Alongside Homer Simpson and SpongeBob SquarePants, electric fluff-ball Pikachu joins the ranks of beloved ‘90s yellow cartoon characters to receive the live action treatment with Pokémon Detective Pikachu.
Pokémon is a merchandise empire that has transcended medium, culture, and generation; an entity whose mission for consumption seeps through to its slogan of ‘Gotta Catch ‘em All’.
A successful anime and video-game franchise, it is easy to suggest that the odds are against Pokémon Detective Pikachu having a positive reception with film adaptations of other anime/video-game properties (looking at you Dragonball Evolution (2009)) often critically reviled.
Detective Pikachu is a film that learns from the mistakes of other live-action adaptations and shifts the focus from telling a narrative incapable of being adequately told in one movie, to launching a series-adjacent film that introduces Pokémon into a new cinematic era.
The film follows Tim Goodman (amicably acted by Justice Smith), a twenty-one-year-old Pokémon objector who works alongside an overly caffeinated-hat-wearing-Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) that only he can communicate with to solve the mystery of his missing father.
For a series that has found success on monsters fighting one another, Detective Pikachu takes a liberal, if not, conservationist stance on animal welfare – quickly establishing Pokémon not as fighting pets but as partners that choose who they accompany.
The casting of Reynolds as Pikachu is sensical, appealing to a generation having grown up on the ‘90s version of Pokémon but have since replaced the anime with the ‘Merc’ with the mouth’. It is here where the film behaves as baby’s first Deadpool in terms of crude humour that feels belonging to another franchise.
Where it was apt to strip down Detective Pikachu as a story of a person and their Pokémon, the decision to convolute other parts of the film with conveniently-introduced hologram technology were as though director Rob Letterman had a psychic Pokémon hit him with a confuse-ray. Letterman, whose resume is largely literary adaptations, misrepresents an important character of the series whose inclusion would have tied in better with the plots’ ‘whodunnit’ narrative. Otherwise, the film moves at the rate of a quick attack with the anthropomorphic-mystery-detective plot reminiscent of Zootopia (2016).
Where the dynamic between Pikachu and Tim is as electrifying as the titular mouse Pokémon, there is little spark had with other characters. Where further time is needed to connect with others on screen (albeit hilarious efforts from a Psyduck whose anxiety triggers explosions and a theatrics loving Mr. Mime), supporting characters serve as they had in the series to strengthen the bond between human and Pokémon with Detective Pikachu able to deepen the relationship of Tim and Pikachu as a result.
The film bedazzles in the production department, featuring a modern-synth score incorporating the wonder of the original video game series, and the production design of a gritty-neon-Tokyo-NYC hybrid that gives San Fransokyo from Big Hero Six (2014) a run for its money. References made throughout the film serve as deep-cuts to those familiar with the ‘90s iteration of the games and anime and are done-so satisfyingly.
With all the talk surrounding the furry Pokémon design – and the current hurdles faced by fellow video-game friend Sonic the Hedgehog – Detective Pikachu contains some questionable animation that results in weird looking Pokémon that resemble PlayStation 2 graphics. Nonetheless, the experience of watching the characters come to life will be a joyous experience for fans who’d have been happy to watch a Pokémon nature documentary narrated by David Attenborough.
While Pokémon’s first foray into live-action doesn’t entirely crack the case of the successful anime-or-video-game adaptation, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a fast, fun, frenzy that will catch the hearts of fans everywhere.
The voice over for large crowd chants were recorded during the Pokémon World Championships 2018 in Nashville.