The 'Sonic' Trailer's Muddled Nostalgia

A broad comedy-focused Jim Carrey, 'Gangsta's Paradise' and other '90s relics power the first look at the video game adaptation.

There’s something to be said for the power of nostalgia, especially when it comes to a property that is, for many, tied to a particular time and place. With that in mind, perhaps it’s unsurprising that the first trailer for Sonic the Hedgehog should feel quite so much like a relic of the 1990s, in that he first debuted in 1991 on the Sega Genesis home console. And yet …

The 1990s feel to the trailer comes in a multitude of flavors: The cartoonish nature of the plot, which apparently involves a meet cute between a well-meaning, handsome cop and … a cocky blue alien who has to save the planet? Actually, that harkens back to an even earlier era, as anyone who grew up on 1980s kids' sci-fi in movies (E.T., Mac and Me) or television (Benji, Zan and the Alien Prince) could tell you. Similarly out of sync with the rest of the trailer is the meeting of military officials, which again feels like something from an '80s movie with low budgets and simplified ideas of how such meetings run, or the inexplicable joke about kidnapping kids in duffle bags, which … how did that make it into a movie in 2019?

But then we get to the two biggest signifiers of the 1990s fetish in the entire thing: Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” and Jim Carrey, going as broad as he did in any of his earliest big screen roles. Yet both of these are curiously out of step with Sonic as a property; Carrey’s big breakthrough year was 1994, when Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask and Dumb and Dumber came out (Yes, they were all in the same year, which is somewhat astounding to think about now), whereas “Gangsta’s Paradise” wasn’t released until 1995. By that point, Sonic had already been featured in 10 games.

Perhaps Sonic is just a product of the same hazy nostalgia that Captain Marvel was full of; a version of the 1990s in which dates run muddily together and there’s just a sense that, as long as you namedrop the right brands and play the right songs, everything will work out just fine in the end. And this is a trailer that targets nostalgia. I mean, there's the shot of Sonic popping a cassette into a boom box. (Again, shouldn’t that be a CD and a Discman? Or perhaps my own sense of nostalgia is kicking in here.) Would the audience who are truly nostalgic for all that stuff really want to see something that looks as toyetic as this movie, though?

(A brief digression about the design of Sonic as a character; as many have already pointed out, portraying Sonic as something so anthropomorphized that “the Hedgehog” part of his name seems more like an attempt to justify a trademark than a recognizable description is a choice that is, at best, as bold as it is inexplicable. And it is inexplicable: With how unrealistic and childlike the rest of the trailer looks — that conversation between Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik and Neal McDonough’s Major Bennington! — why couldn’t Sonic look like the cartoonish blue hedgehog fans know him as? Why make him into a strange half-man, half-who-knows-what with worryingly human teeth? It’s almost the opposite of toyetic; it’s cute disassociated body horror.)

If the ambition of the first Sonic the Hedgehog trailer was to get people talking about the movie, then it’s obvious that it’s done its job — social media has been buzzing with confusion since the trailer dropped this morning. In that respect, it’s actually impressive to see something replace Avengers: Endgame in the cinematic nerd conversation so completely so quickly after the latter’s release.

On the other hand, if the ambition had been to convince people that Sonic is a movie that lived up to expectations of fans and brought the character to life in a similarly thrilling way as, say, Detective Pikachu’s trailers, then, well, there’s always time to go and watch the Detective Pikachu trailers a few more times before that movie hits theaters!

Sonic the Hedgehog will be unleashed in November, meaning that there’s still time to fix things if we’re lucky.

  1. by Graeme McMillan , Borys Kit