7

In Pokémon: Detective Pikachu our protagonist Tim meets up with a Pikachu that he can understand and can understand him.

By the end of the film we find out that...

The Pikachu actually contains the mind of Tim's father (via Mewtwo magic).

So why did Tim not recognize the voice that was speaking to him?

I understand that...

Tim had not seen his father in many (possibly 10+) years

But that doesn't really justify it for me.

Was Tim actually hearing a different voice than the audience or have the filmmakers commented on the matter?

10

Yep, it's a matter of Tim and his father being estranged. Director Rob Letterman talked about it in an interview given to ETonline:

ET: And you go through Tim's trauma of his father leaving and how young he was because, otherwise, you would think he would recognize his father's voice.

Rob Letterman: We disguise it. We talked about it endlessly, about, "Why doesn't he recognize his dad's voice?" There were debates. Justice and I were talking about it forever. And Ryan, like, it was a real discussion point. [Laughs] Where I ended up in my mind was it's not the voice that he's hearing, it's the connection to his father. The reason he doesn't recognize the voice, it's not the literal voice. It's that Tim is estranged from his dad and through this experience, he's getting closer and closer. That's why this voice in his head is purely an emotional connection to Pikachu. That's sort of my take on it.

'Detective Pikachu': The Director Answers All of Our Question About That Big Twist, John Boone for ET, May 13, 2019

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2

Although the movie's director seems to be under the impression that Pikachu's voice is different from Harry's voice, the novelisation (based on the script) indicates that Pikachu and Harry speak with the same exact voice. This at least confirms that the voice that Tim wasn't recognising was his father's own voice.

For the record, the voice reminds him of a TV detective, suggesting that he's been sufficiently estranged from his father to simply not remember what his voice sounds like.

"I know you can't understand me," the Pikachu said slowly in a surprisingly deep voice, kind of like the detective from the movie that had been playing. "But put down the stapler, or I will electrocute you."
"Did you just talk?!" Tim exclaimed.
He was so shocked, he dropped the stapler.

Detective Pikachu couldn't believe it, either. "Whoa! Did you just understand me? Wait—wait, wait, wait, wait. That is heavy eye contact right there. You heard me." "No, no, no. No, no, no. Stop, stop, stop, stop!" Tim shook his head, refusing to believe the impossible—that he could actually understand a Pokemon. "Yes, you did! This is amazing," yelled Pikachu, excitedly. "You can understand me, I’ve been so lonely!”

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