Being a huge Pokemon fan since I booted up Pokemon: Red on my Nintendo Gameboy, it was a no-brainer to go and watch Detective Pikachu the day it was released on the big screen. Despite having never played the Detective Pikachu game, the movie was a chance for me to revitalise my Pokemon fever, my Pokerus if you will.
The movie is based on Detective Pikachu for the Nintendo 3DS, in which players control Tim Goodman as he and his trusty talking Detective Pikachu solve mysteries. The plot of the Detective Pikachu game is essentially the same as the movie adaptation, involving a missing father, a lot of clues, and dangerous levels of caffeine.
A main attraction for this Pokemon adaptation was, of course, the Pokemon designs themselves, which were incredible to say the least. The minute details and ways the Pokemon moved and interacted with their environment cemented Detective Pikachu as an absolute winner. This extended to what can be dubbed as the ‘supporting cast of Pokemon’ that may not have had a spotlight but which still formed part of the world.
Ryme City doesn’t draw inspiration from other cities in the Pokemon universe like Celadon City and Lavaridge Town. Instead of trainers using their Pokemon partners to battle each other for glory and currency, Ryme City integrates Pokemon into where they will fit in the most.
From Machamp directing the flow of traffic with its four well-muscled arms, Growlithe standing guard outside police stations, and even Octillary cooking up a storm in a food stall, Pokemon and humans truly coexist.
That doesn’t mean Pokemon Trainers are absent from the world, with tournament posters, dialogue, and even an arena-based battle scene showing how prominent powerful Trainers are. But within Ryme City, battling and training Pokemon is a forbidden practice.
One thing that truly stood out were all the nods to the Pokemon animated series and games, nostalgic tidbits that made me laugh and enjoy the movie all the more. With Snorlax snoring quietly on an urban street, blocking traffic and pedestrians, you can’t help but think about all those times the Sleeping Pokemon happened to turn a critical junction into an impasse. And of course, we cannot forget about angry Jigglypuff next to a sleeping bar patron. I was excitedly awaiting to see the inevitable consequences of the ill-timed nap but it just remained an allusion. We still know.
Each Pokemon in Detective Pikachu underwent a specific design and animation process to translate them into the real world. The quintessential detective himself sported fuzzy yellow fur which is at odds with his apparent smooth body in the games and anime. According to an interview with Wired, the team of concept artists had to determine Pikachu’s muscle and skeletal system to optimally mimic how he would interact and move around the real world.
It appears that each Pokemon underwent similar design treatment, with both Snorlax and Pikachu sporting short fur, while Mewtwo and Greninja maintained soft-looking skin. This hard work and individualistic attention to detail paid off because each Pokemon blended remarkably into the real-world setting. It most certainly helped that Detective Pikachu was carefully overseen by the Pokemon Company.
The Pokemon designs were inspired by a series from Ubisoft Concept Artist, RJ Palmer. A few years ago, Palmer created a rather lengthy and incredibly unsettling series of ‘real’ Pokemon, with inspiration taken from nature. With dinosaurs, lizards, bats, birds, and what even appears to be axolotls, inspiring portions of the Pokemon, RJ was the natural choice to be a part of Detective Pikachu.
The story of Detective Pikachu was enjoyable, not too convoluted or heavy with unnecessary details that we lost sight of the main attraction – Pikachu. With a standard trope of finding a missing family member, in this case, Tim’s father, it made the adaptation from video game to movie a lot easier.
Keeping the story simple allowed Director, Rob Letterman and his immensely talented team to nail the environment and the smaller details, which really made it stand out. Despite the simplistic nature of the storyline, I found that I was still surprised several times over its 1 hour and 45 minute duration. As the soothing tones of Ryan Reynolds told us as we sat in the darkened theatre, “That’s very twisty”.
Despite being set in Ryme City, where Pokemon Battles are illegal, we don’t miss out on some intense battle sequences, some of which you can view in the trailers. Drawing parallels to the game series yet diverging in a way that brings Pokemon battle into the modern era, the battle sequences are entertaining, very well-animated and perfectly fit with the flow of the story.
When it comes to Pokemon, a franchise that has been around since 1996, it can be difficult to get the story right. You have fans both new and old awaiting eagerly for their dose of nostalgia and adorableness, which this film had in spades.
Even though it was heavily inspired by the Detective Pikachu video game, there can often be concessions made with the translation of game or even book, to the big screen. Detective Pikachu didn’t try too hard to be overly funny, overly tragic, or overly suspenseful – it was just a charming adventure set in the world of realistic Pokemon.
The ending does throw some questions into the mix which I won’t go into but ultimately they don’t take away from the enjoyment of the movie. Detective Pikachu isn’t a movie designed to be analysed and scoured for multiple forms of symbolism and hidden meaning. For me at least, Detective Pikachu was simply an endearing film that allowed me to get my fix of More(lull) Pokemon, see the sass of Ryan Reynolds as he scampered around as an Electric Mouse, and watch Mewtwo tear it up.
It doesn’t need to be anything more than that.
The main issue I had with Detective Pikachu goes in the opposite direction to why I think the movie worked – in that it would have been nice to learn a little more about Mewtwo. One of the most powerful Pokemon in existence, Mewtwo is shrouded in an allure that is hard to break, further tempered by the intrigue of Pokemon: The First Movie.
To prevent potential spoilers, it was upsetting that what is basically one the biggest draws to the movie didn’t get a more detailed arc. However, this could just be my adoration and pure love of Mewtwo.
And like I said above, the story of Detective Pikachu is fairly linear and any deviation from that story could have resulted in clunkiness that may have marred the fun tone of the overall film.
Detective Pikachu is an enjoyable movie that doesn’t require you to have an extensive background knowledge on the world of Pokemon to be appreciate. It holds an enchanting art style and a well-balanced mix of tension, danger, and comedic relief. Based on this movie alone, video game movies are in good hands.