How 'Detective Pikachu' Will Appeal to Pokemon Newcomers

Detective Pikachu dropped its first trailer Monday, showing off how director Rob Letterman will apply the absurd premise to an already absurd (yet enduring) property. It’s the first live-action Pokemon film and will see the series’ most famous electrical monster going full Sherlock. Yeah, it was always going to be weird, but the trailer is already doing work to mitigate that.

While most folks are already getting caught up in Legendary’s bold live-action Pokemon design — which ranges from the delightfully furry Pikachu to the anthropomorphic Mr. Mime (who, let’s be honest, has always been a bit of an odd duck in the franchise’s world of collectable monsters, seeing as he’s only like one step removed from an actual mime) — this trailer immediately changes the tone of the source game to something palatable for both Pokemon fans and those with little experience with the series beyond its inescapable brand presence.

By applying a bit of a winking, Dreamworks-esque humor to Ryan Reynolds’ deerstalker-doffing Pokemon, it brings this weird world of felt-like Jigglypuffs and wandering Dodrios to a place where movie fans know how to interact with it. It’s not one of the 20-plus traditionally animated Pokemon films, though it contains a brief line (“There’s magic that brought us together and that magic is called hope”) that connects its heart to those movies’ friendship-pushing themes. It’s something new. And that means change from the more problem-solving, mystery-oriented source material — which is itself a spinoff from the main line.

The animated Pokemon films and TV shows often lean on slapstick for their humor since, well, Pokemon can’t talk. But a talking animal? That’s like 90 percent of animated movies. Much of the humor from the game comes from Detective Pikachu being a weird relic of the tough gumshoe variety stuffed into a lovable plush mascot. But that doesn’t really work if you have no idea what a Pikachu is. So changing the laughs to come from fast-talking riffs that wouldn’t feel out of place coming from the comic-relief characters in The Lego Batman Movie, Frozen or The Secret Life of Pets is more relatable to the parents of kids who’re playing the games now and those young adults who’ve left the games of their childhood. And, yes, with Reynolds providing the voice, Deadpool immediately comes to mind. (He also previously voiced a CG snail in Turbo).

Deadpool’s simple snark — taking very little seriously and making small asides to the audience — is an easy-access and good-natured way to inform viewers that the movie won’t be taking itself too seriously. Reynolds’ delivery, which is the vocal equivalent of a Dreamworks character’s ubiquitous raised eyebrow, helps the vagueness of the premise (one talking monster in a world of nontalking monsters is a detective and wants to help me?) go down smoothly. 

In fact, the intro, if it didn’t have the tinkle of Junichi Masuda’s title screen theme or commemorative battle posters celebrating Hypno and the legendary Articuno, could be totally generic YA. Also, wait, someone has captured one of the legendary birds and is using it for a fight in the Johto Sport Club? Those things are basically gods  — but that’s a Pokemon nitpick that the trailer (and possibly the film) isn’t looking to address. It’s here for the Pokemon Go converts, the adjacent Pokemon fan.

There’re still plenty of Pokemon-specific elements, however. There’re the very silly town names: Leaventown and Ryme City. Pikachu jumping into the real invisible wall created by Mr. Mime during the latter’s interrogation or the grumpy songbird Jigglypuff pouting next to a comatose audience member — those are classic Pokemon gags going back to the anime. The only things more essentially Pokemon that the trailer could add would be Psyduck holding his confused head, Pikachu thunderbolting, or Team Rocket blasting off again. But by barely mentioning the movie’s plot — Justice Smith’s father is missing — or the workings of the world and focusing instead on introducing the central duo, novel creature design and broad humor, Detective Pikachu acclimates franchise outsiders a bit at a time.

Detective Pikachu hits theaters May 10.