“Get me the hell out of here!” may be the last thing we ever expected to hear Pikachu say. Yet everyone’s favorite electric Pokémon exclaims this exact phrase in this summer’s Pokémon Detective Pikachu — a far cry from his classic, ever-adorable “Pika Pika!”
In many ways, the movie was a radical concept for The Pokémon Co. International. The idea of Pikachu having a voice (let alone the voice of a top Hollywood celebrity such as Ryan Reynolds) and moving around the real world was unprecedented for the brand and its characters.
The film, based on last year’s 3DS video game Detective Pikachu, hit theaters back on May 10. Its debut followed massive social media hype and a wild array of promotional material — from trailers set to throwback jams such as “Holding Out for a Hero” and “Happy Together” to a mock-serious video in which Blake Lively recounts her husband Reynolds’ over-commitment to his role.
Despite the movie’s unique sense of humor, which was evident from its first trailer, Detective Pikachu also leans heavily into classic Pokémon nostalgia, introducing characters fans have loved for more than two decades in an entirely new visual way.
As J.C. Smith, senior director of consumer marketing for The Pokémon Co. International, explains, the movie needed to satisfy not only Pokémon’s traditional family-friendly demographic, but also the older fans who grew up with the franchise. “Kids are going to love this movie and their parents are going to have just as much fun seeing it with them,” he says. “It’s visually stunning and features a compelling story full of adventure and, of course, lots of iconic Pokémon as they’ve never been seen before.”
When it came time to create merchandise for the movie, blending these elements of fun and nostalgia was key. The Pokémon Co. decided to continue working with two of its existing partners — Wicked Cool Toys (WCT) and Mattel’s MEGA Contrux line — as well as new partners including Buffalo Games and Controller Gear to produce Detective Pikachu products.
Smith says WCT, which was named The Pokémon Company International’s master toy licensee back in 2017, was a “no brainer” for Detective Pikachu products. The company produced a variety of new toys and collectibles for the movie, including figures, plush, and a talking Pikachu.
Despite being a toy company, WCT’s Gerhard Runken, vice president of marketing and brand strategy, says the product line and its catchy black brick and neon packaging isn’t just for kids. “We don’t think we’ve alienated either the superfan, the collector, or someone who is just new to the series,” he says. “We think the line really covers it for everybody.”
Runken says the movie’s unique tone did impact the products, especially the Movie Feature Plush, which features both Pikachu’s classic “Pika Pika” phrase and Ryan Reynolds’ voice. This, he says, is a whole new way for fans to interact with the character.
“For us to be able to create something and tape those iconic phrases that you’re going to see in the movie really gives Pikachu almost a new personality that Ryan Reynolds has really developed,” Runken says. “He’s fun, he’s a little sarcastic, he’s got a different sense of humor. But he’s still that partner, your best friend, which the fans have grown to love.”
In addition to licensed products, The Pokémon Co. created Detective Pikachu merchandise of its own through The Pokémon Center and the Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG).
For the Pokémon Center, which is the premier destination for Pokémon clothing and accessories, Smith says the team had a lot of fun creating products that “feature subtle references to settings and scenes from the movie trailers.” The lines released for the movie included the Hi-Hat Café collection, based on a coffee shop the characters frequent, and the Ryme City 10-Year Anniversary line.
“It’s fun way for fans to show their love for Pokémon but in a subtle, ‘in the know’ kind of way,” Smith says. “And, since these items were revealed when only the trailers were out, they also helped frame what settings and themes fans can expect from the movie, adding to the excitement and anticipation.”
Conversely, Smith says the other popular item is perhaps the least subtle of them all: the Detective Pikachu Plush Ears Hat, which is styled after Pikachu’s detective hat from the movie and features his iconic yellow ears.
Detective Pikachu and his hat also star in the new TCG line, which The Pokémon Co. rolled out in the months leading up to the movie. There were 27 cards to collect, with the final card, featuring Detective Pikachu, only available to purchase in theaters during the movie’s opening weekend.
These new cards are fun to simply collect and look at, but they are also completely compatible with all other Pokémon TCG decks. According to Smith, they are valid for anything from a casual match with friends to an official Play! Pokémon TCG competition.
Clint Walker, director of merchandising at video game retailer GameStop, expects all Detective Pikachu products to do well in stores this year, but expects growth in the trading cards specifically. “We really are looking at [the movie release] to be a potential halo effect on our assortment, similar to what we experienced with Pokémon Go,” he says.
Smith says creating these new TCG cards for the movie was an easy and early decision for the company, and one that helped generate excitement.
“The reveal of the cards in the press and on social media provided some of the earliest and clearest depictions of Pokémon as they’re seen in the movie,” he says. “It was a lot of fun to provide some of these early looks at the Pokémon through something as classic as the Pokémon TCG.”
This concept of reveals and secrecy was — as with most of this year’s major entertainment properties — an important aspect of building hype for the movie. The Pokémon Co. kept tight-lipped about which characters would appear, revealing new Pokémon in each promo video and trailer.
Perhaps the biggest reveal was the inclusion of Mewtwo, a Psychic-type Legendary Pokémon who didn’t appear until the second official trailer. Runken says WCT played a role in these secrets, keeping any and all Mewtwo merchandise tightly under wraps, even at trade shows such as Toy Fair New York.
Overall, Runken says the process of creating products was a creative challenge in many ways. The turnaround was fast, and the required level of secrecy and attention to detail were intense. However, he says The Pokémon Co. was great to work with. Marketing the products was also incredibly easy, thanks to the movie’s social media traction, with the stars even showcasing the WCT products on their personal accounts.
Plus, Runken’s personal love of Pokémon made the entire experience exciting. Recalling the first time WCT got to see early footage from the movie, he says everyone at the company “kind of geeked out.”
“They’ve really given the fans just a new way to engage and something that’s just unexpected,” he says. “For a fan or a superfan, it’s almost like Christmas morning … You’re unboxing this whole new adventure with these characters that you’ve been in love with for 20 years.”
This article was originally published in the Pop Insider’s Winter 2019 Issue No. 3, click here to read more!
Photos: Warner Bros.