If you didn’t know much about the long-running pop culture phenomenon known as Pokemon, it would be easy to assume that the blockbuster Japanese franchise is mainly for kids. But ask any of the now-adults who have been fans of Pokemon since the series’ debut on the Game Boy in the late ’90s, and you’ll find out that there are Pokemon fans who are young, old, and everything in between. And Detective Pikachu, the first ever live-action Pokemon movie, was made with all of them in mind.
Detective Pikachu director Rob Letterman has made plenty of films that you would most likely categorize as kids’ movies, from Shark Tale to Goosebumps. But as he told GameSpot, his approach to making any movie is simply to try and tell a good story, without any particular audience demographic in mind.
“I grew up with the movies in the ’80s that people say are family films, but they’re not really,” the director said. “Like Back to the Future, E.T.–when I was growing up, those were just movies, and the filmmakers didn’t target them for kids at all. They were just doing great stories and great characters. That was my childhood, loving that style of filmmaking, so that’s my approach.”
“I have kids. I’m a parent,” he said. “I go to movies with my kids, so I know what it’s like.”
Letterman’s kids have been into Pokemon cards and games for much longer than he’s been working on this movie, but the director himself missed the craze by a generation or so. The same isn’t true of Detective Pikachu star Justice Smith, who was into Pokemon as a kid just like so many fans were.
“I grew up with Pokemon,” Smith, who was born in 1995, told GameSpot. “I had all the original cards. I played Pokemon Gold growing up–that’s the first game I got for Game Boy Color. I had Pokemon Crystal. I had a lot of Pokemon games. I watched the anime.
“I have Pokemon Go on my phone right now,” he laughed.
Smith plays Tim Goodman, who teams up with his father’s former Pokemon partner, the titular sleuthing Pikachu, after Harry Goodman is killed in a car crash. It’s a dark premise that kicks the movie off on the right foot–Tim and Pikachu work to unravel the mystery of Harry’s death while navigating the perils of Ryme City, a gritty environment where Pokemon and people live together side-by-side.
Smith agreed with Letterman: Their approach was to simply tell a good story, and they focused on getting the humor right, not to mention the inherent “magic” of creating realistic-looking CG Pokemon in a live-action world.
“I think that the people who are going to go see this movie are people my age, who grew up with Pokemon, who had that nostalgia factor, who always wanted to see a live-action Pokemon film,” the actor said. “And then everyone else is like, ‘No, kids are going to go see this movie.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, are they?’ But I think it’s cool that this franchise just spans multiple generations. It bonds people regardless of age.”
The filmmakers also tried to fit in plenty of references to the original games and anime so that longtime fans would feel at home.
“I really wanted to connect it to the overall Pokemon universe,” Letterman said. “There’s a lot of references to [Pokemon: The First Movie] because that was the first Pokemon movie I watched with my kids, so that one was important to me, and Mewtwo plays a big role in this film…There’s a lot of subtle hints in there that connect us to the rest of the universe–there’s mention of the Kanto region, there’s posters in Tim’s bedroom in the background that true hardcore fans will start to read into and see how it all ties in.”
Smith was hesitant to say too much before the film’s release.
“There’s a lot of things that I really liked that we paid homage to from the anime that I don’t really want to say, because I don’t want to spoil anything,” the actor hinted–although he did point out that much like the original anime’s Ash and Misty, Tim and Lucy (Smith’s co-star, Kathryn Newton) have a Pikachu and a Psyduck. In addition, Smith pointed out that Lucy wears the red hoodie worn by Tim in the Detective Pikachu game. “There’s just Easter eggs all throughout the film–from the games, from the anime–that I think fans will enjoy–especially hardcore fans.”
“The idea is to make a movie for an audience of all ages,” Letterman explained. “That’s always been my approach. And, I also forget about that and just try to tell a story with character and human emotion in it.”
“I can’t tell you if that’s the best way to do things, but it’s the only way I can get into it,” the director continued.
Detective Pikachu hits theaters May 10. For more, check out our full movie review, our report from the movie’s set, the Pokemon Go tie-in event this week, and all the Pokemon we’ve spotted in trailers so far.