Detective Pikachu (2019) – Review

The image shows a cartoon image of Pikachu (a small yellow Pokemon with long pointy ears) with its mouth open and eyes wide in surprise“Do we really need another childhood nostalgia movie?” I asked, as we wandered through the park on the way to the cinema. “Haven’t they all been done by now?”

The picture on the left is my face, 5 minutes into the movie.

It turns out that we do need more childhood nostalgia movies – or at least, more movies like Detective Pikachu. Against all the odds, against the entire track record of live-action movies about cartoon characters, Detective Pikachu is a really great film. Let’s get into it.

It’s very rare to see a film like this – largely aimed at kids, either fully or partially animated – which isn’t made by Disney or Pixar. Nintendo and the Pokemon Company had a large stake in producing Detective Pikachu, in association with Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures. And that change at the top is felt in every frame of the movie. It avoids some of the most common visual clichés, and actually feels… fresh.

So what does that look like? For starters, the film isn’t set in that weird plastic world where all kids’ movies take place: San Francisco with the labels taken off. Instead, most of the action takes place in wild countryside, or a city that could almost be Tokyo.

Secondly, the cast is genuinely diverse, and almost everyone speaks in their real-life accent. I appreciate films where the director trusts their actors and allows them to use their own voices. (Although I do wonder why the baddies in films always have RP English accents. That’s how I talk, and I promise I’m not a criminal mastermind!)

The plot and character arcs are also refreshingly different. This film makes a powerful statement about our responsibility to the environment, and the peace and richness which we gain by living in harmony together. Several large plot points hinge on the idea that human individualism isn’t working.

Without giving away too many spoilers, here’s a striking example. There are many loving references to the original games and cartoon series. But Pokemon battles – which used to be at the heart of the games – are considered outdated and even criminal. The Pokemon have their own personalities, goals, religion, and professions. They also have extremely strong opinions about how they want to interact with humans.

I love this change in attitude – but it confused me at first. If Pokemon battles are cancelled, how can Detective Pikachu tie in with the rest of the Pokemon empire?

We’ve already seen a change in how Nintendo wants people to play Pokemon. Pokemon Go was less about battles, and much more about exploring the world and making friends. The ideas espoused in Detective Pikachu are just another step in the same direction. I’m curious to see what kind of games we see coming out in the wake of the film: will they go even further? Will they backtrack?

And of course, the one question which everyone is asking: will there be a sequel? It’s hard to see how, given the way that the film ends. But the world that Detective Pikachu has created is one where I would like to spend more time. Let’s see if this franchise can keep producing such charming, original ideas.

What do you think?

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