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Pokemon: Detective Pikachu – This Generation’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit September 24, 2020

Posted by Maniac in Editorials.
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A few years ago I wrote an essay declaring that the game Halo: Reach was our generation’s version of The Dirty Dozen. Today, we’re going to do it again. In the late-80s Disney took a huge gamble and made their most technologically ambitious film of that time. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a classic sendoff to old Hollywood depicting animated characters as no different than live-action film stars who actually exist in the real-world, get married and have 9-to-5 jobs. When a well-known cartoon character is framed for murder, he has to hire a human private detective to help clear his name. Here’s the trailer:

Who Framed Roger Rabbit was Directed by Bob Zemeckis, and starred Charles Fleischer, Bob Hoskins and was based on a novel by Gary K. Wolf. While it was a tremendously successful film at the box office when it released in the late 80s, it was an expensive and difficult movie to make. In fact, it was so difficult to produce that it was believed that no movie like it would ever be made again. There may be some truth to that since Disney has been unable to make a sequel to this day.

Meanwhile, on other side of the world game developer Nintendo has dominated the gaming handheld market for twenty years with the incredibly successful Pokémon franchise. Originally created by Satoshi Tajeri, Pokémon allowed players to explore a region full of magical creatures where they could capture, battle and trade amongst each other while on the go.

By today, Pokémon has been recently declared the most popular consumer franchise in the world, beating out other enormous franchises like Hello Kitty and Star Wars. While numerous Pokémon animated feature films and an ongoing animated television series have been produced over twenty years, there has always been a fan demand to see a live-action film adaptation of the Pokémon games. The problem was the story of a standard Pokémon game is not easily translated to a two-hour film and due to the otherworldly appearance of the game’s creatures production prices would be high. It was believed creating a live-action Pokémon feature film would be a difficult to impossible task.

However, in 2019, Warner Bros, Legendary Pictures, and The Pokémon Company teamed up to make the film Pokémon: Detective Pikachu based on the spin-off game of the same name. The film stars Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, and Kathryn Newton and was directed by Rob Letterman. If you haven’t seen it yourself, Here’s the trailer:

WARNING: Just be aware this article is going to include SPOILERS for the film Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. If you’re uncomfortable with that, I recommend watching the flick yourselves before continuing with the rest of this article.

Watching both trailers back to back probably made you see some parellel’s in the two film’s plot right off the bat. Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Pokémon: Detective Pikachu were both heavily inspired by the film noir genre. In fact I remember writing a paper about the Roger Rabbit film as a perfect example of film noir when I was back in college. Had I been born a few years later, I probably would’ve written that same paper on Detective Pikachu. Film noir is a classic genre of film, usually revolving around a murder mystery or some difficult case a hero must solve. Visually the genre’s films are shot with heavy shadows, the dialog is foreboding with heavy use of allegory and in the end the hero must solve the case. Just from that description of the film noir genre you can see a similarity in plot between the two films, can’t you? Well we’re not done yet.

So what went into making both films in the first place? Since it is impossible to produce complex fictional animated characters on set, actors were hired to film scenes while their animated co-star would be added in later during post-production. While Who Framed Roger Rabbit used 2D animation drawn by artists, Detective Pikachu used lifelike 3D models rendered in a computer. This was done to match their source material’s respective animation style. They also hired crews who were not only the absolute best in the industry in their respective field, but were fans of the franchises the films they were working on were based on.

So how did this all work on set? Unlike a purely animated film which would have actors recording their voice overs separately depending on their schedules, both films had their voice actors on set (slightly off camera) so the actors who were on camera could have an easier time acting opposite what was essentially an invisible person. Bob Hoskins had to undergo training to imagine his costar was in the room with him, despite the fact he was (in reality) talking to an invisible being. Charles Fleischer, who played Roger Rabbit, treated his role as off-camera acting and would deliver lines off camera in timing with Bob’s dialog. Roger had no on-set body double, Charles was the ONLY actor to perform him throughout the film’s production. In fact, Charles was so method with getting into his character, he spent his mornings before filming began getting into a rabbit costume similar to the one Roger wore, so to help his performance.

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu was produced in a very similar method to Who Franed Roger Rabbit. Sadly, we do not have as extensive a look into Detective Pikachu’s production as we do for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but from what I was able to see I was taken aback by how similar what I saw was on Detective Pikachu’s set to the Roger Rabbit film.

The majority of Detective Pikachu saw actors Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton interact with a computer generated Pikachu performed by actor Ryan Reynolds. Since Pikachu’s performance was being added in post-production, that meant that Justice Smith had to believe he was really talking to a fictional electric mouse to sell his performance to the film’s audience. I’m not an actor but even I know this is not an easy task, but it seems the actors were up for it. I don’t know what it says about the greatness of Justice Smith’s acting capability but he had to undergo Mime training while filming a scene in the film where his character interacts with a Mr. Mime. The Mime who trained Mr. Smith appeared very impressed with Smith’s performance in the film’s Behind the Scenes footage.

At this point, I’m afraid I have to reveal the film’s biggest spoiler. At the end of Detective Pikachu, we learn that Justice Smith’s father is in fact Ryan Reynolds, and Mewtwo’s actions put Ryan Reynolds inside Pikachu’s body to save his life following a major accident. When Mewtwo reunited with the group, he could restore Mr Reynolds back to perfect health. In essence, Ryan Reynolds, or if you prefer, Detective Pikachu, was Justice Smith’s father the whole time. This was a huge reveal that I can remember not everyone in the theater audience I sat with was willing to accept, and even online critics like Doug Walker did not see coming. (ED NOTE: I saw it coming).

We never saw the face of Mr. Smith’s father throughout the majority of Detective Pikachu. Never once does the camera focus on a picture of him when the audience is exploring his apartment and all archived video footage we see of him is of his backside. This was likely done intentionally to hold back the film’s major reveal, but it also made me wonder how practical this was for the performers on set.

Both Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton had to be on set interacting with (to them) Pokémon they would have to imagine were next to them. It was entirely possible for Mr Reynolds to use a body double for any moments we saw Smith’s father on set however, in the behind the scenes footage I watched from the film’s production, Ryan was clearly on set in costume (as Justice Smith’s father) acting alongside the rest of the cast. This could’ve either been done for the benefit of the actors on set or could be seen as a testament to Ryan’s dedication to the role.

The one thing I can’t seem to confirm is if Reynolds was on set delivering Pikachu’s lines to Smith or if his voice was dubbed in later. Needless to say Ryan took his role very seriously to the point of method acting. How method did Ryan get? Well they did include this documentary with the film’s home video release but I’ll let you be the judge just to how accurate it is.

If you ask me I feel both films succeeded in their premise to mix live-action actors with animation. In both cases, the films broke ground in not just what can be done technologically, but what actors can be capable of performing. While it is highly unlikely we will ever see a new Roger Rabbit film, (the rights are currently tied up between Amblin and Disney and Mr. Hoskins sadly passed on many years ago), I would be more than happy to see Detective Pikachu as a jumping off point of a live-action Pokémon cinematic universe! My only hope is that if they intend to go the same route they did before, they cast the right skilled actors for the roles (or just bring back Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton).

Hope you guys enjoyed the article! If you haven’t watched these films for yourself yet, or want to watch them again after not seeing them in a while you have several options. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu can currently be found on the HBO MAX service and Who Framed Roger Rabbit is currently on Disney+.