Detective Pikachu’s trailers were full of wonderfully cute (and occasionally freaky) Pokémon – but one of the biggest reactions came with the debut of Lickitung. Or rather, Lickitung’s ginormous, gross tongue as it slathers Tim Goodman’s face with saliva. It turns out there’s actually a much creepier factoid behind that moment than Pokédrool.
We recently had the chance to speak to Pete Dionne, a VFX Supervisor at MPC who worked on bringing the Pokémon of Detective Pikachu to life. Naturally, we’re inquisitively-minded folks, so we asked the obvious: What does a Lickitung tongue actually feel like?
Turns out, the answer is babies.
“It feels like a baby’s tongue,” Dionne revealed. “Ultimately, what we ended up using was a giant, scaled-up baby’s tongue, with the same very soft, but slightly coarse texture, with the slightest level of moisture. And trust me when I say a lot of discussion went into that.”
Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) with Pikachu.
The Pokémon Company – the de facto arbiter of all things Pokémon, from games, to anime, to manga, and yes, even Detective Pikachu in its collaboration with Warner Bros. and Legendary – disapproved of the film’s lone Lickitung scene initially. Mainly due to the significant quantity of drool the licking Pokémon leaves on Tim Goodman’s face, a lighthearted moment in a grim trip for the young man as he ventures into Ryme City after receiving the news of his father’s apparent passing.
“At the core of all the Pokemon design, one thing that the Pokémon Company – who played a very active part in developing these with us – one thing that they were uncompromising on was ‘all Pokemon, no matter what the circumstances, need to remain adorable.’ That’s kind of a core, fundamental principle,” Dionne said of MPC’s relationship with the minds behind Pokémon. “So that introduced a lot of really tricky problems across many characters in the film when we tried to translate them into real life, or tried to service them when putting them in scenarios where they maybe can’t be completely adorable – or maybe we can’t dimensionalise certain aspects in a way anyone would find adorable. They were uncompromising, and we would do iteration after iteration until we found a compromise.”
According to Dionne, it was the saliva that was decidedly uncute to the Pokémon Company, so they had to tweak Lickitung’s moment in the spotlight to get it just right. “The first proposal was that [Lickitung] wouldn’t even have any saliva. Saliva is too gross,” Dionne continued. “It would just be a completely dry, soft silicone tongue, which, you know, wasn’t going to work for the whole gag.”
The baby aspect of the creature’s tongue? Fine! “So there was endless amounts of finding, ‘In nature, what is the cutest version of a tongue?’ and then finding reams of reference for that,” Dionne said. “That was kind of our design process, across the board.”