Orson Welles memorably described his final role, voicing the baddie in 1986 animation ‘The Transformers: The Movie’, as “a big toy who attacks a bunch of smaller toys”. Such dismissiveness would be way out of line in today’s moviescape. Instead, we have Ryan Reynolds assiduously promoting his new movie Pokemon Detective Pikachu on the talkshow circuit. He doesn’t take the role too seriously, but he would never dream of describing it as “a small toy who saves a bunch of bigger toys”.
Nor would we, it seems. Audiences used to dismiss movies like this as transparent product placement, purely aimed at children and set on making a fast buck, but in an era of targeted ads and Instagram #paid posts we’re increasingly surrounded by and nonplussed by brand domination. And in the current climate, instead of existing as marketing tools for toys and games (Super Mario Bros, Battleship) these types of films are getting full-on Hollywood tentpole treatment: state-of-the-art effects, A-list actors and vaguely coherent stories. You know, like proper movies.
Transformers set a precedent for this trend. The original toys were a Japanese innovation with no story attached. To market them in the US, licencees Hasbro enlisted Marvel to think one up — the whole Autobots v Decepticons thing — which they then plugged via kids’ cartoons. Decades later, Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay upgraded the “concept” to a noisy, militaristic level.
Some have mimicked the ploy brilliantly (‘The Lego Movie’) while others have diminished the collective value of human culture (‘Angry Birds’). Either way, there’s more: this year we have ‘Playmobil: The Movie’, starring Daniel Radcliffe. Followed by ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ (Jim Carrey). Then movies based on Minecraft, Barbie (starring Margot Robbie), Monopoly (Kevin Hart), Cluedo (Ryan Reynolds again), and even plans for another Super Mario Bros movie. Probably starring Daniel Day-Lewis or Leonardo DiCaprio.
As with ‘Transformers’, ‘Pokemon’ has already spun out innumerable movies and TV shows over the past two decades, none of them of the slightest interest to adults (believe me: I sat through ‘Pokemon: The First Movie’). But following the success of the Pokemon Go game, the rights to a new movie were the subject of a Hollywood bidding war, inevitably followed by an overhaul. Previously, Pikachu was a cute furry thing that could only say its own name. Now it’s Reynolds, cracking wise and channelling his ‘Deadpool’ persona. The movie around him is a lavish, live-action family caper, and the first trailer got 60 million views, which suggests it’ll do just fine.
Audiences can’t give over those bucks fast enough to see what are effectively feature-length advertisements. So did the movies get more sophisticated, or have we regressed?
Don’t mis sit!
‘Pokemon: Detective Pikachu’ releases in the UAE on May 9.