Every film studies student, rollie-smoking art kid and media GCSE bore knows of the ‘uncanny valley’. A scientifically-determined psychological concept, it’s the fancy word for that unsettling feeling you feel when an almost-human robot, AI or computer-generated character pops into view. They’re not quite right, right? That feeling of unease is everywhere right now, as AI technology ramps up a notch, and humanoid robots (even ones that you can have sex with, if you’re really that way inclined) are so common we’re probably no more than a year or two away from them having their own aisle in Morrisons. Nowhere is it more prevalent, however, than in Hollywood.
You see, Hollywood’s obsession with plundering the depths of our childhoods has hit impressive new lows in recent months. Not content with the endless remakes, and spooky semi-human special effects (we’re looking at you, Final Fantasy, but we’re trying not to make eye contact), they’ve gone one further. Enter the endless, anthropomorphised versions of your childhood favourites. Nothing is safe.
Case in point – the newly-released trailer for Sonic The Hedgehog, due later this year. Most would assume Sonic is a relatively safe bet to remain in cartoon form. After all, he’s a stretched-out, heavily caricatured version of a hedgehog, with a hairstyle so baffling it could almost pass for white guy dreadlocks. Oh, and he wears trainers. And he’s fucking blue.
“Can Hollywood not dream a little bigger than whacking a furry filter over our childhood memories and giving Sonic an ass that just won’t quit?”
But no, Hollywood have got their greasy mitts on him. And they’ve brought him, kicking, screaming and sassing, into the real world. Now, not only does he have trainers, but he has human teeth. I can’t express to you how much I hate the teeth. The teeth, already menacingly small, like a 10-year-old who hasn’t lost their milkies, are human-shaped. It’s horrible: every time he opens his mouth, I get a cold sensation up my spine.
Let’s not stop at the gnashers though. Let’s reel ourselves back to 0:28 in this trailer of our impending apocalypse. Sonic’s limbering up for something, doing a few stretches. Important, that. Don’t ever exercise without it. Perhaps this is going to be a worthwhile endeavour after all. We can maybe even look past the teeth if they’re looking to remind kids of the importance of proper warm-up routi— no. They’ve given him a bum. There it is, catching the light just right. Furry, yes. But a bum, nevertheless. A proper, curved, rotund tuchus. Why does he need it? Does Sonic shit super-fast turds now, too?
Imagine being the person who had to animate that. Imagine the endless re-drawings, trying to get the perfect curve of Sonic’s ass just right. Imagine going home and sleeping next to your significant other, knowing that you spent the day crafting a thicc Sonic. How could you? You couldn’t. You’d lie awake ’til morning, waiting for dawn. Then you’d rise again, and go sit in a boardroom meeting to discuss whether or not you should maybe give Sonic a dick too. How about just some shorts, you sick fucks?
This is all soundtracked by ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’, by the way.
It’s a trend we should’ve seen coming, really. Scooby-Doo, released all the way back in 2002, was the first time we were witness to the horror of an anthropomorphic childhood friend come to life. Back then, it seemed like a futuristic folly, something that would go down in the annals of history as a special effect too far. Its sequel, Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, was the first warning that we wouldn’t be so lucky.
In recent months, Hollywood have jumped on the ‘childhood, but realistic‘ cash-grab with gusto. Take Christopher Robin, the 2018 Winnie The Pooh reboot which turned Pooh Bear and co. into living, breathing, real-world monsters, the painstaking animation of their stitches taking things from suspended-reality childhood folly into Frankenstein horror. Disney are all over it at the moment, with a realistic Jungle Book remake, a new Dumbo and a new Lion King, too. And it doesn’t even include a pride of real, trained lions.
Detective Pikachu, released this month, is perhaps the ultimate example. In this, as you may have guessed by now, superstar Pokémon Pikachu has been turned into a wise-cracking cop. ACAB indeed. Thankfully, they stopped short of giving him a peachy ass, but they have given him a human voice and given the entire Pokémon universe a horrible, sinewy, fleshy rebirth.
No one needed to see a flesh-clad Mr Mime. The cartoon version was enough of a fucking nightmare, if we’re honest. First reviews suggest it’s actually quite good, but is that all we should be asking for? Can we not dare Hollywood to dream a little bigger than simply whacking a furry filter over our precious childhood memories, and giving Sonic an ass that just won’t quit?
The beauty of youth is in our ability to imagine things. Cartoons, video games, comics and books are some of young life’s greatest joys – they offer something out of reach; something that’s better off that way. They allow for alternate worlds to bloom and flourish in ways our own never could, and offer a chance for us to escape from the confines of reality. “All cartoon characters and fables must be exaggeration, caricatures. It is the very nature of fantasy and fable,” said Walt Disney himself. By dragging those characters into the physical, real-life dimension, we’re robbing them of the very escapist joy they’re supposed to represent. Some things are best left to animation. And other things are best left to the darker corners of Reddit. The teeth. The bum. Burn it all down.