Film Review – Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic the Hedgehog
The big story surrounding Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) involved the design of the furry blue main character. Adapted from the popular SEGA videogame, the initial design of Sonic (Ben Schwartz) was met with a mix of shock and disgust. With beady little eyes, long limbs, and human-like teeth, Sonic looked like the animators created him from a description instead of visual reference. The backlash was so huge, in fact, that director Jeff Fowler publicly apologized for it and declared that the production would go back and fix Sonic’s look. This delayed the film’s release from Thanksgiving 2019 to now, with untold additional costs added on top.
Was the extra effort worth it? Yes and no. In terms of design, Sonic does resemble the speedster many of us remember from playing the video games. But the accomplishment of getting Sonic down right pushes up against a story that places him in a realistic, human world. The screenplay (Patrick Casey, Josh Miller) has Sonic traveling from his home planet – an environment pulled right out of the game – all the way to Earth, where he has to live in hiding. An animated character in a real setting has been done more times than we can count, from Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007) to The Smurfs (2011). Sonic the Hedgehog might be better than those two, but not by much.
The writing gives Sonic a kind of cringeworthy dorkiness. Deep down, Sonic’s emotional motivation is clear: he wants to find a place to call his home and build lasting relationships with others. But all of that is buried beneath an avalanche of dumb pop culture references. Sonic was written like your uncle trying to spout out modern slang so that he can be hip like other youngsters. In rapid fire, Sonic references everything from movies to social media. Some of these jokes pay off, others fall flat and are immediately dated. He busts out the “floss” dance move as though he just learned it despite the trend already passing by.
The plot has our lovable alien hedgehog joining forces with small town police chief Tom (James Marsden) on a mission to get from Montana to San Francisco, in hopes that Sonic’s lightning fast speed won’t fall into the clutches of the government. Sonic and Tom have their work cut out for them, however, with mustachioed villain Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) employing every one of his mechanical minions to track them down.
I haven’t seen Jim Carrey be this effective in a comedic role in quite a while. Carrey pulls out all the stops as the dastardly antagonist, utilizing his (still) elastic face and body in all sorts of different contortions. It’s ironic that in a movie featuring an animated main character, that Carrey would be the one most like a cartoon. He really goes all out in making Robotnik a hilarious mad man, hell bent to prove that his machines are more effective getting a job done than any living, breathing human. He treats his work like an “artiste.” One of the funniest scenes has Carrey dancing around his command center like some diabolical loon, taking great joy in being bad.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is James Marsden as the wholesome, earnest cop. Marsden is fine in the role and does what he can interacting with an imaginary costar, but the writing gives him a really weird arc. Tom’s biggest dream is to move to San Francisco and become a big city policeman taking on big city crimes. However, Tom is constantly bombarded with messages telling him how much value there is in his little town and how much of a difference he makes in people’s lives there. It’s a strange back and forth. We’re made to believe that Tom wants to follow his dreams, but the film literally tells him not to. How often do we see a character be told to not follow their passion and somehow that is considered the right choice?
How is the action? It is what it is. It’s fast paced and has a lively energy. Sonic is so fast that often times he can play games with himself, as though he can be in different places at the same time. When Sonic has no one to play baseball with, he decides to move so fast that he can play every position on the field at the same time – pitcher, batter, catcher, etc. The scene has a nice touch of melancholy, pointing us toward Sonic’s loneliness. When Sonic battles Robotnik and hits his super speed, he leaves behind a long streak of blue light, electricity buzzing all around him like a ball of pure cosmic power.
In the long history of movies based on video games, Sonic the Hedgehog manages to not be a complete disaster. That is a good thing, considering the reputation video game movies have had in the past. If you like it, then good for you. If you don’t, then good for you also. To be honest, the film had such little effect on me that the biggest response I can muster is to shrug my shoulders and say “meh, it was ok.”