Pikachu can talk.
Well, to be fair, Pikachu has always been able to talk — but really only to coo out its name or some version of its name, forever exclaiming “pikachu” or “pika! pika!” in a high-pitched voice, no matter the situation.
With that said, what if Pikachu was voiced by Ryan Reynolds and could actually say coherent things about no one being able to understand it? Or about how, even though Pikachu is much more well known as the bright yellow face of Pokémon, it’s also a world-class detective who can headline a neo-noir feature film about a young man (Justice Smith) looking for information about his father?
That’s the basic premise behind Pokémon Detective Pikachu, a hyper-realistic take on Nintendo’s pocket monsters whose first trailer was released today.
Pikachu (Reynolds) is a lonely detective who has finally found a young man, Tim Goodman (Smith) who can surprisingly understand him, even as rest of the world continues to hear “pika pika!” when Pikachu speaks. Just by Pikachu’s luck, Goodman’s father has gone missing, so he’s desperately in need of some detective help — it sounds like just the job for a furry, yellow, electricity-wielding Pikachu. (The trailer also features other famous, non-Pikachu Pokémon like Charizard, Jigglypuff, and Mr. Mime, but they all play second fiddle to Pikachu itself.)
Director Rob Letterman co-wrote the film, which comes out in 2019, with Guardians of the Galaxy co-screenwriter Nicole Perlman. The Guardians franchise also features a character, Groot, who’s well-known for only saying one thing. In Groot’s case, he only ever utters “I am Groot,” but it thanks to changes in his intonation, it can be interpreted to mean a multitude of things.
In Detective Pikachu, however, the gimmick operates a bit differently: When the characters on screen hear “pika pika,” the audience hears full sentences and cogent thoughts, becoming privy to Pikachu’s multitudes. In the trailer, Pikachu talks about everything from how isolated it feels to its poor interrogation skills to its willingness to help Goodman unlock the mystery of his missing father while perhaps restoring Goodman’s childhood love for Pokémon and his dream of being the best Pokémon trainer in the world.
But Pokémon fans’ reactions to the trailer have been a mixed bag. And what it seems to come down to is disagreements over the visual aesthetics and tone of the film.
Some fans aren’t used to what Letterman and his creative team are doing with the appearances of the Pokémon — making them all furry and hairy instead of cute, cartoon creatures:
Me: The Detective Pikachu movies looks gross, horrendous. Why are they so realistic? They look like they came out of Buzzfeeds “what if Pokémon were real?” Article. This is terrible... incoming Deadpool Pikachu. #DetectivePikachu— ℙ ⇏ ♡ ♡ (@PrplePsychopath) November 12, 2018
Also me on movie release: pic.twitter.com/gmlmjfgLxb
I find it a little odd and off-putting with how Pokemon feels it needs to make the Pokemon look as "life-like" as possible, when Yokai Watch doesn't even try and just keeps the yokai looking cute and cartoony. pic.twitter.com/sbUhrRuwQ6— Silver Sheep (@silverstarsheep) November 12, 2018
Another faction of fans is cheering on the idea of ugly, less traditionally cute renditions of the Pokémon:
pokemon SHOULD be ugly and bizarre and all of you just got used to everything lookin like a dang anime. they're monsters yall. in this thesis i will— cody collins @ SSFanJam 2018 (@azookara) November 12, 2018
the ultra-gritty-black-and-grey-mud-spattered Warner Bros Tentpole Aesthetic™ being applied to Pokemon is deeply disturbing— Zac Bertschy (@ActionZacku) November 12, 2018
that said this movie is going to make so much fuckin money https://t.co/O8prVSAsck
There’s also the feeling that regardless of what the visuals look like, this movie might be Perlman’s vindication after ex-Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn famously downplayed Perlman’s contribution to the movie.
A woman writes one of the most popular and beloved scripts in Marvel history. *Well it's only good because the male director re-wrote it.* Same woman writes a Pokemon movie that AGAINST ALL ODDS looks good. *Did you hear this guy secretly worked on the screenplay?*— Joanna Robinson (@jowrotethis) November 12, 2018
The mixed reactions make sense given how big and how powerful Pokémon’s reach was and still is. The first game was released in 1996, but the franchise has continued to churn along thanks to the consistent release of new games for Nintendo’s various consoles as well as 2016’s very popular Pokémon Go.
That means there are Pokémon fans who were teenagers when the first game came out — who are at least in their 30s now — as well as much younger fans who weren’t even born yet when the first generation of the Game Boy, the handheld console that the first Pokémon game was released on, stopped being sold.
Our own personal connections to and experiences with Pokémon drive our ideas of how Pokémon should be, why we love it, or why we fell out of love with it.
An irreverent, Deadpool-esque Pikachu might be the kind of spin on the character that brings ex-Pokéfans back to the fold. At the same time, it might irritate loyalists who have pledged fidelity to the franchise’s magic creatures for years, or not match up with what young child fans expect when they think of Pokémon. It could also work in reverse, as childlike iterations of Pokémon might have been the reason that a previous Pokémon fan drifted away.
Don’t expect those divisions to change until fans see the movie next year.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu is set for release on May 10, 2019.