Sonic the Hedgehog is a theme park movie. It’s also profoundly empathetic. I’ve been earnestly considering what Martin Scorsese meant by a “theme park” movie over the last few months. My initial reaction was inflammatory as someone who deeply loves big franchise movies from Disney, I felt rebuffed and brushed off what he said as mere pretension.
After covering a few superhero flicks (Shazam!, Birds of Prey, Endgame, and so on and so forth), I started to get a sense of what Scorsese meant. It’s not that these movies don’t have heart or capture human emotion – I will never not cry at “I love you 3000.” Really, it’s that they’re so finely tuned for the sole purpose of profit that you can’t help but leave feeling suspicious that there was something a little contrived about the whole ordeal. And that intuition is probably correct, as there’s generally a ton of marketing and group testing that goes on for studio projects.
Recently, I went to Raging Waters for nostalgia’s sake. Water slides slap! The beachy vacay souvenirs are cute! Still, I left wondering if I actually liked fighting 11-year-olds for a yellow floaty thing to laze in an artificially constructed river filled with bird feathers, crusty leaves, and who knows what else. My hype about the Raging Waters brand was akin to my hype for studios like Marvel and Warner Bros, rooted in nostalgia and familiarity. My point is, theme park movies are generally fun and great for kids, but you leave wondering if you hype up the experience more than you genuinely had fun.
Back to Sonic. I came to Sonic the Hedgehog with a lot of nostalgic hype. I adored the video games growing up – Shadow the Hedgehog was my first impression of an antihero before I learned about Heathcliff or Don Draper. My brother and I watched the show on Saturday mornings together on basic cable. And Jim Carrey! I loved him in The Mask, Ace Ventura, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and The Grinch – his casting as Dr. Robotnik was *chef’s kiss*. Yet, I felt a wariness that it would be contrived to some degree. I mean, the teeth fixing debacle that led to some digital dentistry? Yeah, it’s part of a money machine with a $95 million budget.
And still, this movie delighted me, not entirely because of my hazy nostalgia for it. There’s a surprising amount of depth to it. I found myself feeling profound empathy for Sonic (Ben Schwartz), a CGI-generated blue alien hedgehog. Sonic was pushed out of his home à la Paddington Bear and forced to reckon with the profound loneliness he felt in his new home.
He just wanted a friend, which he found in Tom (James Marsden). The plot is pretty straightforward — go to San Francisco, retrieve rings, and stop Robotnik. The film lingers most of its time, perhaps wisely, developing the relationship between Tom and Sonic for laughs. The scenes at the bar and the motel room between them had me, admittedly, a tad misty-eyed. Yes, I fully realize that Marsden is an adult man talking to a CGI blue hedghog who’s not really there.
And Jim Carrey. We have to give him credit, even if Robotnik is your typical resentful genius supervillain. Carrey’s wackiness – for example, him yelling at his assistant about how he loves his lattes and him screeching upon seeing Sonic – gave the film zest. And of course, I welcome Jim Carrey just dancing around and twirling a ridiculous mustache for funsies. Carrey’s deft comedic timing lends to the light tone of the film, making it more goofy than corny.
Likewise, the side characters are also memorable in the way that Schitt’s Creek characters feel memorable, so distinct with their particular quirks. Maddie (Tika Sumpter) is the straight-laced, yoga-loving vet. Wade (Adam Pally) is the bumbly sidekick cop. Then we have Maddie’s sister Rachel (Natasha Rothwell), who even in the slightest role, draws laughter as she sternly warns Maddie about Tom. It’s a fun movie, and you can tell that the actors had fun making it.
Did Sonic the Hedgehog change cinema as I know it? No. You’re not going to find a strong central thesis about humanity here. But with the heart, easy humor, and likable performances, you won’t need to hype yourself up to enjoy the ride. And that merits at least three out of five gold rings.