I don’t know a thing about Pokemon. I was already in high school by the time it became a worldwide phenomenon, and I was in no mood for cute, cuddly anime animals at the moody age of sixteen. For this non-fan, however, Detective Pikachu is a minor delight filled with joy, heart, and giant Pokemon doing battle.
It’s a big, bubbly kids movie that grows on you until the inevitable exhaustive bombast of a cartoony third act. Accusing a Pokemon movie of becoming cartoony might sound like a lark, but these things happen in Hollywood third acts. Warner Bros and director Rob Letterman have, for the most part, done a bang-up job selling these oddball creations in a live action environment. Without changing their essential look for any wonky “real-world” aesthetic, Letterman and co. have somehow made Pikachu, Mewtwo, Psyduck, and the rest look as tangible as visually possible. From their finely detailed bodies to seamless interaction with lead actor Justice Smith, the visual effects should garner an Oscar nomination at least. Smith, for his part as Tim, grows on you too. He starts out a little prickly for the role of a family film protagonist, and yet, by the end his arc and bond with little Pika had me tearing up, much to my chagrin.
Everyone’s here for Pikachu, and without Ryan Reynolds this movie would be all for naught. Though clearly watered-down for a PG audience, Reynolds’ trademark humor is still in full swing. His instant charm and recognizable banter is like a warm embrace. We’ve heard it all before, but it’s nice to hear anyway. As a noir-ish detective and partner to Tim’s enigmatic father, Pikachu can’t remember anything other than the case of the missing Dad. With a reluctant Tim at his side they set out to solve a not-so-mysterious puzzle involving toxic gases, experiments, and of course, corporate malfeasance. Because what’s a modern day blockbuster without a cutthroat corporate villain who’s company ends in “Industries?” Bill Nighy plays one half of a father/son duo running said company, with his pompous kid’s hostile takeover potentially threatening Rhyme City’s Utopian community of humans and Pokemon living together in harmony.
Detective Pikachu isn’t a perfect introduction, especially for newbies. Good world-building makes up for most of that. And when I hear Reynolds paired with that cute, cuddly face I’m suddenly ashamed of that sixteen year-old who hated Pokemon. Sometimes bringing something to life brings it to life.