Review: When Whales Walked

There’s a delightful little documentary about some of Earth’s evolutionary history on PBS called When Whales Walked. Looks like it was originally released in June 2019, though I just stumbled across it a little bit ago. It uses a combination of nature footage, extensive interviews with scientists, views of fossil digs and museum displays, and a bit of paleoart and CGI reconstructions to tell the tale of the evolution of crocodiles, birds, whales, and elephants. It’s just under two hours total, with roughly a quarter dedicated to each story. I rather enjoyed it.

You might think I’m here for the dinosaur content, with the origin of birds, but that’s a story I know reasonably well, and so while I think it was well-told, it was the least intriguing section for me personally. But I learned a bit about crocodiles, whales, elephants, and their ancestries, and it was all enjoyable and engaging. The interviewed scientists worked in a variety of fields, including biology and paleontology and genetics, and it seemed that the producers tried to seek out more diverse voices, even though I believe white men still represented the majority of speakers. The show hops around to a variety of locations, like an underwater cave in Madagascar in search of the remains of horned crocodiles, European fossil collections of ancient whale ancestors and Asian collections of early birds, and sites in Africa to observe living elephants and fossil digs of their ancestors.

There were some enjoyable depictions of various prehistoric creatures, but thankfully the show was more focused on letting scientists talk about how they’ve learned more about these animals and their connections, so it was as informative as it was entertaining. And the show managed to use the evolution of these creatures to point out how precarious their living lines are, how close to losing many of them forever we are. It made the prehistoric past immediately relevant to the present, and after seeing how special these animals are, the idea of losing them forever really hits home.

When Whales Walked is a great nature/science documentary that inspires curiosity and care. I’d recommend it to anyone!

Reviews – Adventure Time: Obsidian, Soul, and WW84

Adventure Time: Obsidian is even better than BMO, delivering an even more emotional story that continues to show the healing relationship that Marceline and Princess Bubblegum continue to work at. I was surprised and delighted by how clearly, unmistakably queer and romantic their relationship was here (where it was only subtly implied through most of the show), and by how normal that relationship was portrayed as (you know, the weird part being that one’s a vampire/demon and the other’s a sentient candy avatar).

Obsidian also really showed how both Marceline and PB had grown and overcome many of their earlier traumas. They were more mature and able to adapt to tensions and stressors to become stronger together by the end. That’s not to say that this is purely focused on emotions and relationships (though there were some tearjerker moments for me); there were some excellent action sequences throughout and plenty of weird and imaginative characters and creatures.

I really want to scream about the implications of the appearance of some characters at the end of the episode, but since I’m rounding up a few short reviews here, I’ll keep that spoiler-free. But oh boy, there are some interesting questions raised.


Soul was a really good movie about what it means to find purpose and meaning in life, offering up a bit of introspection in the context of a unique portrayal of the spiritual realm. The film tracks a middle-aged music teacher and aspiring jazz artist (portrayed by Jamie Foxx) who dies just after landing his big break. Determined to get back to his body and fulfill his perceived purpose, he escapes the imminent Great Beyond and falls into the Great Before, where souls’ distinctive traits are forged. He eventually encounters an old soul (Tina Fey) who refuses to ever leave for a life on Earth, and they agree to work together so that he can go back and the old soul can stay out of living for good. They both figure out some things about themselves, about what makes life worth living and fighting for, and about when you have to let something or someone go. It’s a Pixar movie, so I sobbed hysterically at the end. My wife and I realized that the last time I’d cried so hard at a movie, it was Inside Out. But then I also cried at Onward and Coco and The Good Dinosaur just in the last few years, so I guess the point is that (A) I cry a lot and (B) Pixar movies are crafted in a way to really hit me (and I think most people) right in the gut. If you have Disney+, watch Soul!


Wonder Woman 1984 was fun to watch, it had a strong theme (unchecked desire leads us to lie to ourselves and warp the best of intentions to bad ends), it had some good fight sequences, it had a couple of emotional moments, and yet it was troubled by some head-scratching plot beats and an over-liberal usage of deus ex machina.

There was a particular type of perceived problem, however, that I didn’t feel actually existed in the film. I’d seen concern expressed on social media about apparent racist undertones to the movie, particularly a vilification of men of color in favor of a narrative about white women’s empowerment, but I felt that those concerns were overstated and somewhat misleading in favor of generating outrage and controversy. I recognize that as a white man, I have blind spots to issues like race and gender, but the concerns raised seemed to inaccurately characterize what happened in the movie.

I thought the film’s very transparent examination of desire was interesting. Set in the consumerist excesses of the ’80s, Wonder Woman’s biggest battle is not with an enemy but with desire, her own and others’. She makes a desperate plea at one point to not give up her greatest love again, declaring that she gives so much and she deserved this one thing. She must ultimately make that sacrifice nonetheless to be the hero she needs to be. I thought that was an interesting opportunity to hold the mirror up to our own lives, how we tell ourselves that we deserve something or other because of all we do, how commercials often suggest that we have earned a special reward or convenience we can purchase simply because we exist and do the things all humans must do. It gives you something to chew on after the movie, I suppose, but it’s hardly a revelatory concept, and I imagine the point will be rejected by many (and is more than a little ironic in an industry context, given its method of delivery in a major blockbuster superhero movie that will serve as escapism for many and primarily exists to generate profits for the studio and its corporate backers).

My wife loved the movie, but she’s not the one writing the review. I thought it was fine, though I get what appealed to her about it. I’m sure this movie will continue to generate a lot of reactions, if not a lot of deep thought or serious conversation. It’s not a vital film, but it remains entertaining throughout.

Holiday Special

Happy holidays, everyone! If you’re looking for something different to watch instead of or in addition to the old holiday classics, might I suggest The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special? It’s heartwarming, cheeky, and fun. Its time-traveling shenanigans don’t make a whole lot of sense, but Star Wars, especially its Lego alternate version, doesn’t always make sense. No deeper analysis here; this was a cute little movie appropriate for the whole Star Wars-loving family, and it’s far more watchable than the non-Lego version.

Review: Love and Monsters

I heard something favorable about this movie yesterday, watched the trailer, and opted to watch it with a purchase on Amazon Prime. It was worth it. I found out only after watching that it was released via video on demand on Friday, so this is a rare example where I’m actually writing about a topical piece of pop culture.

Love and Monsters is easy to talk about because while it’s a refreshingly funny and thrilling coming-of-age story focused on relationships and emotions, and it’s dealing with a post-apocalyptic world with its own lore to explain how cold-blooded animals rapidly mutated into horrific monsters, the narrative is simple. Joel (played by Dylan O’Brien) has lived with a small group of survivors in the seven years since these monsters erupted onto the world stage. He feels alone and out-of-place in his group, though he loves his found family, and after freezing in the face of a monster breach and realizing that he could soon die alone, he decides to go on a seven-day overland journey to reunite in person with his old high school girlfriend, Aimee (Jessica Henwick), who he’s managed to reconnect with over the radio. He sets out, ill-prepared for what awaits him. Along the way, he meets fellow survivors that he bonds with, develops the skills and inner strength needed to make it in this dangerous new world, and learns the value he had within himself and his small community all along. It’s heartwarming, intimate, and optimistic, a tale of what normal humans can do, and it promises that even in the face of the apocalypse, we can adapt and overcome. In that way, it joins a small subgenre of optimistic disaster/monster movies, including Pacific Rim, Zombieland, and Monsters (a fairly generic title for Gareth Edwards’s 2010 kaiju invasion/relationship flick–and arguably the least relevant to this list, given the ambiguity of the opening/ending).

Love and Monsters is a straightforward tale, told well by director Michael Matthews and screenwriters Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson. There’s a lot of heart and humor in it, and Dylan O’Brien does a great job conveying a variety of emotions in a range of contexts, which is vitally important in a film built around him, especially when he is so often alone. His most constant company is a dog named Boy, who like every character in the movie is dealing with a traumatic loss; Boy refuses to go anywhere without a red dress, a memento of his missing and presumably deceased former caretaker. Boy steals every scene he’s in. He’s such a smart, good, loyal Boy. The relationship between Dylan and Boy becomes perhaps the central relationship, more so than Dylan’s relationship with his former colony or Aimee or his deceased parents, and rivaled only by his relatively brief traveling companions, an adoptive father-daughter team of hardened survivalists played by Michael Rooker and Ariana Greenblatt. Impressively, the film is not a love story played straight; Dylan finds his relationship to Aimee changed, just as he is changed by his journey. (It’s a nice touch that the big romantic gesture isn’t necessarily received as such or in the same spirit, while the unrequited love interest remains likeable, charismatic, and competent.)

Monster designs are creepy and creative too, with grotesque and giant versions of frogs, millipedes, ants, and so on. They don’t always have a great sense of grounding in a physical space, and sometimes they appear a bit plasticky, but overall they look good.

I don’t really have more to say. Love and Monsters is simply good fun, in thrilling packaging.

Harley Quinn Fever

Thanks to HBO Max, my wife and I have now watched Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) and the Harley Quinn animated series. We loved them both.

My wife prefers Margot Robbie’s depiction, and Robbie is certainly doing a fantastic job, really raising the profile of the character in the public consciousness and providing a fun, whimsical, zany take. She was fun in Suicide Squad, but that movie had plenty of baggage. Birds of Prey is starring, written, and directed by women and presents its female antiheroes as flawed, bizarre, unusual birds of a feather, portrayed as complex and whole people, with a general avoidance of the male gaze. Quinn is coming off a breakup with the Joker, bouncing back from heartbreak, moving on from a life in the supervillain’s shadow, and finding both freedom and danger now that she is out of the Clown Prince of Crime’s bubble. She quickly becomes wrapped up in the lives of three other women and a young girl who are all caught up in taking down the criminal organization of the chillingly psychopathic Black Mask. The narrative chronology is a little more twisted up than it needs to be, but filtered through the unreliable narration of Harley Quinn, the film’s a blast. While the Joker is a driving force behind who Harley Quinn is at the start of the film, he’s entirely absent. This is largely to the film’s benefit, as it can then be about Harley and her new “friends,” but it is a curious choice, given that the film presents itself as a continuation of the same character from Suicide Squad. Sure, the Joker’s not good for Harley, and he was just as monstrous to Dr. Quinzel as any other version of the character, but the two seemed closely bonded and reciprocally loyal. What changed between them?

I really enjoyed Birds of Prey, but I actually favor Harley Quinn. This show provides Harley, voiced here by Kaley Cuoco, a little more autonomy from the get-go, as it is she who breaks up with the abusive Joker. He puts quite a lot of effort into getting her back at first, and then trying to kill her, and then trying to use her, but thanks to her close friendship with Poison Ivy, she is able to persevere and move on, forming her own criminal crew first to get back at Joker and later to do her own thing. Cuoco endows the character with considerable up-beat manic energy, sometimes disrupted by a depressive low (often when finally taking a moment to contemplate how her actions have hurt someone else, or how the Joker or her parents have traumatized her in some way), and sometimes masked in her conversation with Joker in cutesy line delivery straight out of Batman: The Animated Series. One of the things I’ve enjoyed in the series is how it draws on a variety of past representations of characters to distill something new, like the elements of Quinn drawn from that older series, among other comic and film interpretations. Other great examples: Bane is basically a parody of his The Dark Knight Rises version (with some DCAU influence mixed in), Lex Luthor feels straight out of the DCAU, Joker’s appearance changes over the show’s timeline to mirror different versions of the character, Kite Man has his “Hell yeah” catchphrase from his more recent comics incarnation, and Mr. Freeze is given an arc that at first appears to subvert his tragic story from the DCAU only to ultimately play it straight. Some versions of characters are just wacky and new: Commissioner Gordon is a shadow of his former self, lonely and rambling, teetering on the edge of insanity; the Penguin is a hardened criminal mastermind but also something of a family man; the Riddler is a little unhinged, a little weird, quite the survivor, and eventually really buff. The mixing of backgrounds and characterizations, and references to deep cuts from the comics and shows, quickly establishes a rich and varied timeline, of which we’ve only seen bits and pieces. It makes Harley Quinn and her gang feel like just a small (though significant) part of a much bigger world, benefiting from the depth of accumulated storytelling to quickly achieve a sense of a lived-in setting in a way that Justice League Unlimited and Young Justice also used to great effect. And I especially like that under all the layers of comics lore, the show is still fundamentally about a woman figuring out who she really is as she sets out in a newly independent life and tries to set aside the traumas of her past. There are only two seasons so far, but I sure hope we get more of the show.

Both of these versions of Harley Quinn are very good. The former is a good movie and the latter is a good show. I recommend them both. You can easily watch them both on HBO Max now. (Blessedly, Warner Media is moving away from the DC Universe / HBO Max divide. For all the evils of these mega corporations, the least they could do is provide all their television and movie offerings on a single streaming service.)

Review: Onward

Onward‘s trailers didn’t seem very funny or interesting to me. But it came out so quickly on Disney+, and enough people seemed to enjoy it, so my wife and I watched it over Saturday afternoon. I haven’t been so surprised by a film in a while; it was a cathartic, emotionally satisfying, delightful movie that I didn’t expect in the least.

In a very broad sense, Onward is to tabletop roleplaying as Wreck-It Ralph is to video games: an animated family film that takes a pop culture subgenre and builds a mythology around it. Both movies also become stories about sibling relationships (one a found family, one by blood), told over a quest narrative full of zany adventure. I feel that Onward is the more heartfelt film, perhaps because it is a more tailored tale that doesn’t fixate too much on winking references to its pop culture subject matter.

In the world of Onward, the fantasy setting of games like Dungeons & Dragons is the actual history of the realm. Magic was a powerful tool, a gift only present in some and difficult to master. Developing technology made things easier for everyone, however, and magic was gradually phased out. The film’s story picks up in something resembling our modern world, if it was built atop such a rich fantasy setting and populated by elves and cyclopes, goblins and trolls, manticores and minotaurs, pixies and centaurs, unicorns and dragons. The big tabletop RPG of this world, Quests of Yore, is if D&D were a historically accurate wargame.

The protagonists of this alternate-universe story are awkward high-schooler Ian (Tom Holland), his uninhibited (and Quests of Yore-obsessed) older brother Barley (Chris Pratt, in a role that can best be described as early aughts Jack Black), and their supportive mother Laurel (Julia Luis-Dreyfus). The family has done its best to adjust since father Wilden passed away even before Ian was born. However, on Ian’s sixteenth birthday, Laurel brings down a gift from Wilden that had been stowed away for the day when both of the boys had come of age. That gift, it turns out, is a wizard’s staff, an elemental enhancement known as a Phoenix Gem, and a spell that should allow Wilden to return for one day.

After Barley fails to get the spell to work, despite his encyclopedic knowledge of magic from Quests of Yore, the family dejectedly moves on. But Ian inadvertently discovers that he has the magic gift; since he’s untrained, the spell only works halfway, bringing back the bottom half of their dad and destroying the Phoenix Gem. Barley and Ian team up on a quest using Barley’s old van to track down a new Phoenix Gem and complete the spell so that they have at least a few hours to see their dad. Laurel soon gets involved when she returns home to find her sons missing, and her urgency increases when she learns that the gem they’re hunting carries a lethal curse. The movie deftly juggles between the boys and the pairing of Laurel with The Manticore (Octavia Spencer), a former warrior turned frazzled restaurant owner. Added to that mix, Laurel’s new centaur boyfriend, a bland, middle-aged cop named Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez) finds himself thrust into the middle of things.

The movie possesses a basic quest frame narrative, and so achieving or failing the quest is of course its central focus. The boys will either succeed or fail; since it’s a family movie, it should be no surprise that they succeed, although how exactly they succeed, and how the movie resolves its various plots, is far more surprising, heartfelt, and interesting than I ever would have expected. The brothers grow a lot and learn more about their own relationship. They both are tested in different ways to prove themselves. Ian becomes a really cool wizard (and learns how to drive!). Barley is a really cool mentor. Laurel is a true warrior at heart.

We had a lot of fun watching the movie, which is genuinely touching and hilarious in equal measures. I laughed a lot. And something about the movie’s emotional heart got me to cry several times throughout. It was a beautiful family movie and just what I needed. I hope you get something special out of it too.

Some Sunday Star Wars thoughts

I’m obviously very delighted by the return of The Clone Wars. It’s wild to reflect on how my relationship with the show has evolved–and how I’ve evolved as a person. I think I’ve already beat that drum on this site before, though. It’ll be interesting to see how much the show’s conclusion crosses over with Revenge of the Sith. And the whole season is a fascinating artifact, partially prepared while Lucas was still involved in the series. To what extent? How much does the final season reflect his vision for The Clone Wars, or for Star Wars overall? If we talk about Lucas’s vision for Star Wars, is that the saga films plus TCW, or all that minus the last season? (What about the Ewok movies, which he prepared stories for and in which he served as executive producer?)

And what of Dave Filoni? He’s often been presented as sort of the storytelling heir to George Lucas, but he’s of course coming to Star Wars with his own perspective and impulses. I find myself viewing Rebels as closer to what George Lucas would have done with Star Wars if he stuck around–but is that right? (I could see something like Underworld having gone the animation route eventually.) How does Lucas privately view the state of Star Wars today? Does he feel his vision is most fully realized through some particular media or through a specific story or through an individual storyteller? Or is he still mostly just bitter about the loss of creative control in the sale?

I think it’s safe to say that the films don’t track with how he would have wanted the story to go, for better or worse. I find myself increasingly viewing every non-Lucas-involved project as another Expanded Universe franchise deviation, a way to keep money flowing into the machine. At one point, that was guided by a flawed auteur with a unique vision, who still seemed to enjoy making his own Star Wars projects in his own sandbox. In Kathleen Kennedy, there is some sense of continuation, but I get the impression that she’s better at getting movies made than being a storyteller. And I think she’s done an overall good job of shepherding the franchise post-Lucas! But while Lucas did not write his movies all by himself, and while he didn’t even direct all of them, he still was the man behind the story throughout his films. The books and comics and games could do their own thing because they weren’t his story; there was room for others to dabble in his universe, but he still held the keys to the most visible presentations of that galaxy far, far away.

I think that there’s something lost in the removal of the single, personal vision. Still, creators like Dave Filoni and Rian Johnson (and the creative team behind The Mandalorian, including Filoni but also Deborah Chow, Rick Famuyima, Bryce Dallas Howard, Taika Waititi, and of course showrunner Jon Favreau) certainly show the benefit of other perspectives bringing their own personal ethos to the franchise. No version of Star Wars is perfect. Every creator brings their own flaws, and the fundamental nature of the franchise is to filter through so much pop culture history that it’s hard to keep problematic elements entirely out of the distillation process. But these creators feel like they’re bringing something new and fresh to the franchise. For that matter, I think there’s a lot of good content in Star Wars literature, and there are probably more consistent successes by a more diverse range of artists now than in the old Expanded Universe–especially when keeping in mind that this is only about eight years from the reboot and corporate transition (wow, it’s almost been a decade already?). In contrast, J.J. Abrams’s films, though fun to watch, bring nothing of substance–they feel more like the production-by-committee, formulaic Marvel movies that have grown so stale for me.

What’s my point? I don’t know for sure (and writing without a point is probably always bad writing). This is something I return to every now and then, and I think that I’m just barely scratching at much deeper conversations about the nature of art, including pop art, and consumerism and popular culture and late-stage capitalism and nostalgia that have been explored in much greater length by many other writers over time. I guess I find myself returning to my hesitancy about the great beast of manufactured pop content that Star Wars represents. It’s funny that my concerns dissipated somewhat after the purchase by Disney. I guess I was just hopeful for the reset. Here we are, though. I’m not bitter. And I’m certainly not over Star Wars, Disney or otherwise. This isn’t a manifesto. Just half-formed reflection born out of equal parts eagerness and uneasiness.

Thankfully, the release of expectation, the recognition that this Disney era of Star Wars isn’t exactly “official,” no matter who “owns” Star Wars, allows me to enjoy the stories I want and to disregard the rest. It’s been a few years in the making, but I’ve cooled in my urge to simply consume every new “canon” Star Wars story coming out. (A seemingly impossible goal at this point, given how many stories have piled up and in light of my persistent refusal to read solely new Star Wars content.) I doubt that this will be the last time that I touch on the subject, but I don’t know if I’ll ever find a satisfactory conclusion to it.

Review: Sonic the Hedgehog movie

For Valentine’s Day, my wife and I saw Sonic the Hedgehog. Okay, that sounds like a terrible Valentine’s Day date, perhaps, but if you know my wife well, you know that she’s long loved the blue blur. I’m glad we went because she really liked the movie. However, I did not.

I didn’t hate it. It’s a middle-of-the-road, family-friendly comedy adventure. Ben Schwartz does a very good impression of Jaleel White’s Sonic, turned up to an obnoxious degree of hyperactivity, loneliness, and selfishness. James Marsden is Tom Wachowski, Sonic’s reluctant protector and partner, a small-town sheriff thrust into a larger-stakes scenario just as he prepares to leave that small-town life behind; he’s more charming here than he was as Cyclops. Jim Carrey is peak Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik, and most of the best moments in the film revolve around him. There are a few other solid supporting characters, including Tom’s supportive wife (Tika Sumpter) and his bumbling but good-natured deputy (Adam Pally), Robotnik’s long-suffering sidekick (Lee Majdoub), and the town’s lunatic hunter appropriately named Crazy Carl (Frank C. Turner). There aren’t really any bad performances. There aren’t really any slow moments (fast-paced is only appropriate for a Sonic film). There are plenty of jokes that fall flat, but just as many that landed a good laugh.

The story is remarkably bland and not much dependent upon Sonic as a character. In this version, Sonic grew up on an island that resembled Green Hills Zone. He was raised by a new character, an owl named Longclaw. His great speed represented an unusual power in the universe, and Longclaw wanted to hide it, but the reckless young speedster relished in racing about his home. Echidna hunters track him down and attempt to capture him. They mortally wound Longclaw, who supplies Sonic with a bag of dimension-hopping rings and tells him to keep jumping from planet to planet whenever he is discovered. The rings open portals to whatever place Sonic thinks about.

Time passes, and Sonic develops a quiet and comfortable life outside the small town of Green Hills, Montana. In a moment of exasperation and despair over his loneliness, he supercharges himself and unleashes a powerful EMP blast that knocks out power throughout the northwestern United States. The U.S. government deploys Robotnik, an unstable but brilliant scientist, to track down the source of the blast. Sonic prepares to run, but through a series of unfortunate events, he is tranquilized by Tom. As he passes out, he thinks of the city depicted on Tom’s shirt–San Francisco. Unfortunately, this activates a dropped ring, and his bag of rings falls in. Now he’s stuck on Earth unless he can get to San Francisco and track the bag down. When he awakens, he enlists Tom’s aid to escape Robotnik until he can fully recover, and then he ropes him into a road trip to San Francisco when he points out that no matter how fast he can run, he doesn’t know where he’s going.

Tom and Sonic form a friendship despite all obstacles in their way. The biggest obstacle is Sonic, who is truly very annoying. But Sonic and Tom do help each other to grow over the course of the film, and Sonic becomes slightly less annoying as he actually develops real connections with other people. Robotnik, on the other hand, becomes increasingly insane and destructive. The day is saved through the power of small town living and friendship.

It’s a pandering, soggy mess with plenty of moments that don’t make a whole lot of sense. It relies on excessive use of the frozen-time sequences popularized by depictions of Quicksilver or the Flash (and Sonic in fact is shown reading old Flash comics), yet it often treats Sonic as operating under normal human perceptions when that’s more convenient. But that said, it’s never awful. It doesn’t feel as fresh or imaginative as Detective Pikachu. But in a world full of truly awful video game movies, Sonic the Hedgehog is unique in being merely average.

It will probably make you laugh, though you probably won’t feel much else for this movie unless you’re a fan. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion, and my wife loved it precisely for the many, many references to the franchise’s nearly thirty years of history. I’ve played enough of the games and read enough of the comics and watched enough of the shows, and most importantly absorbed enough of the characters and lore through prolonged exposure to my wife, such that I often got a thrill of recognition at the various references made. References include:

  • The opening island and town both referencing the Green Hills Zone;
  • The ubiquitous use of rings and their distinctive sound effects, including a moment when Sonic falls from an explosion and collapses among rubble and bouncing rings, much like whenever he’s damaged in the games;
  • Sonic using attacks that include his classic spin dash and a variety of jump attacks;
  • A drawing by Crazy Carl that resembles the Sanic meme;
  • The echidna hunters at the start of the game resembling Knuckles and his tribe;
  • Robotnik having blueprints for other robotic vehicles that resemble some of his boss battle vehicles from the games, and a label in his breaker panel for “Badniks,” the name for his robotic army;
  • The basic plot of the game, with Sonic teleported to Earth, allying with a local, and being chased by the military/government and Robotnik, mirroring the basic plot of Sonic X;
  • Chase sequences in the latter half of the film referencing moments from various Sonic games, including a direct visual reference to the “City Escape” level of Sonic Adventure 2;
  • The mushroom planet Sonic intends to escape to from Earth appearing to be a nod to the Mushroom Hill Zone and perhaps more barren areas of some depictions of the planet Mobius; and
  • The credits beginning over a series of pixelated animations that reinterpret the events of the film in a way that mirrors gameplay of several of the original games.

I’m sure there are other references I forgot or didn’t even catch. As an example of a reference that I definitely didn’t get, but that my wife loved: there was a cowboy hat Sonic wore that was reminiscent of a hat associated with some versions of Knuckles.

References alone don’t make a movie good, though. At best, for a recognized property, they can be a nice sort of seasoning on top. But in this case, while I enjoyed picking up on references, I found many of them to be little more than reminders of what a Sonic movie could have been. There are so many different storylines, each with their own lore, and so many characters that could have been used. Instead, we take Sonic out of his element. While Sonic mostly feels right, and Carrey’s Robotnik seems just about perfect, it’s disappointing that none of the many other characters in the Sonic ‘verse were used. I think most people who became or remained fans of Sonic in the post-3D era are fans at least in part because of the elaborate characters with their colorful designs and distinctive personalities. The shifting relationships between characters, and the core dynamics that remain the same between the central figures, keep things compelling, at least on a soap opera-type level. And we get none of that here.

The movie was fine. I don’t regret seeing it, yet I don’t have any desire to see it again. But there is something that does excite me. If you care about spoilers for this movie, this is the time to stop reading. There were two mid-credits scenes. One involved Robotnik eking out an existence on the mushroom planet, further descended into madness and more closely resembling his video game counterpart. But the one I got excited for was the second: Tails appears! Tails! When Tails showed up, I actually growled, “YES!” He looks like the perfect boy that he is. And his voice and dialogue, however brief, were perfect as well–eager, optimistic, and determined. (The voice should be perfect, given that it’s apparently Colleen Villard, who voices Tails in more recent games and in the Sonic Boom series.) He’s using some sort of electronic device to track Sonic, he’s determined to save the day, and he’s also really fast (I especially loved that component–he’s often depicted as using a plane or some other technology to keep up with Sonic, but his original incarnation in the game tailed right along with the hedgehog, and I’ve long taunted my wife with “Tails is faster” based on our experiences with Sonic the Hedgehog 2 multiplayer.) Sure, I didn’t care for this movie. But I’d love to see a sequel in which Tails and Sonic team up. Even better, I hope that they return to Sonic’s home world–and maybe they’ll have the chance to meet with some of his other classic allies. I’m not looking for a Sonic Cinematic Universe, and I don’t want it, but I would like another big-screen story or two that realizes the potential of Sonic’s many supporting characters.