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Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

sonic 2020It was an interesting journey for the world’s most famous hedgehog to go from the small screen to the big screen, but the journey was finally completed Valentine’s Day 2020. Originally set to debut last Thanksgiving, Sonic the Hedgehog famously was delayed when fans reacted unfavorably to the title character’s design. Like Detective Pikachu before it, Sonic the Hedgehog was attempting to bring a CG version of the titular character into a real world setting. Fans were justified in their reaction to the debut of the character as he was only vaguely a representation of a character that’s been around for 30 years. The extra time, money, and effort to redesign Sonic has apparently paid off as the film raced out to an impressive debut weekend topping the weekend box office.

From the start, Sonic was always engineered to be pleasing to the eye. He was famously designed as a mash-up of two iconic characters:  Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat. The fact that someone tied to this film decided to deviate from such a simple and effective premise feels like an ego-driven maneuver, but it’s likely it was just a result of over-thinking. Sonic the character doesn’t fit into the “real world.” He basically has one giant eye with two pupils in it, he’s a  blue hedgehog, but he doesn’t really have visible fur. And his head is bigger than his body in his classic iteration, though he’s since been elongated and given a more sleek figure over the years. The original stab at the character included fur (or quills), which was to be expected. What was odd was the attempt at shaping the face to something more rodent-like, I suppose. The end result was more of a combination of late 90s Michael Jackson and the transformed monkey kid from the original Jumanji. He had an oddly pointed nose and more natural shaped eyes to go along with a toothy smile that seemed to make viewers quite uncomfortable. His body was lean and slightly muscular – a runner’s body. Instead of white gloves he had white fur and was just all-together unpleasant to look at. The redesign basically took things back to the character’s roots. Physically, he’s more Sonic Adventure than Sonic from the Genesis. He still has textured fur as director Jeff Fowler felt that was important for a mostly live-action film, and he has two distinct eyes. He got to put his gloves back on though and his overall facial design is much more true to what fans expected. All in all, he looks nice.

bad sonic

This is not the Sonic fans wanted…

Which is certainly a start. An unappealing lead is hardly a death-knell for a movie, but it doesn’t help when the character is supposed to be visually appealing. It’s not something that can rescue a bad movie though, and I would guess most assumed Sonic the Hedgehog would be a bad movie. It’s not like video game to film adaptations have a good track record. I liked Mortal Kombat as a kid, but I’d hesitate to call it a good film. I did take the family to Detective Pikachu last year and felt it was fine for what it was. I know there are some fans out there that enjoy some of the Resident Evil and Tomb Raider films, but I do not number myself among them. Expectations for a video game movie are low, and will remain low until a Marvel-like run of success so expecting anything out of Sonic felt foolish.

good sonic

Much better!

And perhaps it’s that mindset that contributed the most to my enjoyment of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s certainly easier to be pleasantly surprised by a film when expectations are low, but Sonic the Hedgehog managed to mostly achieve the same level of success as Detective Pikachu. And a lot of that can be attributed to the success of the main character. Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz who has quickly established himself as the best Sonic, sorry Jaleel) is charismatic. He has a manic personality as a result of living life faster than anyone while possessing a sense of honor and responsibility which are traits that lend well to heroism. He’s playful, chatty, inquisitive, and also a touch sympathetic. He’s essentially an orphan who was targeted by some bad dudes (who bare a strong resemblance to another Sonic frenemy) for his speediness and forced to flee his home world with the help of his magic rings. The rings in the film are magical devices capable of opening up portals to other worlds, which is how Sonic arrives on Earth as a kid and is forced to live in hiding. He badly just wants to make friends, and he’s taken a liking to a local cop he refers to as Donut Lord (James Marsden) mainly via peeping on his daily life. One night, in a fit of sadness, Sonic goes a bit too fast and produces something akin to an EMP pulse that knocks out power in the community which gets the attention of the US Government.

jim carrey robotnik

Carrey gets to bring his own personality to Robotnik, but he’s also kept in check and turns in a very fun performance.

The film wisely doesn’t focus much on the government stuff and instead uses a very loose scene to have those in charge select one Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to investigate the cause of the phenomena. Carrey’s Robotnik bares little resemblance to the video game character (more commonly referred to as Eggman these days), but he possesses a quirky personality. Unlike a lot of iterations of Robotnik, he’s also a capable bad guy at times undone by his hubris. Carrey injects some of his usual comedic antics into the role, but nothing that becomes too over-the-top. He’s entertaining, and the only character other than Sonic capable of stealing a scene.

Robotnik quickly ends up on Sonic’s trail and from there the film turns into a road trip buddy comedy with Sonic forced to come out of hiding and seek the help of Donut Lord, aka Tom. The film does a good enough job of balancing the comedy with action. Tom and Sonic mostly get along from the start so it doesn’t play up tension too much between the leads. Not all of the comedy lands as this is a PG film primarily looking to entertain children. There’s a confrontation at a bar that’s a bit groan-inducing, as well as some jokes that amount to product placement, but the film doesn’t linger on anything long enough for it to grow boring or stale. The main plot beats are simple and easy enough to follow even for younger viewers making this one more about the ride than the final destination.

sonic ring

Sonic’s rings play an integral role in the film acting as portals between worlds for Sonic to escape into.

Visually, the film’s special effects hold up just fine. No, I don’t suppose I ever really bought into the concept of Sonic actually existing in this world like I may have at times with Pikachu, but I didn’t feel that harmed my enjoyment of the movie. The film makes liberal use of the slow-motion sequences popularized by the X-Men franchise when illustrating just how fast Sonic can move. Like Quicksilver, Sonic will appear to move at normal speed while the world around him is nearly frozen in time allowing him to correct a situation or just make mischief. It’s not exactly original, but it’s also not something that needed improving on. The film’s score and sound effects also make use of sounds fans of the game have grown up with. Honestly, the film could have used more of the original music as what is adapted for this film is basically the only music that stands out.

sonic friends

Sonic’s human allies, played by James Marsden and Tika Sumpter, don’t offer much, but they also don’t need to.

Beyond those sounds, there’s actually not a ton of fan-service in this one. There are some easter eggs, mainly the attackers early in the film, but the film mostly keeps everything in check. What’s here is enjoyable and most of it is easy to spot. Perhaps even too easy as I was hoping to come home and find out I missed a bunch of stuff that I could look for on another viewing, but I basically caught it all. I was a little disappointed that the film wasn’t able to make use of past voice actors, most notably Jaleel White, but maybe the studio tried and it just didn’t happen. The same can be said of past songs like the theme for the Saturday morning cartoon or the Sega CD “Sonic Boom” track. There is a post credits cameo that’s worth waiting for that all but guarantees a sequel as well, so if you like this then I guess that’s good news.

Sonic the Hedgehog is a competent take on the character that successfully adapts him for the big screen. It’s not a great film, but it is a short one coming it around 99 minutes and that’s all the time it needed. It’s a film worth seeing if you’re a big fan of the character, or if you’re like me and you’re just looking for a movie to take the kids to that won’t bore or annoy you. If you liked Detective Pikachu then I think that’s a pretty good comparison and a solid indicator on if you’ll like this one. Sonic moves at a faster pace and has fewer lulls, but it also doesn’t have as much heart. Its human characters are bland and uninteresting, but they thankfully are not tasked with carrying many scenes by themselves. This is a film that knows what its audience wants, and that’s Sonic. He’s front and center and quite enjoyable to spend time with. If you ever wanted to see a Sonic movie, it’s hard to imagine one turning out better than this.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Baby-Doll”

baby-doll titleEpisode Number:  76

Original Air Date:  October 1, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by: Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  Baby-Doll

Well, this is an interesting one. Batman:  The Animated Series has done well with original creations, and it’s also done not so well. Harley Quinn may have been a huge hit, but nobody likes Boss Biggs. Baby-Doll is yet another invention of the show and I’m curious how she came to be. Paul Dini, who has had to do some heavy lifting on the show’s second season, wrote this episode and presumably created the character. Baby-Doll is a Hollywood has-been with a rare genetic condition that makes her look like a child. Batman refers to the condition in the episode as systemic hypoplasia, but that’s a condition that usually impacts organs so Batman’s diagnosis is a bit off. The character is likely inspired by someone like Gary Coleman or maybe Emmanuel Lewis, two actors who played children on-screen even though they were older. Coleman had a kidney condition and his stunted development was the result of medication and complications from his disease, where-as Lewis apparently simply stopped growing. No matter, what’s important to know about Baby-Doll is she’s an adult female that resembles a child and she’s really unhappy with her life choices and how her career turned out. It’s certainly an unconventional premise for a Batman villain, but really, how many are truly conventional?

The episode opens as a play is letting out, Death of a Salesman. A young actor named Brian (Robbie Rist) waves goodbye to his cast mates and then is startled to hear crying. He finds a little girl with big, blonde, curls in the alley behind the theater. She’s lost, and apparently her brother is to blame. Brian goes to comfort her and when he gets a look at her face a shocked expression crosses his own. Before he can react further, he’s knocked out from behind and the girl apologizes for playing rough.

thats my baby

The cast of That’s My Baby, a show that probably would have aired on Nick at Night had it been real.

Some time later, Batman and Robin are watching video in Commissioner Gordon’s office. Today’s subject is an old sitcom titled Love That Baby and Gordon informs the vigilantes that cast members from the show have gone missing. The young man we saw earlier, Brian Daly, was a part of that show which starred Mary Louise Dahl (Alison LaPlaca) as the title character Baby. Batman knows her from reading a report on her condition which caused her to retain a child-like appearance into adulthood. Robin mostly just remembers watching the show, which he was not a fan of. Dahl hasn’t been seen or heard from in years, while one other actress from the main cast has yet to go missing:  Tammy Vance (Judy Strangis). Batman takes the tape to check it out further, but then Bullock comes over on the police scanner about gunfire where they’re currently providing protection for Ms. Vance.

At the studio, which looks really similar to the background from the prior night, armed gunmen are firing on police while trying to abduct Vance. The two gunmen have a Gilligan and Skipper look going for them, which is interesting if nothing else. Batman and Robin soon arrive to put a stop to the gun-play and rescue Vance, but before they get a chance to settle down an armored truck comes barreling down the alley. Batman has to get out of the way and Robin is nearly flattened. The distraction allows the goons to grab Vance and toss her in the truck. As they speed away, Batman uses the controls on his belt to summon the Batmobile, but when a kid runs out into the street the Batmobile is forced to swerve and crash while the bad guys get away. Robin scoops up the crying child, whose mother soon shows up to take. As she’s holding her daughter the girl says to her mother “I didn’t mean to.” Batman recognizes this as the catchphrase for the Baby character from the show, and when he goes to stop the pair the girl slams a ball she was carrying on the ground which explodes into a big, cloud of smoke to mask their escape.

baby-doll smil

Meet Batman’s newest foe:  Baby-Doll.

Batman and Robin then drop in on Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon) who recently had done a “Where Are They Now?” styled feature on the cast of Love That Baby. She has some tapes of the show, but when Batman asks why Dahl might have a grudge against her co-workers he finds out it’s they who should be angry with her. It would seem Dahl left the show to pursue a dramatic acting career, and Gleeson has a copy of her failed attempt at the notoriously unlucky MacBeth. Robin thinks it stinks and shares his opinion with the group. Apparently the critics and audiences felt the same way as the production was a flop. Following that high-profile failure, television networks no longer wanted to work with Dahl and the rest is history.

Meanwhile, Baby-Doll has assembled her old cast. Vance wakes up to find herself dressed as her old character and when she exits her bedroom she finds the old set and the familiar faces. The other actors include her TV father, Tod (Alan Young) mom June (LaPlaca) and brother Brian. They’re in costume as well and Baby-Doll comes strolling in with her favorite doll, Mr. Happy-Head. She’s very happy to have her “family” back, while the rest are pretty confused. She gathers them at the table where she lets them know they’re going to celebrate her birthday. It’s at this point that Tod has had enough. He tries to leave, but Baby-Doll’s assistant Mariam (Tasia Valenza) assaults him and he lumbers back to his seat at the table.

cousin spunky

Joker has tried this same thing. It too failed.

At the Batcave, Robin is suffering through the tapes they got from Gleeson and letting Batman how much he’s enjoying himself. He does stumble onto one potential lead though. In the show’s final season, to combat sagging ratings, it pulled a Cousin Oliver and added a new character named Cousin Spunky. Spunky would basically upstage Baby-Doll, and we see a clip of him slamming her face into her birthday cake from one episode. Apparently, it was the presence of that character that drove Dahl to quit and Batman assumes it’s only a matter of time until she sets her sights on the actor who played him.

We’re then taken to a suburban neighborhood where a heavy-set kid is playing guitar in his garage. A woman pushes a baby carriage up the driveway to him to complain about the loudness of the music claiming it woke her baby from her nap. The woman is Mariam, once again posing as a mom (she was the one who picked up Baby-Doll after the Batmobile incident) which means there’s only one person who could be in that stroller. When Spunky (James Marsden) looks in, he sees Dahl looking back at him and she shoots him with brown gas from her baby bottle.

batman and baby

I hope you weren’t expecting much of a fight scene from this one.

Back “on-set,” Spunky is now tied to a chair and at the dinner table with his other former cast mates. Like them, he’s really confused about the situation as Baby-Doll confronts him from on top of the dining room table. She blames him for ruining her birthday, while he tries to explain they were just acting. Baby-Doll will hear none of it though and she pushes a giant cake towards him. She then starts smearing cake on his face as revenge for what happened to her, but she’s not stopping there. Soon she places candles on the cake and a big ‘ol stick of dynamite right in the middle. She lights it then tells Spunky (we never learn his actual name) to blow it out, which he tries to do, but is unsuccessful. Seeing no other option, he grabs the dynamite with his mouth and flings it over his shoulder. It bounces onto another part of the set where it explodes harmlessly (the blast was quite large, so either Baby-Doll underestimated it or she planned on killing herself and her fake family in the process). disappointed, Baby-Doll whips out Mr. Happy-Head who apparently has a gun hidden in his head. She fires a shot which emerges from the doll’s eye socket and then starts towards Spunky in an obviously threatening manner.

Glass shatters above the table, and Batman drops in (seriously villains, avoid skylights)! He makes quick work of Gilligan and his buddy and knocks the doll from Baby-Doll’s hands. It’s at this point Spunky jumps up, free of his restraints, and reveals he was actually Robin in disguise (so did he have that dynamite thing the whole way or was Batman late in getting there?). The Dynamic Duo has played Dahl for a sucker, but things aren’t a wrap just yet. Mariam comes to her boss’s aid and she apparently has some moves. She blasts Batman into some rigging and takes out Robin as well, who can’t help but pay her a compliment. Batman is able to rope her ankle with a Batarang-hook, when Mariam goes for a jump-kick he gives it a tug and swings her into a wall putting an end to that threat.

baby-doll chase

She’s smart enough to know to lead Batman somewhere he won’t have as easy a time navigating as she will.

Batman then leaves Robin to tend to the actors while he goes after Baby-Doll. She’s taken off with her doll and made her way into a nearby amusement park. Unlike the parks Joker typically inhabits, this one is very much in use and Baby-Doll is able to hide amongst the patrons. When Batman drops in to survey the area, his appearance attracts attention as people flock to get a look at him. This works to his advantage as Baby-Doll hangs back and then takes off running. She ducks into a shooting gallery type of game. When Batman does the same, he finds himself staring down an over-sized gun that fires tennis balls. Baby-Doll, apparently forgetting she has a real gun, pummels Batman with tennis balls until he is able to grab a doll prize and throw it at her the force of which knocks her from her perch.

the real dahl

What Baby-Doll refers to as her real self.

Baby-Doll then flees into a fun house that’s closed for repairs. She taunts Batman apparently wanting him to follow her. He’s forced to crawl through plastic tubes which Baby-Doll can run through, putting him at a pretty big disadvantage. She continues to taunt him before slipping in some strikes. When she finally turns to her doll-gun, Batman fires his grapple gun at it to knock it from her hands. Baby-Doll exits the tube to retrieve her gun and finds herself in a room of mirrors. One of which reflects back an “adult” version of her. She identifies with this image as “the real me,” and seems to grow sad. Batman then appears and she swings around and fires only to find it was a reflection. As Batman appears in other mirrors, Dahl fires repeatedly at them destroying them all until the only one left is the one reflecting back her “real” self. With tears in her eyes, she fires once more destroying the image. She tries to continue firing but she’s run out of bullets. Batman removes the doll from her hands and she tearfully turns to him and repeats her catchphrase “I didn’t mean to.” She clutches at his leg as a high-angle shot from the camera lingers a moment, then fades to black.

“Baby-Doll” is an unconventional episode, no doubt about it. Or rather, the villain is unconventional in her design since really the story is just another insane individual looking for revenge on those she perceived wronged her. A lot of Batman villains can say the same. It’s also interesting that this episode follows “Bane,” an episode where the villain is a huge physical threat to Batman where-as Baby-Doll is really not one at all. I’m impressed that Dini came up with the funhouse as a way to put Batman at a disadvantage, since the thought of Baby-Doll taking him out is ludicrous on the surface.

angry baby-doll

When ever Baby-Doll gets mad, her voice deepens and the black around her eyes thickens. It’s a neat approach.

Obviously, part of the genesis for the episode stems from someone like Dini just working in television. The Cousin Oliver gimmick is interesting as it refers to Oliver from The Brady Bunch, who was played by Robbie Rist who voices Brian in this episode (I guess it would have been too on-the-nose to have him voice Spunky). Baby-Doll is a stand-in for many child actors who have had a tough time transitioning to adulthood. And in her case, the point is hammered home by having her physically remain like a child.

This episode marks the final contribution to this show by Studio Junio. Aside from their episodes seeming to contain lots of grammatical errors in the backgrounds, I must say I enjoyed their work. There’s a bit more of a cartoon vibe to their episodes and even some flashes of anime. Batman looks great in this episode and Junio apparently had access to better shades of green as Robin doesn’t have those turquoise accents on his gloves. Baby-Doll is perhaps a bit too cartoonish for my taste as she reminds me of Elmira from Tiny Toon Adventures. Her head is gigantic like a cartoon character, and it pulls me out of the scenes sometimes especially the closing shot with Batman.

I feel like “Baby-Doll” is an episode that should suck, to put it bluntly, but doesn’t. The story it tells actually proved compelling and the character of Dahl is made sympathetic in the end. A lot of that can be attributed to the voice work of Alison LaPlaca who does a great job in shifting tones from a higher, child-like voice, to a lower aged one when Dahl gets upset. There’s even a touch of a Child’s Play vibe as Dahl gets a little creepy when not using her Baby voice. This one works, in spite of its weirdness. It’s not anywhere near my top 10 episodes, and I don’t need to see Baby-Doll again (and we won’t until The New Batman Adventures), but I am fine with this episode existing.


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