Uri Geller, Kadabra’s Vanishing Act, and Pokemon’s Strangest Lawsuit
Stop me if you’ve heard this trick: a beloved psychic Pokémon, styled after old-school depictions of magic and psychic powers, goes from featuring in trading card releases and starring in episodes of a mega-hit anime series to disappearing off the face of the Earth. The man behind the curtain for this particular vanishing act? Uri Geller. Let’s talk about Pokémon’s strangest lawsuit and the vanishing act of Kadabra.
Geller, born in Tel Aviv in 1946, claimed his first encounter with the occult when he was just four years old, when he saw a strange ball of light hovering over a garden near his home in Israel. He began his professional career as a photographic model, before moving on to nightclub entertainment in Israel in the late sixties. in 1971, he met parapsychologist Andrija Puharich, who was impressed with Geller’s apparently psychic performances which he claimed included transmuting metal into gold and transporting dogs through solid walls, and brought him to the USA for investigation. There, Geller gained international fame following a series of TV appearences, during which he demonstrated his apparent psychic and telekinetic ability – including his now-iconic spoon bending tricks, wherein Geller would claim to bend metal spoons using only the power of his mind. Despite sizeable and consistent evidence challenging the veracity of his skills, Geller’s abilities earned him a place as pop culture’s most recognizable psychic.
But also, perhaps, the most litigious one too. Uri Geller has been involved in a number of lawsuits over the course of his career, sometimes aimed at those who questioned his abilities – most notably James Randi, a scientific skeptic and frequent critic of Geller’s, who Geller sued more than once for what he believed were erroneous statements regarding his latent psychic abilities – but more often at those who he believed were exploiting his image, especially his spoon-bending prowess. Amongst these lawsuits were advertising firm Fallon McGelliot, who Geller sued for depicting a person bending spoons in a watch commercial (he was slapped with a near-$150,000 sanction for bringing a frivolous lawsuit for that one) and a copyright claim against YouTuber Brian Sapient for using around eight seconds of a 1993 TV episode depicting Geller apparently unable to perform his usual extraordinary feats as well as the magazine PC Format for describing him as a “magician”. IKEA, the Swedish furniture giant, narrowly avoided a tangle with the psychic, as Geller considered suing in the late nineties for releasing a line of furniture with bent legs known as the “Uri” collection.
But perhaps the most interesting and most notorious of his lawsuits is the one he brought against Nintendo in 2000 – focused on this Pokémon.
For those not acquainted with this particular creature, this is Yungerer, better known as Kadabra to Western audiences, was introduced in Generation 1 of the original Pokémon games, Red and Green, released in Japan in 1996 for the Game Boy. The series soon exploded in popularity, leading to a TV adaptation, several movie versions, more games, a manga, and a trading card game that took up more of my childhood than I would care to admit to.
Kadabra, as pictured above, is the second evolution of a psychic-type Pokémon, evolving from Abra and into Alakazam in it’s final form. Originally known as Yungerer in the initial Japanese release, it was re-named for the English-language version of the franchise, with each evolution making up part of the magical incantation Abra-Kadabra-Alakazam!
Kadabra’s powers are pretty impressive – it can teleport and perform telepathic feats, including manipulating the minds of those unlucky enough to warrant such an attack. But, perhaps most significantly for this case, it’s depicted holding a bent spoon, which, by the late 90s when it came into existence, was Geller’s most recognizable feat.
Geller apparently became aware of Kadabra when he, after the taping of a show in Japan, he was approached by children who wanted him to sign their Kadabra cards. Once confronted with the creature, Geller was incensed; he seemed to believe that the creature was a deliberate invocation of his image, with the Japanese name, Yungerer, acting as a vague hononym for his own name, and the creature’s powers and depiction – particularly the spoon-bending – drawing inevitable comparison to Geller.
And so, Geller sued. In 2000, he brought a $80 million lawsuit against Nintendo for an unauthorized appropriation of his image and identity. He also claimed that the depiction of the character with a star on it’s head and three lightning-bolt strikes on it’s chest were comparable to those used by the Waffen-SS, a branch of the Nazi party, a further attempt to defame him (in reality, the bolts on it’s chest are a reference to Zener cards, tools used in now-debunked ESP experiments).
While it’s not impossible to see where Geller was coming from with this lawsuit, for my money, it seems more to me like Kadabra is a collection of pieces of imagery referring to old-school methods of psychic and other paranormal abilities – though spoon-bending was undoubtedly popularized by Uri Geller in the 1970s, by the time the Pokémon was released, it was more a shorthand for a specific kind of psychic skill than a reference to him directly. Creators from The Pokémon Company denied any attempt to connect Geller to the Kadabra, though did draw on other real-life references for Pokémon, such as Gene Simmons for Obstagoon.
Geller was insistent on putting as much distance between himself and the creature as he could, declaring in November 2000 that “I want to tell the world before the start of the holiday season that I have nothing whatsoever to do with these violent characters” (at the time he made this statement, the last episode of the TV show adaptation prominently featuring Kadabra ended with the character getting the giggles due to a psychic bond with a trainer).
Nintendo, keeping the case out of the courts, relented on the use of Geller’s alleged likeness. In the wake of the lawsuit, Kadabra was removed from trading cards – the last card set to feature the character was released in 2003, with the character making a small appearance in an anime episode in 2005, and after that, Kadabra pulled a vanishing act. It wasn’t until 2008 that a statement can on the matter, from Pokémon anime storyboard artist Masamitsu Hidaka, when he explained that, until the conclusion of the lawsuit, the character would not appear on trading cards again – though he did not, at the time, seem confident in any conclusion being reached – “it doesn’t look like we’ll get Kadabra in card form for quite some time,” he told an interviewer. “If ever.” While the creature was still present in the game series, it was removed from both the anime and the trading card game.
Or at least, it was.
In 2020, Geller revealed, he officially dropped the lawsuit against Nintendo for the use of his image in their depiction of Kadabra. But what exactly changed? According to Geller, it was a combination of passionate support for the character from fans of the franchise, who reached out to him with “thousands” of letters and emails over the years – but most of all, the arrival of his granddaughters.
“The most important thing is in these twenty years I became a grandfather. I saw my granddaughters and I thought ‘Come on, you gotta [sic] release the Pokémon card back into circulation again.”
Geller offered an apology to the owners of the franchise along with the fans who had helped encourage him to drop the case and, later, dedicated a whole wall in his museum to the character. After over fifteen years, the character made it’s first appearance in the Pokémon anime, Pokémon Evolutions, manning a shaved ice stand.
In 2023, rumours began to spread that Kadabra would be making a return to the card series, specifically in The Pokémon Card 151 set, due for release in summer 2023. Soon, the return of the elusive Kadabra to the trading card game and the anime was confirmed. For the first time since 2003, a full two decades of waiting, Pokémon fans will be able to get their hands on cards featuring the once-elusive Kadabra – because a vanishing act isn’t complete without the dramatic return in the finale.
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