POKEMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU – Review by Sarah Knight Adamson

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Solid Storytelling is greatly needed.

The excitement is over as the first Pokémon feature that pairs the animated Japanese characters with live actors is finally here—although unfortunately to fully comprehend the film, one needs to be familiar with the Pokémon characters as the film lacks those vital details. Japan’s most popular cultural exports, Pokémon, created in 1996 is the brainchild of Tajiri Satoshi, as of today encompasses video games, card games, animated serials, and animated features that have become global over the last decade. Most recently abounding into pop culture with the AR (augmented reality) video game, Pokémon Go.

Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) a Pokémon, (a distinct race of creatures with special powers) resides in futuristic Ryme City; he partnered (bonded) with detective Smith. An interesting phenomenon is that when Pokémon bond with humans to form symbiotic teams—they don’t communicate by talking.

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), an insurance adjuster, lives a quiet life outside Ryme City, upon the accidental death of his police inspector father he ventures to Ryme City to gather his father’s belongings. He initially finds evidence that his father’s death wasn’t an accident, while he also discovers his dad’s partner (a Pokémon named Pikachu). Uncannily, Tim can communicate with detective Pikachu with words, as they set out to find answers; yes, a great feature, as we can know the characters more through talking.

There’s a big problem, Detective Pikachu the adorable yellow little furry critter with rosy cheeks has amnesia, and basically, he sets out to also solve his own mystery. The pair spends the next few days sleuthing in Ryme City, looking for clues to possible suspects in Tim’s father’s death. During the process, many Pokémon have their few minutes of fame, and for fans, seeing them has to be exciting, a significant problem is the non-explanation as to who these Pokémon are. The enormous flying cat-kangaroo is a mystery although it appears to have a big role in Ryme City. That’s not to say that everyone in the audience will be clueless, as my audience was laughing at different times, no doubt they are well-acquainted fans, as I was left in the dark.

The thin script and confusing narrative do little to enhance the film, although the film is a gorgeous display of animation and stunning colors, it’s impossible to follow the story as it appears to be one video game vignette after another.

By all appearances, it seems that we are supposed to bond with a few Pokémon as T-Bone is described as the perfect Pokémon for Tim, to quote the film, “Not everyone can get away with wearing the skull of their dead relatives.” Still, not enough information or character development for us to care, perhaps showcasing so many Pokémon is an attempt to highlight them so kids will want to purchase merchandise. The ‘Pokémon Go’ game is about catching them all, which leads to kids wanting to collect more cards, books, posters, games, etc. Granted, I didn’t expect a Pixar movie, but the blatant lack of solid story-telling, paired with the absence of a single lesson for kids is disconcerting.

Director: Rob Letterman

Writers: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe

Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes

Sarah Knight Adamson May 9, 2019

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Sarah Knight Adamson

Chicago-based Sarah Knight Adamson is the film critic for the Internationally syndicated radio show Hollywood 360, broadcast on over 90 stations. She has served on film panels for the Chicago Public Library, been a juror at film festivals, and writes about film for Naperville Magazine. She is founder and publisher of Sarah’s Backstage Pass website, where her written work appears.