Racing to a smart TV near you, Sonic the Hedgehog is now available to rent or buy from the comfort of your own couch. For me, this movie’s been floating in my Prime cue for weeks. On a whim, I decided to watch it with my family this weekend. I can’t lie: I was impressed.
My first thought was “Holy Shit, this CGI is so much better than before.”
My second thought was “Oh shit. Ben Schwarts’ voices Sonic?” No joke, letting Jon Ralfio anywhere near my childhood nostalgia felt a bit risky. But now, I gotta admit: the man has chops. Sonic is a fun character: young, energetic, and with just enough brash confidence/sympathetic-alien-trapped-on-Earth that you can’t help but root for him.
Early on, there are plenty of easter eggs and inside jokes. Older fans will catch these references; for younger fans who don’t, it’s not a big deal. The movie proved weirdly prescient too. Toward the beginning, the story immediately dives into isolation and loneliness even whilst surrounded by people. It also presents a strong argument for the safety and security of small communities (you know, just in case you befriend an intergalactic space rodent running from the military). Finally, the unexpected importance of real high-fives hit a little closer home than expected.
I also noticed the pacing was strong. Stronger than most movies, in fact. To clarify: they start with En Media Res prolepsis, flashback to Sonic’s reason for being on Earth, and then jump in the meat of the story… all within four minutes. I timed it.
Understand, this is nuts. Most writers struggle between offering enough exposition to ground the story and not killing your opening momentum. And this is even more difficult in sci-fi/fantasy settings! But these guys? They make it look easy.
The more impressive feat though, was how well the character choices made sense. As an inherently nostalgia-based cash-grab, I was expecting a lot of PIS- Plot Induced Stupidity. The reason is fairly obvious. Why would James Marsden put his entire adult life on hold to aid and abet a blue CGI alien? Because there ain’t no story if he don’t, duh! But Sonic’s writers took the time to build believable character motivations, aligning their goals and decisions with the larger story’s structure. When a character decides to do something, we understand why. It’s a subtle skill that few notice when done well, but everyone notices when done poorly.
For everything that’s great about the writing, I must confess–my favourite part of this movie was Jim Carrey. For me, the man has always been comedy gold. His performance as over-the-top, haughty scientist “Robot Nic” is a thing of pure beauty and joy. He steals every scene he’s in. Plus, his brutal takedowns of the “townfolk” and the US brass really prove how the best villains are equal-opportunity villains. I also have to applaud the movie maker’s choice to stop and make time for a classic “Carrey solo scene.” The scene is surreal and ridiculous, an epiphanic moment for this legend to be his weirdest, fullest self, and a delightful a shot of nostalgia all its own.
To be sure, much of the movie’s pull is nostalgia. But the story stands on its own too. When Sonic accidentally scatters his rings, you’ll likely experience a knee-jerk cringe. But it won’t be for the reason you think. And sure by the end, you’ll have a hankering for Olive Garden and a Toyota Tacoma.
But ultimately, the movie is a fun and easy-going escapist story about friendship and the implications of a drone-enabled government. It hits valuable life lessons, like how to carry a super-powered hedgehog whose head is bigger than its body. Also, it stresses the importance of not taking everyday things for granted (again, weirdly prophetic…).
Simply put, if you ever enjoyed Sonic as a kid, don’t miss out on enjoying this movie.
P.S. Be sure to wait for the after-credits!