A Wild Ride from “Stagecoach” to “Sonic 2”

     At the outset of a film appreciation course I recently completed, I knew that I would watch some classic movies that I had never gotten around to. I also figured I would catch a few I was unfamiliar with. Never in my wildest dreams, though, could I have imagined that I would wind up writing a paper about “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” in the context of film history. As the saying goes, love can make you do crazy things. 

     As a man whose video game playing career blossomed in the 90s, I have a fondness for the Sega Genesis product that led to a movie some three decades later. That being said, I have also been burned by many Hollywood attempts at capturing the magic of classic video games. Maybe the technology of the 90s was incapable of properly bringing video games to the big screen, but I remember even as a kid being disappointed in the feature film versions of “Mario Brothers” and “Street Fighter.” I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for my girlfriend, I would never have watched the Sonic movies, but I did just that. We streamed the first one so we could catch the second one at a theater, and I had a blast running with that little blue ball of energy. 

     When watching any kind of movie driven by special effects, it’s easy to see how far the industry has come since the days of silent films. In a way, watching films of today makes me appreciate directors such as Georges Melies even more. Full disclosure for a self-professed film buff: I was unfamiliar with Melies before completing a class assignment of watching “Hugo.” Melies was a true visionary who lived up to his calling as a magician, casting spells over audiences with the limited technology of his era. He possessed a legendary imagination coupled with the ingenuity necessary to bring his dreams to life. I would love to know how he and the other luminaries of his era would marvel at a spectacle such as Sonic the Hedgehog. 

     The invention of videos games has to be taken into account when looking at the history of cinema simply because they provided a new collection of stories to tell. Some video game franchises are more cinematic in nature with detailed backstories, intricate plots, and complicated characters. As video game graphics improve, they are approaching a real-life look that continues to make playing them feel more like watching a movie that the user is controlling. Franchises like “Max Payne” have seemed ripe for movie adaptations but have been critical and commercial failures. The most well-received and highest-grossing video game franchise would have to be the Resident Evil series, but it stands out as an exception to the rule.

     In the case of Sonic, players just made the blue hedgehog jump around and run fast while gathering as many rings as possible. As much fun as it was, we had no idea where Sonic came from or the ultimate point of his quest. The team behind the movie franchise had the opportunity to create the origin story of the supernaturally fast creature from another planet and share it with adults who played the original game as well as children who wanted to gobble up the eye candy. I happened to thoroughly enjoy both aspects of the movies. While the visual feast was the primary source of my entertainment, the story of being an “other” and finding your own way with the help of a family who chose each other filled my heart and soul with comfort. 

     From a socio-historical perspective, I couldn’t help but think of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” when I watched “Sonic.” As strange as that comparison might sound, both films feature an interracial couple. I was not alive when the iconic Black actor Sidney Poitier took the screen as the love interest of a White actress, Katharine Houghton, but I am aware of the stir it caused in 1967. Flash forward to 2020 when the first Sonic came out, and the couple at the center of the story is James Marsden, a White actor, and Tika Sumpter, a Black actress. 

     As one of half of an interracial couple myself, I was pleased to see a movie that featured an interracial couple but did not mention it. Not only did the movies not focus on whatever struggles the couple might encounter (especially in small-town Montana), there weren’t even any well-meaning jokes about their relationship in either movie. Taking the approach of colorblindness is problematic because we need to acknowledge and celebrate our differences. That being said, casting an interracial couple at the center of a mainstream kids movie and not making it a point of drama or comedy is a sign of progress to me. 

     I think back to watching “Stagecoach” for another class assignment and marveling at how captivated I was by a chase scene through the desert from a 1939 Cowboys and Indians Western. A couple of weeks after that I rewatched “The Terminator” and was similarly spellbound by a 1984 sci-fi action thriller whose chase scenes took place in the streets of Los Angeles. After that, I once again found myself arrested by a chase scene between CGI versions of a hedgehog, fox, and echidna in a 2022 kids movie. All of this is to say that no matter the era or genre and no matter how more or less advanced the technology, all movies have the potential to take us on unforgettable rides.

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