they had already lost two of their flagship shows – Fighting Foodons and Ultraman Tiga. To help pick up the slack and help the Fox Box grow, 4Kids launched four new shows – Sonic X, Funky Cops, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) and Shaman King.
4Kids managed to nab another household name with Sonic X. Sonic the Hedgehog had already been a popular video game and cartoon character for years in the States, so scooping up the opportunity to dub a show based on him was a no-brainer.
The series is considered one of 4Kids’ most butchered dubs, censoring out alcohol (Hilariously editing out a bottle of wine to look like a sausage, and replacing an entire wall rack of bottles with French fries and burgers), smoking, coarse language, any sexual content etc. all of which are understandable edits, and anything further, such as pretty much any instances of violence or death, and Rouge’s cleavage, was blamed on Fox’s standards and practices. It also had the typical 4Kids trademarks already mentioned ad nauseum in previous entries.
However, no one can seem to reach a consensus on how bad the dub actually is. Unlike with Ultimate Muscle, 4Kids went in the polar opposite direction with Sonic X. The original series, despite having numerous instances of breaking the fourth wall, which were removed by 4Kids, was already written to be, from what I gleamed from some fans, overly written, dry, filled with exposition and just not fun. 4Kids opted to leave it mostly alone script-wise instead of making it fun and cheesy like they usually did. For once, it seems like people were actually complaining that a 4Kids dub was too loyal and wasn’t changed enough.
Years ago, I actually started making an SDC on Sonic X – I just never posted it. While I was a Sonic fan when I was a kid, I was never a fan of the Sonic X series, though I think I did catch a couple episodes when I was a kid. However, I quit the SDC after doing episode three because I found the series to be boring, and I specifically noted that, among the shows I had already started comparing, Sonic X was kinda uninteresting to write about because there just weren’t that many notable changes. There was nothing really funny to talk about, nor was there really anything angering. In fact, I went so far as to note at the end of the episode three comparison that it was actually one of 4Kids’ most loyal dubs. Now, granted, I can’t really make such a bold claim without comparing the entire series, but I’m not going to do that. I did find a full series comparison on Youtube, by Hensama, if anyone’s interested in the nuts and bolts of what was changed.
Despite the changes and the controversy over the quality of the dub, Sonic X was very popular in the United States. However, the same could not be said of Japan, where the show was experiencing such poor ratings that, despite a third season being produced due to the success internationally, they opted not to air the third season in Japan (Though it would suddenly be aired in Japan years later in 2020 as part of a promotional campaign for the live-action movie.) However, 4Kids still dubbed and aired the third season in the US as scheduled.
Dubbing their first French animated series, and making quite the confusing decision here, 4Kids acquired the rights to the seldom-known Funky Cops, which was a show about two cops in the 1970s who become disco stars but also do cop things sometimes.
Golly, I wonder why this series didn’t appeal to the children of the early 00s.
I really can’t find much information at all about this dub. There was already an English version of the show available by Kabillion before 4Kids got the rights to it, but obviously 4Kids did their own dub. In terms of edits, they changed the theme songs, and 4Kids changed a character named Dick to Jack, supposedly….because….Dick=penis? But….Ultimate Muscle….Dik-Dik….eh whatever. I guess they also didn’t catch that Jack is a common dirty word too. Also, for some reason, they left in all of the guns, which were realistic-looking guns. So….I guess the gun thing isn’t a huge deal to Fox’s standards and practices? That’s about all I know.
As I subtly hinted at before, this series didn’t do too well. Not just with 4Kids’ dub, but as a whole. It was canceled in France after 39 episodes, and it was canceled after only being aired less than a year on the Fox Box. 4Kids never released the show on DVD, and their dub has officially become lost media, with only the, admittedly very catchy, theme song available on Youtube. I did find one episode on Archive.org, but the episode won’t load. When I try alternate links, the sound has been disabled. The Youtube account linked to that lone episode upload has been terminated. Another episode was uploaded on Mega, but the file was deleted due to violations of terms of service. However, the Kabillion English dub and the original French version are readily available online.
I just don’t understand why 4Kids picked this show up. It’s a very dated setting, it can’t have that much appeal to kids, and what is even the merchandising aspect here? Afro wigs? A cop badge with a disco ball on it or something? I don’t get it. Were the executives just like “Hey, my son liked this stuff when he was a kid back in the 70s! Let’s license it!”?
For a more understandable decision, we have their 2003 production of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Helmed by Lloyd Goldfine, who was a huge fan of TMNT all the way back to the original comics, and co-produced by Mirage Studios, the company founded and owned by the creators of TMNT, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the 2003 series was notably significantly darker and more serious than the 1987 cartoon series that had preceded it, which was a surprising move by 4Kids of all companies. Goldfine even convinced the crew at 4Kids to go to Mirage Studios and get guidance and approval from Peter Laird and the CEO of Mirage, Gary Richardson, both of whom seemingly really liked the show pitch, approved scripts and character designs and even provided additional guidance as the series went on.
The 2003 TMNT series was one of 4Kids’ few crown jewels. It found massive success on the Fox Box, and has remained as one of the most beloved TMNT series. It was so big, in fact, that it was earning enough revenue to be counted among Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! as being one of 4Kids’ top earners for years. As a TMNT fan, I always really enjoyed the series. It was a nice middleground between the dark grittiness of the comic and the general goofiness of the 1987 series, both of which I also greatly enjoy.
TMNT 2003, despite being such a huge hit, has never fully been released on DVD. 4Kids and Funimation had weird and poor release schedules for the DVDs, as always, releasing just a few episodes at a time, usually, instead of entire seasons at once. For example, season three was released across seven different DVD releases, starting in March of 2005 and ending in May of 2006, and the episodes were out of order.
Season four, for some reason, was peppered throughout the season three DVDs, also out of order. When season four was finally released on its own set, with the remaining episodes in order, it was missing its season finale, Ninja Tribunal, which wouldn’t be released until the season five DVD set released two years later.
For some reason, they also completely skipped releasing season five at first and went on to season six after releasing season four. And then they were like “You know what would be fun? If we re-released season one, this time in two parts, just for funsies.” Then they started re-releasing season two in the same manner, again, before season five was released. The season five release was in full when it finally came out, but it was missing an episode – in number only.
Season five episode six was a never completed episode that was deemed too controversial and dark for Fox to allow it to air. It was called Nightmares Recycled, and it was about conjoined twins, Hun and Garbageman, who were separated in a back-alley surgery. As a result, Hun wrapped Garbageman in a blanket, knocked him out and threw him in the dumpster, leaving him for dead. The end of the episode would have involved Garbageman being thrown into acid and slowly reaching his hand out for his brother as he was horrifically dying while the Turtles and Hun watched….which…..kinda holy shit, there, 4Kids. The episode went through several drafts and rewrites, with Peter Laird offering quite a bit of advice and suggestions to tone it down, but 4Kids just opted to shelve it entirely, not even completing it for a future DVD release.
They had to stop producing the DVDs when Nickelodeon bought the rights to the entire franchise in 2009, including the rights to TMNT 2003. Nickelodeon has released some more episodes, but their release schedule is just as weird and poorly planned as 4Kids’ and Funimation’s.
First of all, it took them six years to even start releasing DVDs of the show. Second of all, their first DVD release of the series was just three episodes of season one, which had already been released on DVD twice at this point. And this DVD release was also out of order. Their episode releases went, season one episodes 21, 22, 23 on the first DVD, titled NYC Showdown, then 1, 25, and 26 on the second DVD titled The Search for Splinter. Some DVD releases had even been officially announced in press releases, those of which being Meet Casey Jones and The Shredder Strikes, both of which were set to be released on September 15, 2015, but the DVDs never surfaced. It’s unclear what episodes would have been on those DVDs.
The last TMNT 2003 DVD release was on October 13, 2015, labeled Cowabunga Christmas, and it was just a collection of three episodes that had already been released on DVD; season three episode 13, as a Christmas special, then two random episodes from season one, episodes seven and eight, to fill up some space I guess. To date, the series has yet to be fully released on DVD, missing season seven, but the entire series is available for steaming on Paramount + and Pluto TV. I wouldn’t hold my breath for Nickelodeon to release season seven, either. It was widely regarded as the worst season of the show and did poorly in ratings when it aired on TV. I can’t imagine they’d find it worth it to bother.
Finally, we have Shaman King, which was another confusing grab for 4Kids considering the subject matter. Shaman King has a lot of violence and mentions of death. The series basically revolves around death. So why 4Kids thought this would be something in their wheelhouse is beyond me.
All of the general already discussed common edits were alive and well in the dub of Shaman King. However, to their credit, 4Kids was trying to keep the general vibe of the show alive. In an effort that I’ll call ‘It could’ve been worse’ they kept in some religious imagery and mentions/discussions of death and violence. They did add some humor and cheesiness, and they changed some storylines and characters’ ethnicities, they obviously censored a bunch, but basically, from my understanding, they had the same problem with Shaman King as they eventually did with One Piece – they didn’t fully realize until it was too late that the show’s demographic might be too far off of their target.
According to the Dubbing Fandom page, 4Kids’ seeming leniency with the show was not met very well. They received complaints from parents and network executives about the content, which is supposedly one of the reasons why they went so hard with the changes and censorship with One Piece.
Because of this, Shaman King and later One Piece and the 2003 TMNT series would have their advertisements run during prime time hours to help hook in older viewers, but obviously there’s a huge flaw there. The Fox Box is meant to be geared towards kids. Trying to drum up more ratings for the show by bringing in older audiences isn’t really a solution to the problem. Later, all three series would air perfectly fine later in the day on Cartoon Network.
Again, I’m surprised to discover that fans found the show to either be meh or generally okay. People especially liked 4Kids’ theme song for the show. All things considered, Shaman King was a pretty decent hit for 4Kids. They dubbed the entire series, people seemed to like it, much to the annoyance of Fox who kept getting pissy about the content and the older audience it was attracting. However, they were hoping it would be a Yu-Gi-Oh! level hit, and it wasn’t.
The home video releases, either broadcast cut or the unedited/uncensored release, needed to be canceled after two volumes because of low sales, presumably, and because that was also around the time 4Kids’ partnership with Funimation was falling apart. Al Kahn stated the sales for the broadcast DVDs were “extraordinarily successful,” but claimed there was a limited market for the uncut DVDs.
Either way, neither version got a very long release window before being canceled. They announced uncut DVD sets all the way through episode 15, and even had cover art released for volume three, but canceled the DVDs after only six episodes were released of the 64 episode series. As far as I could tell, the broadcast DVDs got canceled after two volumes as well since I can only find covers for two of them, and I can’t even find a listing for the second one, which makes me think the second one might not have even been released. There were also full DVD sets released overseas, but as far as I can tell they were only in German and French.
Discotek Media would later acquire the rights and finally released the entire English 4Kids dub on Blu-ray in 2021.
There was one new lawsuit to mention for this year, although this was at its subsidiary, Summit Media. DSI Toys, Inc. sued Summit for payments they made to Summit prior to DSI’s bankruptcy, totaling $1,159,000 and, for some reason, it was legally owed a refund of the money. Summit would later settle the matter for $5,000 in 2004.
Overall, 2003 was a great year for 4Kids. Their net revenues were up 92% from $53,140,000 in 2002 to $102,079,000 in 2003. They were obviously experiencing higher production costs due to how many series they had picked up in the meantime, but they were getting substantial returns and then some from their Fox Box block. At the end of the year, they had a net profit of $14,799,000, more than twice as much as 2002, which had $6,990,000.
Next – Part 9: Be Careful What You Wish For
Previous – Part 7: A Fox in a Box and a 4Kids with a Block
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