Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)
PG...and that's pretty accurate. There's a bad guy. There's action. But ultimately, most of the things in Sonic are pretty tame. There might be some crude humor that I don't remember. But my son, who is a Sonic addict, was fine and he gets scared at everything. Same thing with my 20 month old. Admittedly, it was a movie with moving pictures on a big screen, so she probably would have dug anything. She also, by proxy, loves Iron Man 3. The most dangerous thing in this film is Jim Carrey hating vaccines in real life. But it's not like Dr. Eggman does a PSA about vaccines or anything, so you're fine. PG.
DIRECTOR: Jeff Fowler
It's always such a bittersweet moment when I introduce the first movie of a new year. I love writing "2020" after the film title. Soon, my list will be completely saturated with movies ending in 2020, but know that Sonic the Hedgehog was the first. It's always weird because I always say that the B / C movies come out in January in February. The studio dumps all of their amazing stuff at the end of the year to prepare for the Academy Awards, so we get the stuff that would never really be considered Oscar worthy right now. But your okay genre stuff? That comes out now.
When I saw the first trailer, like everyone else, I groaned pretty hard. Okay, everyone went ape about how Sonic looked like, but I also want to comment on the rest of that trailer. Man alive, it was rough. I don't deny that the design-change for Sonic wasn't welcome. Trust me, it does SO much for this movie. But really, the element of trying too hard was all over that film. I'm a teacher and I try to be professional when I teach, but everyone was abuzz when that trailer came out for how bad it was. It played "Gangsta's Paradise" over itself, which had to be the worst pick for that trailer I could imagine. My students kept talking about how bad the trailer was and then, I just did something simple. I took the volume out from underneath the trailer when "Gangsta's Paradise" started and replaced it with Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone."
Do you know how much that fixed? I am going to talk about how Sonic the Hedgehog, as a film, is better-than-it-should-be-but-not-amazing-but-that's-okay, but I also want to stress how corporate some things feel and that can ultimately detract from people watching it. I honestly believe the old corporate model has to be thrown out. I've lambasted Sony for being the most corporatey-corporate that ever corporated. But the trailer for the Sonic movie just felt like "this is what kids like" written by a bunch of adults in suits who have ignored their own kids for so long that those kids wouldn't show up for their funerals. (One of the darkest things that I've written in the process of analyzing a kid's movie. You. Are. Welcome.)
But now that I'm past the trailer, I want to say that Sonic mostly works. People have been going up and down and screaming about how good Jim Carrey is. He's better than I was ready for. He's not good. I will not go that far. In fact, I might say that he's the weakest part of this movie. There are so many moments where he's just being Jim Carrey and I guess that works. It only really services the film because the movie lives and dies on its joke writing. The movie's tone is overall pretty silly. Some people might have a problem with that, but I think Sonic as a property doesn't pride itself on its tone. The Sonic movie, honestly, might only function because of its absolutely insane comfort with releasing a disappointing product. This be fightin' words, but Sonic the Hedgehog is such a product of the early-'90s that it is kind of crazy that we're so desperately trying to reproduce that product over and over again. It's only when the series goes back to formula, replicating Sega Genesis graphics that the games have any traction.
It's why the movie's opening doesn't really make a lick of sense to me. The movie opens with this really intense origin story. If you watched me in the theater, you would have seen and probably heard my eyes rolling into the back of my head. I don't know much about Sonic's origins, so I simply assumed that they were doing a deep cut to Sonic's canon. Nope. I read up and that was a completely original character background that has never existed. But it is so tonally different from the rest of the film that it really doesn't fit anywhere in the movie. Also, I would like to point out how photo-realistic that owl looks, which is hilarious because it was clearly designed pre-redesign.
But once we abandon the gravitas, the movie establishes a tone that is not beholden to anything. Instead of worrying about tying together things for the few die hard Sonic fans out there, the movie works. And do you know why it works? Besides the jokes, which mostly land, it takes absolutely zero risks. I normally would criticize a movie to death for this. Instead, what I love is that it took the road action-comedy and just filmed that. It might be the most accessible movie that I've ever seen. It establishes some new things with the Sonic lore, really playing up those bonus stages where you jump through a giant ring, and that's about the only thing you need to know besides Sonic running fast. The amount of exposition in the movie is pretty minimal. Sonic needs to get to San Francisco. He doesn't know how to get there. He needs to hang out with James Marsden to get to San Francisco and that is perfectly fine.
I was saying that Sonic's spotty history is actually in its favor. Because the original canon is borderline unexplainable, a clean slate kind of works here. It never claims to be the Sonic from the video games. That's probably why most video game movies don't work, because they are doing so much fan service to the source material. The movie tips its hat to the source material, but acknowledges that the story was never really all that great for the source stuff. Instead, Sonic is a creature of attitude and fun. That's what is focused on in the movie. There's never really a moment, shy of the first three minutes, that aren't fun. Yeah, Sonic has some actual peril that he has to deal with. But that peril is something that is relatable and easy to wrap your head around.
The movie is never going to be one of the greats, but I would totally watch a sequel with these characters. I mean, they're going to be tempted to complicate things. But that was always Sonic's problem. The more mythos that is thrown at this character, the less he works. It should always be about having a good time, having a little bit of an attitude, and running fast. It's why the 16-bit graphics always works the best with the characters. There's not too much to mess up.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.