Pokémon was a juggernaut in the ’90s that swallowed years of my childhood. It was so knowingly big, in fact, that they had the gall to call their first animated movie Pokémon: The First Movie. It was both surprisingly dark (heaps of people die within the first few minutes) and unsurprisingly corny (they brought the lead character back to life using sad Pokémon tears).
Back then, CGI wasn’t at a point where we could realistically expect a live-action Hollywood feature to come out. But that didn’t stop an innocent kid like me from fantasising what that film could look like.
And it sure as hell didn’t look like Detective Pikachu.
This isn’t the story I experienced from the game or the TV show when I was young. This new film doesn’t have Ash Ketchum. Pikachu never said human words. Hell, there isn’t even a Pokéball in this first trailer.
And thank god for that.
We’re currently in the Ready Player One era where cinema audiences are being fed on-screen nostalgia in various forms. This year alone wanted to replicate your love for Han Solo, Dr. Seuss, Winnie the Pooh, dinosaurs, ABBA karaoke, and Queen’s Greatest Hits. The films in question didn’t stray too far from the characters and/or stories we grew to recognise because God forbid we ever try to change something and take creative risks.
Well, Pokémon Detective Pikachu chose the God-defying act of changing something and taking a creative risk by having that adorable conductive rodent lead a detective noir for the whole family. Yes, it’s technically still based on the recent Detective Pikachu game, but it still marks a drastic shift from the general perception of the Pokémon franchise in order to deliver something refreshingly new.
The opening shot of the trailer isn’t exactly bright and colourful, sharing a shadowy dimness more in line with Blade Runner than Zootopia (the only other recent family animated detective story I can think of).
The neon-heavy lighting throughout really puts the foot down on the film’s noir aspect, so we’re really taken off guard when a Ryan Reynolds-voiced Pikachu pops up and starts cracking jokes.
This ain’t the Pikachu you know, and that’s a great thing. It’s the Pika-pill that makes this bizarre new Pokémon world easier to swallow. As an oddity, it’s hard to NOT be at least interested in this film. It also helps that the production as a whole looks superb.
That’s not to say this film’s going to jettison everything identifiable with Pokémon. The designs carry over flawlessly, Mr Mime performs Barrier as canon would dictate, Jigglypuff’s pout is instantly recognisable, and Psyduck still looks like a complete idiot.
The trailer also embraces the series’ loving emphasis on outdoor adventure with every bright, open environmental shot contrasting the gloomy, confined cityscapes.
What struck me the most, however, was the one proper Pokémon battle shown near the end of the trailer: a badass-looking Charizard squaring off against Det. Pikachu. With cage barriers surrounding them, it puts Pokémon battles in a disturbing light by making this look like a cockfight.
It’s almost like, ya know, they’re forcing animals to fight.
This was the entire premise of Pokémon and it could be the ultimate thing this film questions. Perhaps Detective Pikachu won’t go so far as to address animal cruelty, but considering how far this film’s gone already, would it be that surprising?
And how much more awesome would it be to have a film that takes something outdated, questions it, and makes it even better? That’s one of the coolest things about Pokémon: they evolve.