The first Pokémon live-action movie, Detective Pikachu, looks to be what Harry Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts should have been. Critics' early reactions to Detective Pikachu are that it's a great cinematic start for such an iconic franchise; with Pikachu himself voiced by Ryan Reynolds, the movie is said to be joyful, fun, completely crazy and utterly adorable it sounds. It's fair to say Warner Bros. seem to have nailed the concept of a live-action Pokémon movie, so why did they fall so short with another lucrative and hugely popular franchise, Fantastic Beasts?
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them introduced Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, a bumbling, shy, awkward Magizoologist who was fascinated by any and all magical creatures. In the first movie, he accidentally left his magical suitcase open, and a slew of fantastic beasts rampaged across 1920's New York, setting up a franchise all about the adorable side of the Wizarding World. However, J.K. Rowling took fans down a different path, choosing instead to focus on the dark wizard Grindelwald, played by Johnny Depp. Depp's continued inclusion in the franchise is problematic enough, but Rowling's continued efforts to tie everything back to Harry Potter is resulting in each movie getting messier.
The second movie, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, gave us a meandering menagerie of plotlines which often made little to no sense, strange character decisions and a weak performance from Depp. Worst of all, the very title of the franchise, Fantastic Beasts, seemed redundant; it actually featured very little in the way of creatures, with Newt only used as a prop to move the Grindelwald/Dumbledore plot along.
Compare that to Detective Pikachu, where just in the trailers hundreds of Pokémon run amok all over the place while Pikachu and his friend Tim (Justice Smith) try and track down the father of the latter. On paper, devoid of any franchise considerations, they're very similar. Newt Scamander is a Pokémon trainer, only with magical creatures rather than actual Pokémon. Except for the Pokémon side of the story is dropped to focus on villain machinations that distract from the core appeal.
Movies with heart resonate with audiences, especially if they include very cute creatures such as Pikachu. Look how adored the Niffler is from Fantastic Beasts, yet he was barely used in the second movie and, given the way the franchise is going, it's likely you'll see even less of him going forward. By all accounts, Detective Pikachu embraces that side while it tells a story a little different to what most Pokémon game fans are used to.
This is only the beginning for Detective Pikachu; the start of what could to be a promising Pokémon movie franchise. As for Fantastic Beasts, Warner Bros. would do well to remember the title of their franchise and focus on that.
- Fantastic Beasts 3 (2021) release date: Nov 12, 2021
- Detective Pikachu (2019) release date: May 10, 2019