May 17, 2019
How ‘Detective Pikachu’ Revived My Love of Pokémon and Helped Me Reconnect With My Childhood
Like many, many people, I grew up absolutely obsessed with Pokémon. I watched every single episode of the anime, wanting to be the very best. I played the games, and catching them was my real test, and of course I had way too much merchandise. With time, I stopped caring about the franchise, and moved on to other things.
Then the trailer for Detective Pikachu dropped and I could not believe what I was seeing. It was like they took every daydream I had as a kid and turned it into a multimillion-dollar blockbuster. The movie looked fantastic, and the design of the Pokémon is perfect, even if we weren’t prepared for a furry Pikachu. But the most surprising part of the movie was the main character, Tim (played by Justice Smith). And it awakened something in me.
The Eddie Valiant Journey
We first meet Tim in a scene all-too-familiar to anyone who has played a Pokémon game or watched an episode of the anime. He is standing in a field, trying to catch his first Pokémon. In that moment, you are instantly transported back in time to a time where you wished more than anything that your toy Pokéball could actually catch a “Pocket Monster” and make it your lifelong buddy. But then we see that Tim has become an insurance agent who wants nothing to do with Pokémon.
Tim became the Pokémon version of Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Like Eddie, the death of a family member pushed Tim towards hating the fantastical creatures that populate his world. When I talked to the writers of Detective Pikachu, Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit, they mentioned being inspired by Eddie Valiant, and wanting Tim to follow a similar journey. “We wanted Tim not to be excited when he runs into Pikachu,” Samit told me over the phone. “And in order for him to be so against Pokémon, we had to make him be a huge fan as a kid who had something bad happen to him and grow out of the whole Pokémon thing.”
Indeed, Tim keeps saying that he wants nothing to do with Pokémon and is seemingly the only person in Ryme City who doesn’t have a Pokémon companion. But after he meets Pikachu and we learn that his dad had a room ready for him that recreated Tim’s childhood bedroom, I realized that this movie was about me. Not that I lost a parent or will partner up with a detective to solve crimes anytime soon, but because Tim’s journey with Pokémon is the same story I had with the franchise.
Gotta Catch ‘Em All
In his bedroom, I saw Tim as the same kind of obsessed fan I was when I was a kid. We see posters of Pokémon battles, cutouts of Rayquaza, Latios and Latias, a Pikachu bed and even some Pokémon trading cards! While I didn’t have posters of fictitious battles decorating my room, I was a huge fan of the franchise from the moment the original Pokémon anime premiered in Latin America in late 1999. It was wish-fulfilment at its best. Ash had a rodent best friend while I had a pet hamster (we weren’t allowed to have dogs, so this had to do), and he could go on adventures despite being just 10 years old! Then there was the insane diversity of the Pokémon themselves, each with their own distinct designs, strengths, and cool powers.
This was extremely appealing to five-year-old me. I quickly asked my parents to get me anything Pokémon-related, which of course included a Game Boy Color, which I primarily used to pour hundreds of hours into Pokémon Blue and later Yellow. Tim may have been able to catch a real Cubone and I couldn’t, but I’d like to imagine Tim did have Pokémon-themed birthday parties like I did. Unlike all my friends, whose favorite Pokémon were Pikachu or one of the Gen One starters (usually Charmander or Squirtle – no one chose Bulbasaur), my favorite Pokémon was the Jackie Chan-inspired Hitmonchan. Despite having no clue who Jackie Chan was, I dressed up at Hitmonchan for my sixth birthday, mostly because it could box, and the shape of its head was weirdly cool.
Seeing Tim’s childhood bedroom, even if for a split second, brought to mind so many memories of loving the Pokémon franchise like nothing else in the world. I watched the first animated movie about 50 times, cried every single time I watched it, and made my family listen to the audio cassette (Google it, kids!) until it stopped working. I even had the real-life Pokédex that Hasbro sold in the late ‘90s, which was basically a calculator with some information about Pokémon…although I had absolutely no clue how to use it, mostly because it was all in English. Still, I loved looking at the stats for different Pokémon and pretending I caught them, just like Ash in the anime.
I know I was far from the biggest Pokémon fan, but at the time it was my entire life. Gen One came and went, and when the second generation of games was released, I poured my heart and soul into Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Crystal in my Game Boy Advance, I once again obsessed over the movie Pokémon 2000 and had a Lugia-themed birthday, because why wouldn’t I? Lugia is just majestic.
My ‘A Toon Killed My Brother’ Moment
Detective Pikachu follows Who Framed Roger Rabbit In that both their protagonists started loving the fantastic and fictitious creatures that inhabit their world, but somehow end up hating them. For Eddie Valiant, it was losing his brother after he was killed by a toon, for Tim it was losing his mother and then having his dad focus on work and pushing him aside. When we meet adult Tim, he abandoned his dream of being a Pokémon trainer to become an insurance agent and has seemingly never caught a single Pokémon.
Though I didn’t lose a loved one to the franchise, like many other kids who grew up obsessed with Pokémon, I too started to grow out of it until it became but a distant memory. For me it all started in 2002, where my home country of Venezuela was hit with a nation-wide oil strike that resulted in thousands of people being fired from their jobs, including my dad. During a months-long period, it became very difficult to import goods to the country, which made buying the recently released Gen Three games Ruby and Sapphire an extremely low priority for my parents. My dad tried to download a pirated ROM of the game so I could play on the computer, but it wasn’t the same. By the time things stabilized, my friends and I had moved on to other fandoms. Even when my little brother started playing the old games, I simply didn’t care anymore.
Hearing Tim talk about having loved Pokémon as a kid but forgetting all about it as he grew up and became a responsible adult brought tears to my eyes. I was seeing myself on screen in a way I hadn’t before. Despite being a fantasy movie in which a talking animal solves crimes, I felt like the movie was speaking directly to me, and no one else.
If is Super Effective!
Of course, just like Eddie Valiant, Tim Goodman ends up learning to love all Pokémon. Detective Pikachu shows Tim slowly bonding with his wisecracking detective buddy, and though their adventure, he starts reconnecting with his childhood. That this journey is relatable to people who also grew up fans of the franchise wasn’t lost on Benji Samit and Dan Hernandez, even if it wasn’t intentional. “We didn’t really set out to do it that way,” Hernandez told me. “But we quickly saw that there was a parallel there and a sort of metatextual commentary on the franchise as a whole that makes Tim’s story reflect that of many fans.”
While I, like the more than 40 million people who played Pokémon GO at its peak, quickly became obsessed with the augmented reality hit when it came out, it didn’t do much to make me think of the franchise as a whole. It was during the marketing campaign leading up to the release of Detective Pikachu that I started looking back at my childhood years spent playing the games. I re-watched the first two movies, some of the original episodes of the anime, and started obsessing over every new trailer, behind-the-scenes featurette, and interview.
When I finally saw the movie, I felt like a five-year-old again, sitting in a movie theater about to watch Ash being turned to stone in Pokémon: The First Movie. I saw myself in Tim. I looked at his childhood bedroom and instead saw my own childhood bedroom, and myself sitting by my bed playing with my Game Boy Color. Just as Tim ends the movie having become best friends with a talking Pikachu, so did I walk out of the theater ready to pour my heart into this franchise once again and catch them all.
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