Published May 10, 2019It's been almost 25 years since the first Pokémon games were released in Japan, spawning one of the biggest media juggernauts in generations, including a long-running anime, film series, card game and, of course, plenty of toy merchandise. But film had always eluded the franchise — until now, with the release of Pokémon Detective Pikachu.
"I was nervous," director Rob Letterman tells Exclaim! about helming the first-ever live action Pokémon movie. "We spent a lot of time and put a lot of care and effort into making sure that, first and foremost, we got the movie right for Pokémon fans. Not just Pokémon fans who are kids now, but people who grew up on it who are in their 20s and 30s."
The crux of it all hinged on the title character, Detective Pikachu — a hat-wearing, coffee-guzzling version of the franchise's rosy-cheeked electric rodent mascot, endearingly brought to life by the inimitable Ryan Reynolds.
According to Letterman, casting Reynolds was a no-brainer. "The idea of this Detective Pikachu character was to have this big tough guy voice and personality come out of this little, adorable yellow character," says the director. "We needed to find someone who could be really funny and also heartfelt and have the dramatic chops to have it grounded at the same time, and that narrows it down quite a bit. There are not a lot of people who can do that."
Busting out G-rated versions of the irreverent wise-cracks that drove Deadpool, Reynolds imbues Detective Pikachu with a smooth, natural snark that, according to Letterman, is "almost all improvised and almost all off-the-cuff."
"When Ryan came on board, he went through the script and reworked all his dialogue so it became his voice," says the director. Following subsequent workshops with co-stars Justice Smith (as Tim Goodman, Detective Pikachu's reluctant partner-in-crime) and Kathryn Newton (as intrepid journalist Lucy Stevens), the script was retooled further to maximise Reynolds' riffing — though there were still plenty more opportunities for ad-libbing when Reynolds was on set.
Though far more reined in as Detective Pikachu than as "merc with a mouth" Deadpool, there were still some R-rated ad-libs that snuck in, says Letterman. When asked if Reynolds channelled a little too much Deadpool for the PG rating, he says, "He did, once. And I tried desperately to get it in, but it was not happening."
But beneath the fast-paced action sequences, humour and mystery, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is, at its heart, a story about relationships. "I always thought of it as a movie in and of itself," says letterman. "If you strip away Pokémon, there's still a movie there, a human story, a compelling story with characters and emotion."
Pokémon Detective Pikachu is in theatres now.