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Off TopicMay 10, 2019 2:00 pm CT

Off-Topic: Pokémon: Detective Pikachu pulls off utterly charming cinematic magic

I’ll be the first to admit that when I first heard the rumors of a live-action Pokémon movie, I was a little worried. Disney’s been doing the “let’s turn our animated films into realistic romps” for several years now, with varying degrees of success. But the first trailer for the film immediately sold me, both because of the strangely appealing realistic Pokémon, and the wise-cracking pipes of one Ryan Reynolds. Still, there was a little worry lingering in my mind – look, the film industry hasn’t exactly had a lot of success in making films from video game franchises. So…does Pokémon: Detective Pikachu hold up? Absolutely.

Here’s what you might be wondering, both due to the sometimes-gritty scenery, and the PG rating: Is this an “adult” Pokémon movie? The answer to that is a resounding no. This is a movie for kids, and the plot reflects that, never too complicated and moving along at a quick enough pace to hold the attention of any kid in the audience. But nearly every shot in the film is crawling with Pokémon, and that’s where the film jumps from standard kiddy fare to something a little more magical.

It works. There’s no other way to put that. Ryme City is teeming with life, both human and Pokémon, and the picture the film paints is absolutely believable, provided you suspend your disbelief just a little. Most of this is due to the actors in the film. Justice Smith plays Tim Goodman, a former Pokémon trainer who receives news that his detective father has suddenly passed away. There’s a lot of depth to Smith’s performance, but it’s the little things that really make it stand out – he never forgets he’s in a world surrounded by Pokémon. His eyes track creatures that aren’t really there, darting back and forth seamlessly between co-stars both real, and entirely CGI.

On top of that, Reynolds provides a delightful performance as Pikachu – with all the humor of Deadpool, but none of the crassness. But it’s the interaction between the two that really makes the film. In a world full of Pokémon, Tim’s one of a very few people who doesn’t want one. Pikachu puts Tim’s resistance to the test during a search for a father that the little electric Pokémon insists is very much alive. The interplay between the two is at times both utterly hysterical, and impossibly sweet.

If you’ve ever played Pokémon, you know the series isn’t exactly known for its complicated narrative, and the movie reflects that. There’s a mystery to be solved here, but it’s a fairly straightforward one. Still, the movie manages to pull a few surprises that will fool even the adults in the audience. If you’ve played Detective Pikachu before, you might recognize elements of the story – but it’s been re-imagined here, woven into something with a little more substance, and a suitably happy ending.

The highest compliment a kid’s movie can get is the moment when the movie starts and every kid in the audience is blissfully silent for the entirety of the film. There was a small group of talkative kids behind me in the theater, happily chattering away throughout the movie trailers. The second the film started, the chatter stopped entirely, save for laughter at the appropriate moments. The effects that gave me warm memories of games I’d played in the past were downright magical to the kids behind me.

And really, this is the kind of movie I wish I’d had when I was a kid. As someone who grew up playing Pokémon, I remember wishing every now and again that the little critters were real – that there was a world of cuddly and ferocious partners out there waiting to be discovered. Detective Pikachu may not have been designed for someone my age, but for a few hours, I could forget the mundane world outside, and lose myself in childhood memories.

If you have kids who grew up with Pokémon, they’re going to love this movie – and even if you didn’t play it yourself, there’s enough here to keep you amused, and the plot is easy enough to follow. But if you’ve ever played and enjoyed Pokémon – no matter the age you are now – prepare yourself for a wave of nostalgia. Detective Pikachu is a sweet film, but it’s also a love letter to anyone that’s ever spent time wandering through tall grass, waiting for the moment when a well-timed throw of a Poké Ball could give you a friend for life.

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