Pokémon: Detective Pikachu

You may have expected Ryan Reynolds to next take up share in your mind with the nigh-inevitable Deadpool 3– yet, early Christmas miracles do come true. While it’s not the Danny Devito starring role that fans have been clamouring for, this has been one of the most-discussed and intriguingly unusual choices in animated voice acting in recent memory.

As one commenter on the trailer’s main official YouTube link notes, “Ryan’s voice is already so full of Deadpool,” it’s almost hard to disentangle one character from the other by way of Reynolds using the same intonation and tone of voice. 

However, we can’t help but wonder if that’s an intentional feature, rather than something to avoid. It compels us to wonder whether and how a manner of speech can be a signature identifier, or a sonic brand of sorts, in film (as in other audiovisual media). Consider voice talents like Jim Carrey or Robin Williams across disparate franchises – it’s that familiar timbre that can woo and compel us to consider an otherwise foreign entity. Bringing in Reynolds fans, who probably wouldn’t have considered attending a Pokémon film before his inclusion as star, surely widens the target demographic for this film.

Another way to consider this inability to un-see Reynolds as the actor behind this furry filmic facade is in his noted absence – as an acousmatic force. Acousmatic sound is that which one hears, but for which one cannot see the originating cause. Most film music, truthfully, is derived this way, such as through the art of foley – special effects in sound, such as tinfoil used to render a storm as we hear it in our mind’s eye. The art is in keeping this illusion glued together, and what you experience if not quite convinced by this pairing of Pikachu’s body and Deadpool’s voice can be thought of as an acousmatic pairing. The novelty, intrigue, and interest that results can be at least in part attributable to the trailer’s demonstrated success. (As of this writing, it is the number one trending video on YouTube with over 41 million views since published on November 12th.)

Beyond Reynolds’ voice, which is arguably the key aural selling point in the trailer, there is of course subtle but considerable allusion to the music of this twenty year old franchise. The trailer opens with a few notes that are recognizably the main Pokémon theme in the games. This is swiftly followed by a straight choice of licensed music to carry throughout most of the trailer with The Turtles’ 1967 classic “Happy Together.” The song has seen a long life in film, featuring in movies such as The Simpsons Movie (2007), Minions (2015), and Suicide Squad (2016); similarly, it’s been heard in trailers for The Great Gatsby (2013) and others. 

“Happy Together” is a staple song with a direct thematic link, and the visual montage it underscores helps distinguish what’s different and unexpected about this Pokémon film – namely, the deeply uncanny valley depths of realism in its treatment of the titular pocket monsters.

Detective Pikachu is slated to hit theatres May of 2019.

– Curtis Perry