Number of pandemics since 2020: 1. Number of Sonic the Hedgehog movies? 2.
Sonic is winning, and thus, cinema is winning.
You might be asking: Is this think piece about the perseverance and importance of movie theaters during the pandemic actually pegged to Sonic 2, a film, based on a video game, about a blue hedgehog that…makes fart jokes? I can’t believe I’m writing this as I’m writing this, but yes, it is. Hear me out.
The first Sonic holds historical significance for me and my two young daughters. It was the last movie that we saw together in the theater–on Valentine’s Day weekend 2020–before the world went sideways. And unless you were the type of parent who took your kid to see Bad Boys For Life, there is a very good chance the last time you shared some authentic movie popcorn with your kids in the before-times was over Sonic.
Sonic has wider cultural significance as well. In the Spring of 2020, the running joke was that the film was going to win an Oscar for Best Picture because it was arguably the best movie that had come out by the time theaters were forced to close in March. Alas, the Academy would not have that, and eligibility rules were changed. And, just like that, Sonic was robbed of reaching its full pandemic potential.
Going to the movie theater, for me and my kids, had become a bit of a ritual–they have this uncanny skill of remembering release dates they see on movie posters and ads whizzing by on cabs. If there was an age-appropriate film coming out, we would be at the Saturday morning screening without fail. When the pandemic nixed that pastime, we started streaming movies at home like every other family. And streaming. And streaming. And after a few months it felt like we were scraping the bottom of the Netflix barrel when it came to kids content. When you watch that many movies at home, they don’t sit in your brain in the same way as when you experience them in an actual theater. There’s a lack of heft. Even the good ones have a weird way of blending into all of the other content that you experience on a screen—Onward filed next to a TikTok video filed next to a text message.
“Sonic was the last movie I saw in theaters before the pandemic,” became a kind of refrain, shrouded in Covid-ennui, that I uttered to myself when I couldn’t believe how long we’ve been living like this, how long my brain had felt like mush. I didn’t realize how much we would all crave going back to the theater again. By the time I felt safe enough to bring the kids to do that, there were no kids movies out. So I convinced them to see…The Batman. This was a mistake. There are some PG-13 movies that you can show a six year-old, and The Batman is not one of them. Sorry for the trauma, kids!
But then an invite to a real live screening of Sonic 2 arrived in my inbox, and I simultaneously thought: “Finally! A kids movie worth seeing in the theater!” and “I can’t believe we’re still living in a pandemic and there are 2 Sonics among us.”
Of course I went. And of course I took my kids. And they loved it. And I loved that they loved it. And while I wouldn’t call it a family movie-classic, I enjoyed Jim Carey’s antics as Dr. Robotnik in what could be his last role, Idris Elba’s gravelly voice as Knuckles (the red one), and that the writers managed to weave in jokes about Vin Diesel, the Rock, and Limp Bizkit.
“That felt real!” my older daughter said after the movie.
Things, for the first time in a long time, kind of felt…normal?
School may still be weird—hell, life is weird—but being able to get amped up on Sprite and Sour Patch Kids and watch a hyperactive blue hedgehog act exactly like a kid amped up on Sprite and Sour Patch Kids is its own kind of self care.
I will forever remember Sonic being the last movie I saw with my kids in the theater, and I will forever remember the sequel being a genuine glimmer of the way things used to be.
Hopefully, by the time that Sonic 3 comes around, things will feel genuinely normal again.
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