The Curious Appeal of Detective Pikachu

I doubt that I was the first millennial to be shocked by the Detective Pikachu trailer that popped up in my Facebook feed. Yet, nostalgia won over, and memories of playing Pokémon Yellow on my Gameboy Color compelled me to push play on the video.

Hearing Ryan Reynolds’ voice always makes me think of Deadpool, and I cringed while waiting for the Pikachu on the screen to make lewd jokes. However, I was relieved to find myself intrigued by the trailer. What was this world? I had ventured little into the world of Pokémon Go and haven’t regularly played on a handheld system since the DS Lite. I’ve seen memes of Pokémon then vs. Pokémon now, both in the sense of the creatures themselves and in the graphics of the games.

But a live action film?

Detective Pikachu seems to take this to a whole new level, however. The film is based on a 2016 videogame of the same name and will be the first live-action Pokémon movie ever. Justice Smith plays Tim Goodman, who’s just arrived in Ryme City and is looking for his father. Ryan Reynolds voices the Pikachu who can only be understood by Goodman and is helping him on his quest, essentially.

The appeal is clear. Pokémon Go is a worldwide phenomenon, making people feel more like Pokémon trainers than ever. My generation is especially susceptible since we grew up with the franchise. As Pokémon moved on to the newest gameboy, so did we.

The appeal is clear. Pokémon Go is a worldwide phenomenon, making people feel more like Pokémon trainers than ever.

Basing the movie off of the videogame is both an odd and clever movie by its makers. First, making a traditional Pokémon movie without Ash Ketchum would be dangerous. He’s the one we remember most, and he’s the most prominent human figure in Pokémon lore. Yet, it’s also dangerous to have it just be a generic Pokémon trainer because we were all the generic trainers when we played the game (though Ash was originally based off a generic trainer himself). We were able to customize our experience as Pokémon trainers, beginning with that first critical move of choosing our starter Pokémon. Pikachu, of course, was reserved for Ash.

A Pokémon Whodunit?

It allows us to explore the world of Pokémon with someone who had once dreamed of being a Pokémon trainer…

Secondly, a detective movie has wider appeals. It’s a specific story. Tim Goodman needs to find his father. It allows us to explore the world of Pokémon with someone who had once dreamed of being a Pokémon trainer (didn’t we all?), but the plot moves us. It’s also a story we’re familiar with, after all. How many films feature someone setting out to find their father? Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade floats immediately to mind, as does the underappreciated 2002 Clockstoppers.

Furthermore, a detective movie makes the story just a tad more accessible for someone who doesn’t know terribly too much about Pokémon. I doubt the attraction level will be high for those adults who have no connection to the franchise, but children can enjoy it (especially since Pikachu might be a better detective than Tim). So parents who bring their kids to the theater might still find themselves keeping one eye out to see what happens to Pikachu and Tim.

What’s Next? Sailor Squirtle?

A lot hangs on the success of this movie, and I don’t know if I want this to be anything more than a one-off, personally, but then again, perhaps it’s time to reinvigorate the franchise that brought me so much entertainment as a kid. The TV series now has over one thousand episodes, but this is still the first Pokémon film made by Warner Bros since 2000.

I’m curious to see if Detective Pikachu is able to entrance us as much as the original series. Pokémon was an easy escape, and so hopefully this film offers a balance of majesty and action. I’m excited to see Pokémon living casually among humankind, and I think it’ll bring the same joy as it did when I wanted to be a Pokémon trainer.


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