5 Ways to Prep: Detective Pikachu
By George Rose
May 9, 2019
Now that Avengers: Endgame became the biggest story ever, we can come back down to Earth and get back to the regular, run-of-the-mill releases. At the very least it’s officially Summer at the box office so we have more potential blockbuster offerings than Spring has given us.
First up to challenge Thanos is Detective Pikachu, the first in what I imagine will be many live-action/CGI hybrids. It can be a great concept taking beloved cartoons of the past and blending them with real life, but it can also lead to devastating results. Just ask the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog movie, which suffered horrendous fan backlash after the trailer showed a too-human Sonic roiding-out on leg day. The same can’t be said for the new Pokémon movie, as fans seem content with how the studio has brought these legends to life. Throw in a fresh story and a family-friendly rating, and you have yourself a potential major franchise starter.
It’s started with cartoons and trading cards a few decades ago, and eventually became a small movie franchise. Video games and marketing machines have kept the brand relevant for years for new generations to enjoy, and the recent Pokémon Go app became a pop culture phenomenon. You may not know the deep intricacies of the overall storyline but this new movie franchise is starting from scratch so everyone can enjoy it. The timing seems right and casting Ryan Reynolds as the voice of Pikachu was a stroke of genius. Getting the man behind Deadpool to lend his voice is a great way to get that older audience interested, and if it wasn’t for Endgame’s third weekend in theaters I’d say a gigantic opening would be in store.
As it stands, Endgame could take a $75 million bite out of the box office this weekend which will give Detective Pikachu a run for his money. Early tracking suggested a potential $90-100 million debut but Endgame’s continued success seems to be scaring analysts away from such lofty predictions. Some now think $50-75 million is more likely, and what once was expected to be a newsworthy #1 debut for this budding franchise will now possibly have to settle for second place. Still, as long as the end result is profitability than we will have a new blockbuster franchise on our hands to look out for over the coming years. If Pikachu can blast past expectations then spin-offs and franchise fatigue will surely follow.
Until that inevitably happens, all we can do is prep to enjoy this new adventure. I, for one, have a fairly limited knowledge of Pokémon lore. I spent two summers playing Pokémon Go and have played maybe half of two different Nintendo games. Beyond that, nothing. No cartoons, no movies, no trading cards. Nothing, yet I still imagine many people know even less than me. I know enough that I’m pretty excited to see Detective Pikachu but I know I’ll be missing out on plenty of in-jokes. While I may not be able to help you become a full-blown Pokémon junkie, I can still help you catch up a bit and prepare you for what’s coming. So sit back, stock up on Pokeballs and get ready to catch 5 Ways to Prep for Detective Pikachu!
1) POKÉMON: THE FIRST MOVIE (1999)
Like I said, I haven’t seen this movie and I’m not about to cut-and-paste a description off of Google. Watching the Pokémon movie once before Detective Pikachu isn’t likely to make you a master overnight, but you will pick up on a few key facts. For one, there’s humans and Pokémon creatures in the same world. Good people and bad people use these creatures to battle. Most of these creatures have powers and the ability to evolve their physical form to become bigger versions of themselves. Humans catch these monsters with Pokeballs, which they throw into battle to release their fighter upon command. It’s animal cruelty meets slave fighting in a family-friendly wrapper, or at least that’s what the cynic in me says. The nerdy fanboy in me that misses Endgame sees Pokémon as furry superheroes and villains battling it out in the human-filled arena of Earth. Making this a live-action movie would be expensive sooooooo the studio is skipping a traditional update in favor for a comedic detective caper.
What this means is we are going to get a watered down version of the Pokémon concept. Instead of constant CGI battles, we get a cute Detective Pikachu that pairs up with a plucky human to solve a silly crime with potential to cross paths with other famous Pokemon in much less expensive ways. So, basically, you don’t need to watch the Pokémon movie to know what’s going to happen in Detective Pikachu, but it will help you get to know some of the characters that will be popping up. Pikachu (the yellow electric one) is the most popular Pokémon, but then the next three that the video games let you pick from are Bulbasaur (the green grass type), Squirtle (the blue water type) and Charmander (the red fire type). They each evolve into bigger versions but we’re going to start small since this is the first Pikachu movie. They’ll probably save the bigger, more expensive versions for the action-packed sequel.
Other than that, I’m at a loss for story spoilers. There are hundreds of Pokémon that could possibly appear in the movie from all the many games released, so it might be safe to assume the the limited amount that appeared in the first animated Pokémon movie could mirror the few we get in Pikachu’s first adventure. Another mirror we might get is the box office potential. In 1999, Pokémon opened with $31 million and earned almost $86 million stateside. In 2019 dollars, that’s $55 million and $152 million. Honestly, this seems like the low-end for Pikachu. Not being of the animated franchise will help broaden the audience, as will Ryan Reynolds. The brand has only grown over time. A once casual fan like me avoided the animated franchise and the cartoon TV series, but even I fell victim to the Pokémon Go app and find myself excited for Pikachu. A $55/$152 million split should be the low end with many now thinking maybe a $70/200 million split. I was on board earlier on when analysts optimistically assumed $90/250 million totals and, yes, I at one point placed my bets on a huge $100/300 million franchise mega starter. I still have hope but, again, Endgames rule could put a damper on the Detective.
2) THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS (2018)
Let’s be honest, taking something kids used to love and merging it with live-action counterparts for a buddy cop comedy doesn’t always work. It’s almost sort of commonplace at this point. It was only just attempted last year, when the concept of the Muppets came together with the foul-mouthed Melissa McCarthy for a noir crime caper full of laughs. Except, it wasn’t as funny as many hoped and it performed even worse. Sometimes ideas are better served as short SNL sketches and not feature length films. Despite Melissa’s famous face, the movie only muster a $10 million debut and $20 million total. Then again, Happytime took a children’s puppet and made it a raunchy R-rated comedy. I can see why the producers tried to upgrade the story for adults that used to watch Muppets, but does anyone really need to watch a five minute scene of a cotton man busting a silly string load all over a glass door? Maybe, but not for $15 a ticket. There are plenty of free websites for that.
In any case, Pikachu’s family-friendly rating and Ryan Reynolds voice will certainly create a bigger opportunity for this franchise. And despite the Muppets having been around longer than Pokémon, you can’t argue which is the bigger, more bankable brand. If the Muppets had superpowers then MAYBE kids would care more but they don’t, so kids don’t. It’s a Pokémon world and we’re all just playing in it. Happytime ended its run with $20 million and I’d be shocked if Pikachu made less than that on its opening day. Only time will tell but right now all signs are pointing to a happy time for this wisecracking Detective.
3) TURBO (2013)
It’s been a while so you may have forgotten that Pikachu is not Ryan Reynolds first animated role. He had a big year in 2013 voicing characters in Turbo and The Croods, both for Dreamworks. Although Croods was the bigger hit and the better movie, he played a human in that movie. If you want to see what Reynolds can do as a lighting fast creature similar to Pikachu, then his turn as speedster snail in Turbo will get you closer to that mark. I’m embarrassed to yet again be recommending a movie I haven’t seen myself, but even I do my best to refrain from mediocrity on the big screen. Tickets aren’t cheap and I’m too old to be seeing non-Pixar cartoons that make less than $100 million. Speaking of which, Turbo opened to $21 million and made $83 million. Not enough to give Reynolds the franchise he was hoping for but enough to give Dreamworks a brand to branch into TV with. I think it’s on Netflix but I’m not sure because I don’t really care.
4) JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018)
Not all crappy movies make less than $100 million. BOP’s winner for worst film of 2018 still made more than $400 million in the US and over $1.3 billion worldwide, and since it was a big hit I saw it in theaters! See, I still go to the movies! Just not for kid fluff like Turbo. Jurassic Park, on the other hand, is a brand I’ll be behind for life. Some franchises are meant for the big screen and if Jurassic World can take the action to a global scale then why can’t Pokémon? The Jurassic franchise laid dormant for years before blowing past the Park into the World, and it became one of the staple trilogies of the last few years. With only one Jurassic left, with Endgame closing out Marvel’s third phase and with Star Wars bringing the Skywalker saga to an end later this year, genre fans will be looking for the next big thing. And if Fallen Kingdom’s supporting star Justice Smith has anything to say about it, that new trilogy will be Detective Pikachu. With less than a dozen acting credits to his name, this rising star has already landed two giant gigs with the potential for many more. Then again, he could be the next Shia LaBeouf. What happened to him after Transformers and Indiana Jones? Insanity, that’s what. He’s cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. Let’s hope Justice makes better use of his newfound fame.
5) GOOSEBUMPS (2015)
So we know a little about Pokémon, we know it’s a live-action/CGI hybrid buddy cop comedy, we know Ryan Reynolds is giving Pikachu an A-list voice, and we know Justice Smith is playing yet another role as a spastic millennial surrounded by monsters. It’s all so exciting and yet it still feels sort of generic. I’m sure they’ve put this franchise in some good hands though. Let’s see, Detective Pikachu is directed by… Rob Letterman? Hmmm, Siri, who is Rob Letterman? Oh, he co-directed Shark Tale ($160 million) and Monsters Vs. Aliens ($198 million)? Well that’s impressive-ish. I mean, I sure hope he’s directed alone before to prep for such a gigantic opportunity like Detective Pikachu. Oh, he flew solo on the Goosebumps movie? Ok, well, I mean… at least it sort of applies. Live-action/CGI hybrid? Check. Classic children’s brand brought to the big screen? Check. Funny leading man? Well, Jack Black isn’t as bankable these days as Ryan Reynolds but, ok, check!
He also directed Gulliver’s Travels and that movie TANKED! Letterman has grown over the years, going from Gulliver’s 20% positive reviews to Goosebumps 77% positive reviews which is a good step in the right direction. Detective Pikachu is sitting around 70% positive so at least it’s on the better end of things. Again, I imagine some see the live action cop comedy angle as an odd choice for a Pokémon movie but go big or go home, right? It’s a bold choice and we’re only a few days away from finding out if the bet paid off. I know I’ll be buying a ticket, which alone suggests a broader audience than the first animated Pokémon movie. Will Ryan Reynolds and a fur fetish be enough to get you interested? Will bland choices like a cop comedy, Justice LaBeouf and Generic Letterman turn a few off? Will the Pokémon get swept under the Avengers rug and prove the box office game has ended now that Marvel’s Phase 3 is over? Or has Endgame reinvigorated the big screen experience and Detective Pikachu is the first to benefit? I don’t have the answers but I do have the interest in finding them out, as the Summer box office is finally ready to rumble with many potential blockbuster moments worth talking about to come!