As a massive Pokemon fan as a child (and let’s not lie, as an adult too), I keenly suggested seeing “Detective Pikachu” with some of my other equally nerdy millennials. It was great fun; a perfect mix of amazing visuals, fun, nostalgia, and hilarious moments courtesy of Ryan Reynolds. I remember there being a moment in the film which referenced the first Pokemon movie, which I vividly remember my mum taking me to see at eight years old, and I found myself feeling like I’d come full circle on this Poke-journey, now watching as an adult. Sad, I know.
I think one of the key successes of this Pokemon reboot for the new generation perhaps came from its respectful and imaginative use of the source material. Creators have tricky jobs pleasing fans, especially when it comes to large franchises. They are highly critical, resistant to change, and protective over their fandom. Fans were initially wary about the Pokemon movie becoming a 3D live-action film, when every other iteration to date has been a 2D cartoon or a video game, but this new world was vibrant and packed with tiny visual details that totally sold the new look and universe. In addition, people initially mocked Ryan Reynolds playing Pikachu, comparing him to a watered down Deadpool - but it turned out he absolutely nailed it and made the part his own.
Nostalgia keeps the brands and fandoms from our childhood alive into our adulthood. Let’s talk about another example, one of my favourite video game franchises: Final Fantasy. It is another game series that I started playing as a child, becoming hooked on the epic tales of betrayal, fantasy, and tragedy which, no surprise, affected me deeply as a teen. At that age I lived for the drama and the epic battles, and the over the top emotional moments struck a chord with me big time.
So, sitting in the Royal Albert Hall, waiting for an orchestra to start playing classic Final Fantasy songs, was probably one of the more nerdy ways I spent my Friday nights last month. There was a moment when one of the songs started, and there I was, a teenager once again playing it for the first time and honestly I think I felt a lump in my throat at the wave of nostalgia that ran through me. It does sound a bit pathetic, truth be told, to have such an emotional response to this, but I was not alone. I could hear all kinds of people around me talking and sharing their own stories and memories which the music had evoked.
This intense fan love and loyalty is probably why Square Enix has re-released one of the most iconic games of the series no less than 7 times: PS2, PS3, Vita, PS4, Switch, PC, Xbox One, and the hotly anticipated Toaster (okay, kidding about that last one). People pay to relive that experience. It’s why we are now so deep in sequels and remakes, not just in gaming but in cinema too.
However, we are also starting to see a lot of remake fatigue. Nostalgia can be used effectively brands by careful and respectful use of the source material, which sees recognisable and sentimental moments/characters enhanced not reinvented. Also consider the audience appeal it must include the original fans - new fans will not have that nostalgic forgiveness or deeper understanding. So reinventing a franchise but aiming it at a new audience is a risk. Perhaps look to the recent Sonic the Hedgehog movie announcement on how not to do that.
Nostalgia can only take us so far…