Directed by Rob Letterman (who most recently helmed Goosebumps), the movie is based on a video game by the same title within the Pokémon game franchise, but of course many of its characters have been made famous through the property’s incarnations as animated series and features, as well as the popular trading card game, and most recently the overwhelming success of the Pokémon Go augmented reality mobile game.
Early in his career as a director, Letterman wrote and directed the cg animated features Shark Tale and Monsters vs. Aliens for Dreamworks, which likely factored in the decision to hire him to oversee a major project aimed at younger audiences that involves numerous cg characters.
Animation and vfx for Pokémon Detective Pikachu were created by MPC, Framestore, Image Engine, and Proof. Erik Nordby is production vfx supervisor. The estimated budget for what could be one of Warner’s biggest hits of the year is $150 million.
Starring Ryan Reynolds as the voice of Pikachu and Justice Smith as Tim Goodman, a teenage boy whose estranged father has mysteriously disappeared in Ryme City, the film is a fan’s dream since it features a wide variety of Pokémon, peculiar creatures that, in this case, serve more as companions to humans than as trained fighters for battles.
Ahead of this week’s release, Warner created a Youtube account named Inspector Pikachu where it uploaded a fake Pokémon Detective Pikachu screener, which instead of showing the full film, features Pikachu dancing for 103 minutes, which is the actual film’s approximate length. Actor Ryan Reynolds himself tweeted the link, which has already amassed 12 million views.
The film has received mixed reviews, with many critics pointing out issues with the screenplay and the coherence of the story in general. Although some found it to be solely targeted at super fans, the majority agreed its visual aesthetic and the cg characters are some of its standout qualities.
Here are some takes on the film from critics at major publications:
In his mostly positive review for Slate, Sam Adams praised the work of animators in the face of the task at hand:
[T]he movie’s not subtle about its raison d’être, which is to show off as many intricately rendered critters as humanly possible. Adding a third dimension to 2D icons, and making them photoreal, is a fraught process, as the Sonic the Hedgehog movie recently learned, and the initial glimpses made it seem as if the movie might slip into the uncanny valley. But the largely computer-generated creatures have a slightly worn quality, like bedraggled stuffed animals plucked from the floor of a family car. (There are a handful of bona fide puppets as well, but it’s a credit to the movie’s animators that it can be tough to tell which is which.) You can almost imagine them taking up residence in the Hundred Acre Wood alongside Winnie the Pooh, bits of stuffing poking out along especially well-loved seams.
While addressing issues with the screenplay, The Washington Post’s Kristen Page-Kirby felt the visual elements of the film worked, especially the animated characters:
The film’s Pokémon — all of whom are CGI — look so real you’ll want to reach out and cuddle them, especially Pikachu. That verisimilitude makes Detective Pikachu feel like more than a kids’ movie, extending its appeal to nostalgic adults who may remember the Pokémon-card-filled binders of their own childhoods.
For The Hollywood Reporter, Michael Rechtshaffen praised the work of the vfx team that created the movie’s world, including a particular set piece:
Credit production designer Nigel Phelps and visual effects outfits Moving Picture Company and Framestore for taking it into FX overdrive, most notably a ground-breaking (literally) set-piece shot in Scotland, involving computer-controlled hydraulic rams covered with soil and foliage
The Wrap’s Alonso Duralde was much less impressed by the overall ambition of the project:
Anyone over the age of 11 will deduce the identity of the villain and the twists of the detective story, which would have been fine if Detective Pikachu offered enough delight in the visuals, the performances or the humor. Instead, we get a movie that’s both overstuffed and underwritten, making it seem simultaneously ambitious and lazy, frenzied and sluggish.
Writing for Rolling Stone, David Fear said the film will only satisfy preexisting fans:
There’s a saying that gets thrown around a lot these days, both defensively and derisively: “strictly for the fans.” Pokémon Detective Pikachu really is strictly for the fans, in the best and worst possible ways. If you live, eat, breathe and defecate this stuff, you may feel like seeing this world rendered in such photorealistic detail, and with such candy-colored hallucinogenic production design, is a dream come true. Everyone else is likely to feel like they’ve been mildly dosed.
Indiewire’s Kate Erbland found the pokémon adorable, but not much else worthwhile:
It’s not the worst idea, and the CGI that enliven this wild world of people and Pokémon is nothing short of awe-inspiring. But no amount of technical polish can detract from a thin narrative that confuses far more than it amuses. Even worse: Every good joke has already been splashed across the film’s many (quite amusing) trailers. For a film that should surprise and delight at every turn, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is clunkier and more confusing than a film about adorable creatures has any right to be.