Summary: Tim Goodman enlists the help of a talking Pikachu to help him solve his father’s murder.
My history with Pokemon is short and sweet- I knew most of the original 150, had some cards, watched the cartoons. About a year after the craze hit, I found Harry Potter and well… we know what happened there. Part nostalgia, but also mostly new adventures, Detective Pikachu is a weird breath of fresh air- it’s an original take on a well-known franchise, while also playing on the beloved traits of the series and franchise movies in general. It’s a little bit of X-Men, a little Wreck-it Ralph– and even a bit of Underworld. Yes, that’s a Bill Nighy reference. You’ll see.
After some quick world-building (Pokemon have always been around and people have them mostly as pets), Detective Pikachu cuts right to the chase- Tim’s father, a world-class detective, has been murdered and Tim suspects a conspiracy. That’s all. Nothing too fancy, except for perhaps the backstory of estrangement between Tim and his father. Otherwise, it’s a very pleasant kid’s story that is easy to follow.
The one thing I will say that works against this movie is that background knowledge is somewhat required. Some of the anticipation that comes with certain scenes is contingent on knowing the Pokemon’s powers. But that’s a very, very small criticism. Actually, that’s not a criticism at all. It’s pretty much just as good as X-Men is as in “This set of animal-like creatures have certain powers and that’s all you get.”
There are some really smart decisions here in which Pokemon they chose to highlight as well- fan favorites get there due and the lesser known ones get passing references, but everything works well as an Easter Egg here in a similar manner as Wreck-It Ralph. Psyduck is delightfully oblivious and used pretty much in the same manner as Hei Hei the chicken in Moana, and that’s a smart move for easy comic relief. Charmander and its evolution line get some deserved screentime, and the least popular of the original trio (but my personal favorite) Bulbasaur gets a bit of a cameo. Note: Bulbasaur doesn’t chant his own name. A little disappointing, for nobody but me.
(It’s also surprisingly clean for a Ryan Reynolds movie. I thought I might be walking into the Pokemon version of Deadpool, but this was more appropriate for children than some other movies geared towards kids this year- cough Shazam cough. Also, more enjoyable, more appropriate in its run time, and just more entertaining for me.)
And the animation for this genre of movie is pretty damn good. Even if they were slacking on some of the creative decisions (I’m sad that we didn’t get to see more texture on some of the Pokemon- again, a Bulbasaur-specific criticism), Pikachu is darn cute. He’s furry from ear to tail and he’s incredibly expressive. I’m not big on the animation things, but I’m so please they got him right. I mean, I had the slippers and the step counter (original FitBit, y’all) and the yellow version of the game- I kind of want my slippers back now. If you were ever a Pokemon fan, you’ll walk out happy.