The Detective Pikachu movie has finally arrived in theaters, and the pop culture hive mind has reached a consensus: It’s good!
There’s one scene that stands out above all the rest in terms of humor, inventiveness, and sheer insanity. That, of course, is the Mr. Mime scene glimpsed in the movie’s trailers.
When the trailers first debuted, it seemed like a pretty good joke–Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) and Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) interrogate a Mr. Mime, who attempts to flummox the detective duo using his psychic miming powers. Tim and Pikachu decide to play along, and hilarity ensues as Mr. Mime gets a taste of his own medicine. But nobody guessed based on those previews how far the scene would go–or how dark it would get, as the movie briefly starts to resemble the Quentin Tarantino classic Reservoir Dogs more than something based on an animated show about kids who collect cute creatures.
Naturally, when we got the chance to chat with Detective Pikachu director Rob Letterman and star Justice Smith, we had to ask about the Mr. Mime scene. How did it come to be? What were its inspirations? And as they planned out a scene in which the movie’s heroes maybe burn a Pokemon to death with psychic fire, were they ever worried that it was getting too dark in tone?
Letterman said the inspiration for the scene was actually even “darker than Reservoir Dogs”–a movie in which, famously, Michael Madsen dances around to the song “Stuck In The Middle With You” while sawing off Kirk Baltz’s ear.
“I had to pitch it to The Pokemon Company, and I used a frame grab from Seven,” he explained, referencing the 1995 David Fincher movie about the hunt for a serial killer. The director had the art department paint Mr. Mime over Kevin Spacey during an interrogation scene, and when The Pokemon Company let him know–“miraculously,” as Letterman put it–that they were somehow OK with that tone, he went from there.
Letterman began “scouring the internet” for mime reference materials and footage, and he came across the physical comedy of New Zealand performer Trygve Wakenshaw. “I chased him down, found him in Prague, flew him to London…In rehearsal, we’d basically workshop that scene the way you do a stage play, with Trygve, until I got all the physical comedy jokes done,” Letterman recalled. The scene then evolved through countless rehearsals, with Ryan Reynolds, in facial capture gear, riffing his lines as Trygve and Smith improvised the miming.
“It sort of evolved just through performance, and the traditional way you would rehearse with the actors,” Letterman said.
“It was a lot of fun, but we definitely thought that that scene was going to get cut while we were shooting it,” Smith added. “But it ended up being a lot of people’s favorite scene in the movie. I know it’s one of my favorite scenes.”
With Smith’s performance captured, the scene went to the animators, who used Trygve’s “crazy performances” (as Letterman put it) as inspiration for Mr. Mime’s movements.
“We had the most talented effects animators around the world. They all poured a lot of love into that scene,” the director said.
Yet despite being one of Detective Pikachu’s best scenes, it almost didn’t make it into the movie at all–and Smith wasn’t the only person who thought it would get cut. “Full confession, the day we started shooting it, when Justice showed up, there was a stool and a lamp, and that was it,” Letterman recalled. “I remember Justice and I looked at each other like, ‘This is never going to work. We’re going to cut this in a second, there’s no way this is going to come together.'”
And, in fact, Letterman did try to cut the scene at one point, but the film’s producers intervened. “I tried to cut it early on,” he said. “I was like, ‘I’m not even going to bother animating. There’s no way. It’s just too weird and crazy.’ And, fortunately, the producers told me I was an idiot, and we can keep going. So, we dove in and just started to build it.”
As for whether the scene is too dark in tone, it actually seems to fit surprisingly well. Pokemon as a franchise has fans of all ages, even though you could argue that it’s primarily aimed at kids. Detective Pikachu is definitely safe for young fans as well as older ones, but with its gritty, noir-ish gumshoe vibe, it may be the most mature Pokemon’s ever been.
“I think that’s what the movie does well–it has an edge to it,” Smith said. “I think we actually embraced that, because we wanted it to have this film noir aesthetic–we wanted it to be kind of gritty.”
In that, the filmmakers definitely succeeded.
Detective Pikachu is in theaters now. Next, read our full Detective Pikachu review. Then check out how Ryan Reynolds originally wanted to play Pikachu–it could have turned out very different–and all the Pokemon Easter eggs, references, and inside jokes we spotted. We also have a video breakdown, a report from Detective Pikachu’s movie set, and the Pokemon Go tie-in event that’s happening this week.