Transfiguring Adoption’s Overview:
Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) is a refreshing family movie experience after so many throwbacks-gone-bad in theaters lately. The film does a fantastic job of taking a beloved video game character and giving him a new narrative that children (especially from foster care) can relate to without coming across as overly cheesy. Sonic feels like a natural part for Ben Schwartz, who carries Sonic as a younger hedgehog with a lot of sass and energy. Jim Carrey does a great job with crafting Dr. Robotnik’s villain origin story as well while peppering his portrayal with classic Jim Carrey slapstick humor to keep younger viewers from being too scary. This would be a great film to see with kids of most ages for family movie night, children and teens alike… and of course those who still have some nostalgia for their favorite blue speedster.
** Spoilers Could Be Ahead **
How Is This Relevant To Adoption & Foster Care?
Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) is a new origin story for the blue hedgehog that gained huge followings after his debut in the Japan in the video game Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) created by Sonic Team and owned by Sega. Does anybody else remember the Sega Genesis 8-bit? The entire franchise revolves around Sonic, an anthropomorphic blue hedgehog, throwing down with a mad scientist named Dr. Robotnik (or Eggman) when the need arises. While adult-geeks will get excited for the subtle references to several games (i.e. – Green Hills Zone level from several games, a tribe of red echidnas, etc.) children will enjoy the narrative of a young, impulsive, fun-loving Sonic that finds himself worlds away from home and wishing so much to engage in the fun things he sees around him. Sonic presents with high impulsivity.
In this installment, Sonic is introduced as a tiny (but fast) hedgehog that had been adopted by Longclaw the Owl. Though it is not explained why in this film, Sonic’s speed and potential for power is very rare and sought after by those who would abuse it (and him). To save Sonic’s life, Longclaw sends Sonic through transport rings and instructs him to keep running to different worlds using other rings to keep himself safe. So within the first few minutes of the film there are instances of a child in an adoptive home who watches a caregiver be attacked and suffer separation from her indefinitely. Years later, we find that Sonic is living on Earth but longing very much for the normalcy he sees for the residence of Green Hills and especially the life of “Doughnut Lord” Tom Wachowski and his wife, Maddie. Much like many of our foster children and youth, Sonic suffers from an intense sense of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and wanting to connect with others while never knowing if he must move again quickly. Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) does a fantastic job of addressing the loneliness and longing for connection Sonic feels and showing how Sonic can find safety and companionship in safe, competent adults.
- Loneliness the Need for Connection
Especially in the beginning of the film, Sonic is shown largely alone as a tiny hedgehog and an adolescent hedgehog. While living in Green Hills, Sonic is able to watch humans engage in relationships and in recreation together in a way he has never known due to life in isolation to protect himself. Sonic is literally seen looking from the outside in constantly and is so removed from human culture that he had not heard of a bucket list. Many foster and adoptive children and youth can relate to the feeling of “otherness” and like they are missing out on experiences most people take for granted as “normal”.
- Found Family
In Sonic’s case, we never see biological family but can assume that Sonic was orphaned by the loss of his parents. Sonic was raised by Longclaw the Owl and can be observed having a healthy, loving relationship with her where she functioned as a competent caregiver until the events of the film. Her loss was immensely felt upon their separation, just as our foster and adoptive children feel when separated from their biological family and do not know if they will return to them again. Eventually, Sonic is able to find a new normal with more competent adults who are able to encourage him in strength-based ways and love him for his impulsive, hyperactive self. This is important for children who have dealt with the child welfare system to see examples of adults acting as the loving protectors they should be (rather than another Homer Simpson-esque adult who needs children to bail him out) to be able to trust the adults in their own lives who have assumed the status of family in the present.
- Survival Behaviors
Sonic did not come into the Wachowski home following rules, respecting others, and thinking through decisions and consequences. Sonic did not know how to relate to other people and read social emotions to avoid conflict. But what Sonic did come with is a huge desire to connect with others and form positive attachments with others he observed to be safe. Many children who have dealt with the child welfare system struggle in foster placement immensely due to frequent moves, emotional and social immaturity stemming from trauma, and behaviors that (while were helpful for survival before) reek havoc on caregiver sanity. But it’s important for caregivers to remember that Sonic (and foster/adoptive children) was not trying to be destructive or chaotic but was only communicating and meeting needs in the only language he knew. Children are not able to connect feelings to behaviors and rely on caring adults to help them learn emotional intelligence and practice appropriate communication and coping skills that will serve them into adulthood.
There are several sequences of violence toward Sonic and company. This includes Longclaw being shot with arrows in the start of the film, several instances of drone attacks and guns/tranquilizers being pointed at others, a bar fight, Dr. Robotnik abusing his assistant Dr. Stone, car chases, car wrecks, characters playing with missals, Sonic pushing two characters off of a building, use of a chainsaw in a menacing manner, bombs/explosions, and Tom being labeled as a terrorist. These features may be triggering for some children sensitive to violence due to personal experience with violence or events related to these examples or perhaps have been exposed to war-related violence due to the imagery and language used about these events.
- Poor Examples of Authority Figures and Adults, Especially Police
While Officer Tom Wachowski is overall portrayed as a competent and trustworthy police officer several members of his team in Green Hills are portrayed as moronic and incompetent. This may be problematic for children who are distrustful of authority figures and adults as this may further reinforce beliefs of children being unable to rely on adults and police. There are also scenes of military personnel with dogs hunting down Sonic in the woods that presents a challenge for children who may be afraid of such imagery. In regards to civilians, Maddie’s sister is portrayed as a nagging sister-in-law to Tom who constantly insists Maddie divorce Tom for no apparent reason. The relative is eventually tied up by her own (young) daughter and clearly behaves in an immature manner throughout any scene she occupies. There is also a man in Green Hills nicknamed “Crazy Carl” as he has seen Sonic and no one believes his stories of the “Blue Devil” he has tried to catch. This again feeds into the idea that adults are not trustworthy to children who have engaged with unsafe adults in the past.
- Traumatic Losses
At the very beginning of the film Sonic is portrayed as an orphaned younger hedgehog. He watches his foster/adoptive caregiver attacked while protecting him and it is assumed she may have died as a result of the attack. Sonic also is permanently moved away from home for his protection and must move from place-to-place to avoid being found by enemies. The constant cycle of loss and transition may be problematic for children who have endured losses (physical and emotional) or have had to move between several placements due to personal history of loss and grief.
- Alcohol Visible in Film
An entire scene takes place in a biker bar where bottles of beer are openly consumed and then later used as weapons. Though child-like Sonic is not seen drinking any alcoholic beverages some children may struggle with watching adults consume alcohol and engage in violent behavior following its consumption if a caregiver in the past displayed such behavior.
- Negative Representation of Former Foster Youth
Through some monologues given by Dr. Robotnik throughout the film we find that he is a former orphan who, using his intelligence, was able to make a name for himself as a genius-turned-mad-scientist. Dr. Robotnik is also shown being repeatedly rude and crude when talking with military personnel and other adults. Dr. Robotnik is also openly abusive towards his assistant, even resorting to physical violence with him. Dr. Robotnik also is portrayed as being largely disliked by others who have worked with him before due to his behavior and attitudes. Children who have come from the welfare system often have negative stereotypes associates with their behavior, social skills, and ability to thrive and may struggle with the villain of the film being a former foster youth or orphan.
- Sonic Presented as Neglected
Sonic is shown living in a cave alone without a caregiver. He is also seen while living on his own in tattered shoes and with broken belongings. Some of the details like this that relate to Sonic being on the run and without many belongings may be challenging for children who have endured many moves or have gone without necessities for periods of time due to the trauma endured from neglect.There is also a sequence where Maddie and Tom are sneaking Sonic into a building in a suitcase and adults around them think that Sonic is a child being kidnapped but do not act to assist him.
- Crude Humor
There are jokes made concerning alien probing. There is also a remark made by Dr. Robotnik related to breastfeeding where he says “rub that in my orphan face” in response to breasts. The primary competent adult and police officer in the film is also nicknamed “Doughnut Lord” which feeds into unhelpful stereotypes about police officers.
- Awkward Mental Health References
Crazy Carl is portrayed at the beginning as if he is crazy and the residents of Green Hills treat him as if he has mental illnesses. There is also a scene where Sonic has therapy with himself to identify his senses of loneliness.
- Unsafe Behaviors
Aside from the more obvious behaviors related to violence, Sonic never wears a seat belt in the movies (all humans are buckled in though) and Sonic is placed in a dog cage while unconscious after being shot with a tranquilizer gun. Crazy Carl also brandishes a chainsaw at Dr. Robotnik to show support for Sonic. In another scene Sonic pushes Maddie and Tom off of a very tall building with the unrealistic intent of saving them.
About The Reviewer: Rachael Rathe
Rachael B. Rathe is an East Tennessee native with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology with a Minor in Child & Family Studies from The University of Tennessee Knoxville. She has worked in mental health since 2013 and in foster care/adoptions for a private provider agency since 2014. Rachael was inspired to work in the field after working with children and teens on a volunteer basis 2008 – 2013. Rachael’s ideal self-care day involves snuggling on a couch with her kitties (Tabitha, Fergus, and Rufus) while enjoying a good movie or book. She also enjoys galavanting around conventions concerning all things nerd and geekery.
**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.