Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)
Every hero has a genesis.
Although known for his supersonic speeds, it’s taken Sonic the Hedgehog quite a while to get to the multiplex. Initially created by programmer Yuji Naka and artist Naoto Ohshima for the Sega Genesis System in 1991 as a flagship character/ mascot to rival competitor Nintendo, the rights for a film adaptation of the fast furball have been floating around for some time. While there was talk of a movie around in the mid-nineties, the project was shelved due to being ‘too hard’ to adapt. It was later revived in 2014 by Sony Pictures Animation, who planned on developing an animated film — but this fell through also. In late 2017, however, Paramount Pictures announced that they were finally giving us a live-action Sonic movie, which was set for a November 2019 release.
Then the trailer dropped, and boy was it ugly. The online community gasped in horror as a humanoid version of Sonic was unveiled, a ghastly creature of horrifying proportions, complete with manlike teeth and a thin, lanky body — akin to a creepy guy wearing a weird onesie. Many described the design as a CGI monstrosity that’d been plucked from their nightmares. Memes roasted this realistic take on the character, numerous fans released their own ‘how to fix’ posts and videos, and the whole of the internet flipped out, baffled at how the studio could stuff it up so badly.
Then director, and first-time feature filmmaker, Jeff Fowler announced on Twitter that the character was being re-designed, with artist Tyson Hesse, who worked on previous Sonic the Hedgehog media, brought in to spearhead the development. The hashtag #GottaFixFast (a play on one of the film’s taglines) also started doing the rounds as the studio scrambled to finish the VFX before the film’s proposed November release. It was an unprecedented turn of events, and consequentially the movie was delayed three months to February 2020. Once the re-do was revealed, though, it was met with open arms, this new Sonic much more in line with the classic look of the blue anthropomorphic speedster.
And thank heavens for that, because Sonic the Hedgehog is a genuinely great time at the movies; it’s a fun old-school buddy/ road trip family film about a guy and his alien friend. It’s surprisingly faithful to the Sega video game series and probably wouldn’t have worked as well as it does without the do-over.
It all begins on an unknown alien planet, where we see a baby Sonic run through its dreamlike green fields without a care in the world. That’s until Sonic’s mentor, an owl named Longclaw (voiced by Donna Jay Fulks), fears that the tyke is in danger because of his unique abilities (we see a bunch of evil masked Echidnas chase after him) and urges Sonic to leave his home and take refuge in another world. The wise owl hands Sonic a bag of golden rings that he can use as portholes to jump into any dimension he wishes. And so, Sonic finds himself on Earth, hiding out in the sleepy town of Green Hills, Montana (a nice game reference there), where he’s forced to live in the shadows.
Ten years later and Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) has made a nifty little home for himself in the idyllic settlement, tucked away in an underground hole, where he reads Flash comics, plays ping-pong with himself, listens to music, and spies on the locals, mainly the town sheriff/ nice guy Tom Wachowski (a game James Marsden) and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter). And bar a local crackpot named Crazy Carl (Frank C. Turner), who claims to have seen a ‘blue devil’ zooming around town, it’s been pretty smooth sailing for our lightning-fast hero thus far. All the while, our human protagonist, Tom, aspires for something more out of his life and is planning on moving to San Francisco to ‘make a difference’ and do some ‘real’ police work.
One night, however, the interdimensional animal slips up while playing on a baseball field, causing a major power surge that blankets the entire town in darkness. Enter: roboticist Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey), a mad inventor who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else, hired by the U.S. government to investigate the situation in Green Hills. On the run from Robotnik and his egg-shaped drones, Sonic crosses paths with Tom, who accidentally shoots the furball with a tranquilizer dart, forcing the hedgehog to drop his bag of rings through a porthole he accidentally opens into San Fran. After a run-in with Carrey’s mustache-twirling baddie, the pair decide to team up and trek to California to retrieve Sonic’s lost rings so that he can escape to a new world before he’s caught by the evil genius hot on their tails, who plans on using Sonic’s powers for some kind of world domination.
Basically, when you stop to think about it, the narrative here might be plain and simple but it comes awfully close to that of a Genesis game: Sonic must collect rings, defeat Dr. Robotnik, then jump into the next level. Written by Patrick Casey and Josh Miller, Sonic the Hedgehog manages to work as both a kids’ film — delivering messages on the importance of companionship — and a love letter to Sonic’s rich 29-year history.
Kids will laugh with Sonic as he chats with himself, mucks about, and complies a Bucket List of silly things to do before he bids Earth farewell. He’s a positive, endearing character whom the young’uns can look up to. Fans, on the other hand, will delight at the many nods and Easter eggs (there’s a lot) director Fowler has crammed into the movie’s brisk 99-minute run time. From jokes about a mushroom world (anyone remember Mushroom Hill Zone?) to the way Sonic curls up into a ball to take down Robotnik’s machinery (a blatant gameplay wink), to the many visual gags (we see Sonic eat a Chili dog, for instance); it’s obvious filmmakers have an affinity for the source material. There’s also a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it reference to the intentionally bad ‘Sanic Hegehog’ drawing created by YouTuber 0nyxheart in 2010. And while the film sets itself up for a sequel (which I hope we get), it never sacrifices its storytelling to lay out future groundwork, Fowler and Co. giving us a complete experience as opposed to part of one.
In terms of action, Sonic the Hedgehog is a heap of fun. There’s an amusing effects-heavy sequence where Sonic travels in ultra-slow-motion to move things around in order to win a bar fight à la Quicksilver from X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), and a witty high-speed pursuit that plays out like a mid-level boss battle — this one had me grinning from ear to ear. Sure, the GCI is a little cartoony, but it mostly works with the overall vibe of the film.
While a lot’s been said about the VFX, it’s Jim Carrey who winds up stealing the show as the nefarious Doctor Robotnik, his wacky, over-the-top performance evoking the rubbery-body and motormouthed comedy of his heyday, the kind of stuff he used to do back in the nineties in flicks such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) and The Mask (1994). A bit where Carrey dances to The Poppy Family’s ‘Where Evil Grows’ in his big black truck is an absolute zinger. Clearly, the funnyman’s still got it! Ben Schwartz, DuckTales (2017), is pitch-perfect as our prickly hero, finding the right balance between lovable and emotive, and tugging on the heartstrings when it really counts. Additionally, Schwartz’s Sonic shares great chemistry with his human co-star Marsden, whom the wise-cracking Hedgehog deems ‘Doughnut Lord’ for conversing with his food. Heck, the entire cat-and-mouse game between Schwartz, Marsden, and Carrey is worth the price of admission alone.
Support players are equally as entertaining. Adam Pally, Band Aid (2017), is a hoot as Wachowski’s dim-witted police officer friend Billy Robb. At the same time, The 100’s Lee Majdoub, offers a nice contrast to Robotnik as his patient, straight-faced assistant Agent Stone, whom Carrey has a ton of fun bouncing off. Tika Sumpter, Ride Along (2014), manages to stand out as Tom’s strong, supportive veterinarian wife Maddie, while Natasha Rothwell, Like A Boss (2020), threatens to nab the spotlight from Carrey as Maddie’s disapproving sister, who keeps insisting she divorce her seemingly perfect hubby.
If I’m being nitpicky, I can complain about the film’s not-so-subtle product placement (for U.S. brands Zillow and Olive Garden), but this is just a minor quibble in an otherwise well-made film.
If you’re a fan of the Blue Blur, Sonic the Hedgehog is worth spending your gold rings on; it’s entertaining, features giddy, light-hearted performances, and is much more fun than a dash through the Chemical Plant Zone. It also serves as a warm homage to all things Sonic. So, Sonic aficionados, run to this one and fast. Oh, be sure to stick around for a nifty 16-bit closing credit sequence that recaps the entire film, and a mid-credit scene that has me psyched for a follow-up.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Mr. Movie