Breaking Down the Subtle and Not So Subtle '90s References in the Sonic the Hedgehog Movie Trailer

The Sonic the Hedgehog movie trailer hints at a hedgehog of contrasts.

Paramount Pictures dropped the first trailer for the Sonic the Hedgehog movie this morning, and given the reaction on social media, you'd think the studio found a way to drop a shipping container full of live hornets onto Twitter. People screamed and flailed for a while, but after they got used to the pain of a world where Sonic has plump lips and horse-teeth, they approached the trailer again with trepidation, hit replay, and just kind of wondered at the terrible beauty of it all.

I think we all see something different when we peer into the depths of the Sonic movie trailer. Curiosity. Revulsion. Confused excitement.

Myself, I see a strange being that's trapped between a desire to let the audience notice things for itself, and a desire to bang pots and pans while explaining jokes. That's because Sonic the Hedgehog actually has a few clever '90s references that recall Sonic's 16-bit heyday on the Sega Genesis, but then I noticed other cues that make me wonder if said callbacks are just coincidences rather than thought-out references.

One example of a possible less-obvious '90s throwback is Jim Carrey's rubber-man performance as Sonic's nemesis, Dr. Ivo "Eggman" Robotnik. Though Carrey is better known these days for his anti-vaccination tirades, he was physical comedy defined in the '90s. True, his crazy schtick and exaggerated movements aren't everyone's idea of an Oscar-winning performance, but I still smile at his performances in Ace Ventura, The Mask, and yes, Batman Forever. I catch a whiff of those good ol' days in Carrey's Dr. Eggman. He's quick, he's bouncy, and he's full of comebacks and stupid antics. (In one scene he touches his tongue to Sonic's discarded, electrified quill and his reaction is appropriately exaggerated.)

Carrey's introduction in the trailer branches into the only reference that might be more '90s than Sonic himself: WWE's (née WWF's) Attitude Era. When the Major in charge of containing Sonic's chaos tries to get a word in during Carrey's rapid-fire quips, Eggman politely stops long enough to ask the Major his name. Before the Major can finish his sentence, Eggman barks "NOBODY CARES." This might be a reference to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's "IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT YOUR NAME IS" bit, made famous by the Monday Night Wars and kept alive for years by playground smack-talk. Of course, this might also be wishful thinking on my part.

I say, "wishful thinking" because the other examples of Sonic the Hedgehog's "Remember When's" are much more on-the-nose. Like, "the movie's trailer music is the 1995 smash hit from Coolio, "Gangsta's Paradise," and it's coming from a discarded boom box" on-the-nose.

But whether you classify the '90s references in Sonic the Hedgehog has "clever" or "too obvious," one thing's for sure: The movie—or at least the trailer—doesn't want to commit to them. Hence why we also have Fitbit jokes like, "I took nine million steps today!" (Though I admit Sonic tapping his foot in this scene as per his classic idle animation a nice example of one of those "subtle" touches I'm talking about.)

I've speculated a good deal about Sonic the Hedgehog based on early posters and promotional materials, because video game movies are important business. I've also gone on about Sonic's seeming hesitation to commit to its weird source material, instead sticking us in a no-man's land where Sonic is an oddity in our mundane world. My opinions haven't changed much since seeing this first trailer, but at least I'm ready to shrug and say, "It's just going to be another game movie that gets a 45% on Rotten Tomatoes." It probably won't be too good, but it probably won't be too bad either. Well, minus those teeth of course. Those are 100% godless.

I still hope Paramount gives us more of the clever, subtle '90s callbacks we see in the trailer and not the big, loud ones delivered by Coolio's admittedly funky backbeat. I doubt I'm going to love Sonic the Hedgehog, but I'm down with seeing an OK movie that lets me say "Gosh, it made me smile a couple of times while also giving me flashbacks to the most vicious days of the 16-bit console wars. That's cool."

Look, Paramount: To show there aren't any hard feelings, I'll give you all a point right now for "Gotta Go Fast." Yeah, it's not a reference from the '90s, but just take the point, all right?

Tagged with Film/Television, Movies, Opinions, Platformer, Sega, Sega Genesis, Sonic.

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