“Your dreams are real things.”
That was a key message delivered by actor Jim Carrey to a group of very lucky kids last month during the Sonic the Hedgehog press junket in Beverly Hills, California. Carrey, who plays Dr. Ivo Robotnik in the new film, was joined by actors Ben Schwartz (voice of Sonic) and James Marsden (Tom Wachowski), alongside director Jeff Fowler and producer Toby Ascher for a conversation that flipped the script and put kids in the interviewer’s seat.
The Toy Insider was in the house, having been invited by Paramount Pictures to take part in a weekend of Sonic fun that culminated with the Sonic the Hedgehog premiere on the Paramount Lot in Hollywood. Sure, the movie business is a business, but when it comes to Sonic, this crew is all about play!
Marsden, who plays the Sheriff of Green Hills, Montana (Green Hills = a fun nod to the first level in the Sonic game), paid his dues by playing plenty of games over the years.
“I started with Atari and Intellivision and all the old gaming consoles,” Marsden says. “And then Mario, and the Sega Genesis came along and Sonic was just fast and cool. He was like a little superhero, but I had to quit playing, otherwise, I wouldn’t have done anything productive with my life,” he says with a laugh.
In many ways, Carrey is very much the elder statesman of the Sonic crew — a legendary actor and artist who pulls from decades of experience in everything that he does. With that, his approach to performing the role of Robotnik takes an unexpectedly serious turn. After all, on paper, Robotnik is “Eggman,” a video game villain who has been battling Sonic through countless Sega video games since the 1990s. To shape the performance and give the character motivation, Carrey created his own backstory, despite not having been into the Sonic games the first time around.
“I was not a gamer,” Carrey says. “But I am the perfect avatar for this game, and I come fully loaded to the teeth. Robotnik is the absolute manifestation of pure ego with absolute abandonment, and he’s so much fun to play.”
Robotnik, as audiences will soon discover, has a surprising motivation that is something shared by his little blue adversary: loneliness. Because of that, the government-hired goon is driven by the goal of being better than everyone else — all work, no play, and at the expense of everyone around him.
“I read the script and loved the script,” he says. “But then the writer inside of my brain starts working and I add a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And I start dreaming, and then something happens over breakfast, and by the time I get to the set I have 10 or 15 different ideas that I’d love to try. Those ideas end up tacked up like Post-Its to places around me, and people’s foreheads, and when you see it, it connects. And then so much happens on set. When you’re really in it, ideas just grow. … Things pop out, and it’s like popcorn. Wonderful popcorn.”
For Schwartz, getting into the role of Sonic was pretty easy. He used to play the game when he’d go to his friends’ house after school to play Sega Genesis. Schwartz was hired after voicing Sonic in a bit of test footage that was used to pitch studios on the idea of a live-action film.
“When I found out that I was going to be the voice [in the feature] it was a huge deal, he says. I had played that game for so long and love it so much.”
The Family Day Premiere
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, dozens of families gathered on the famed Paramount lot on a blue carpet beneath an appropriately blue sky. Kids took part in a day of play and activities, such as face painting, blue hair stations, carnival games, and even a running race (timed by radar, of course). A DJ spun tunes as the families grabbed Sonic-themed food and drinks while the cast and crew made their way down the customary press line ahead of the first formal screening of the film with a full audience.
To my surprise as a parent who has perhaps become a bit jaded with filmed entertainment geared toward a family audience, Sonic the Hedgehog is surprisingly good. It’s so good that I’m planning to take the kids to see it again, and I don’t mind … because I’d like to see it again as well!
There is a recent habit of weighing down kids’ movies with heavy emotional baggage (Wonder Park: mom has cancer; Playmobil: parents dead; UglyDolls: unloved/unwanted), and Sonic avoids this. Yes, he is brought to Earth through unfortunate circumstances and struggles in his search for a family, but the way it’s presented makes for an ultimate triumph in overcoming the odds without making the audience feel defeated or drained. Sonic the Hedgehog is fun, and that makes it the first must-see family movie of the year.
Still, there may be a few questions, and my 7-year-old daughter Finley had a chance to ask Jim Carrey a very burning one: “Why Dr. Robotnik is so obsessed with capturing Sonic’s power?”
“Sonic is special. Sonic has a divine spark. Sonic looks at the world like play — and Robotnik can’t do that,” he says. “He’s so concerned with what people think of him and making a mark that can never be erased in the world. It’s what people get caught up in sometimes. The real magic in life is to hang onto that kid in you.”
Sonic the Hedgehog opens in theaters everywhere on Feb. 14. A full toy line from Jakks Pacific is in stores now. For a detailed review of the film, please visit our sister publication, the Pop Insider.
Film stills courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Sega of America