Anyone growing up in the ‘90s certainly remembers the phenomenon that is Pokémon. It seemed to come out of nowhere, but suddenly there were video games, trading cards, and an animated television show that everyone was talking about. While it was insanely popular, with several animated films following the show, it’s somewhat strange that a live-action movie wasn’t attempted during the height of its popularity. Whether studios just didn’t want to take the plunge, or thought it just couldn’t work, such a film has always seemed like a natural progression of the phenomenon, which brings us all the way to 2019 where Warner Bros. and director Rob Letterman have decided to risk it by mixing Pokémon with the real world in “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu.” Would their enormous gamble pay off, or would this just be an awkward instance of being a little late to the party?
The film follows Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a young man who once dreamed of being a Pokémon trainer, but gave it up when his mother died. At the story’s start, Tim’s father, Harry, has recently been killed in a car accident, causing Tim to come to Ryme City to collect his father’s things. Upon arriving at his dad’s apartment, he discovers a Pikachu (Voice of Ryan Reynolds) that he can communicate with. Shortly after, they are attacked by a group of Pokémon that are affected by a gas that Tim accidentally unleashed. After their escape, the Pikachu reveals that he’s actually Harry’s partner and that he’s lost a lot of his memory, but he does remember that he and Harry were working on a case together. With the help of a reporter, Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), the pair set out to investigate the mystery involving the gas, as well as the possibility that Harry might still be alive.
It’s fair to say that the Pokémon phenomenon is not quite as big as it was before. It had something of a re-emergence a few years ago with the release of the popular “Pokémon Go” game, and of course the TV show is still going, but the obsession around it has returned to its somewhat-dimmed state. Because of this, it seemed like an odd time to try a live-action movie, but I suppose they wanted to capitalize on the idea while the recent game was still a thing. This is not even to mention the ludicrous-sounding notion of attempting something as silly as mixing computer-generated Pokémon with real people, though with technology where it is, there was always a chance that it just might work.
When it comes to “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu,” it is indeed a bit silly, and yet, the story is actually pretty compelling with its various twists and turns, culminating with a nice, emotional twist at its conclusion. As far as the animation goes, it’s done surprisingly well. Given the disastrous first-look we had at the upcoming “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie, and the less-than-thrilled response to the upcoming “Cats,” it’s good to see that computer-generated animals can actually be done in a satisfying-enough manner, no matter how odd the premise may be.
Credit also has to be given to Ryan Reynolds for an amusing vocal performance as Pikachu. He seemed like a strange casting choice at first, but even from the first trailer, you could tell that he made the role his own, and infused it with an amusing personality that helps make him a memorable character. It’s obviously quite different from the “pika pika” we’re all used to from the original TV show, but in terms of finding a great fit for the needs of this particular rendition of Pikachu, Reynolds ended up being the perfect choice.
This was always going to be a rather difficult prospect to bring to the big screen, not only because of the production elements, but also because it was always going to be for a very specific niche audience, so it might not be the easiest film for first-timers to get into. As mentioned, Pokémon is not quite as big as it was before, but there are still plenty of fans out there, indicated by the film’s success. It certainly helps that it’s a rousing mystery-adventure with plenty of laughs and thrills along the way. Letterman and his fellow co-writers have proven that this concept can work, and while it may not end up being everyone’s cup of tea, the fans should be quite please at the very least.
“Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.4:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. The image is sharp and clear throughout the entire film, which does a great job of highlighting the multitude of special effects it contains. Likewise, the Dolby Atmos-TrueHD audio is exceptional, giving you all of the dialogue, score, and sound effects in outstanding quality. Overall, the millions of Pokémon fans around the world are certain to be pleased with the great treatment the film has received.
Detective Mode: You have the option of watching the film in “Detective Mode,” which offers trivia, Pokémon info, and more.
My Pokémon Adventure (2 Minutes): A brief featurette that has Justice Smith talking about his experience with Pokémon.
Creating the world of Detective Pikachu (21 Minutes): A collection of five featurettes that delve into the making of the film, featuring interviews with the cast and crew.
Alternate Opening (2 Minutes): A short alternate opening that was thankfully cut.
Mr. Mime’s Audio Commentary (3 Minutes): A completely pointless extra in which Mr. Mime tries to do an audio commentary, only to remember he can’t speak.
Ryan Reynolds: Outside the Actors Studio (2 Minutes): A facetious featurette in which Reynolds talks about diving into the role of Pikachu.
“Carry On” Music Video
“Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” is a rather silly idea in conception, but in execution, it’s a pretty compelling tale that features plenty of twists and turns, and well-rendered CGI. This is one of those instances where there’s no reason such an odd premise should have worked. However, thanks to its intriguing narrative, it just goes to show that even ideas like this can succeed when given the right treatment.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
This article is based on a review copy generously provided by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.