A film review by Craig J. Koban February 24, 2020


2020, PG, 99 mins.


Ben Schwartz as Sonic (voice)  /  James Marsden as Tom Wachowski  /  Jim Carrey as Dr. Ivo Robotnik / Eggman  /  Tika Sumpter as Maddie Wachowski  /  Lee Majdoub as Stone  /  Frank C. Turner as Crazy Carl  /  Adam Pally as Billy Robb

Directed by Jeff Fowler  /  Written by Patrick Casey and Josh Miller





One of the very first large purchases that I ever made with my own money was a Sega Genesis game console.  I was 13-years-old and felt like I just acquired a Roles Royce.  The first cartridge that I inserted into this fabled system was Sonic the Hedgehog, which featured a character that was, yes, a hedgehog that can run at super sonic speeds.  Two things stuck with me as I played it: (1) This is the most ridiculously fast video game I've ever played and (2) this little blue haired creature was oddly endearing. 

That was thirty-plus years ago, and it's almost unfathomable to consider that Hollywood has not made a feature film version of this video game property...until now. 

Now, the video game to movie adaptation genre has certainly had its fair share of mediocre to awful titles over the years (granted, recent examples like the terribly underrated TOMB RAIDER and the thanklessly and epically staged WARCRAFT have proven that not all examples are wretched).  This may or may not explain why a SONIC THE HEDGEHOG feature film has taken so long to get off the ground (not helping matters was the fact that Sega's rival in Nintendo saw their own flagship mascot character in Mario get turned into a horrendously wrongheaded film in 1993).  Plus, this film version has not been without its own share of controversy (more on that in a bit).  Still, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG contains surprising amounts of modest charm and wit as an unpretentiously enjoyable family film/video game adaptation.  On top of that, we get to see a grand comedic re-emergence of Jim Carrey, playing the insane villain opposite of the titular character, and he hasn't been this infectiously zany and hilariously unhinged in a film in a long time. 

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG does a fairly breezy (and mercifully brief) job of dishing out all of the expositional particulars of this little speedster.  We're told that Sonic (voiced with snarky - but not annoying - appeal by Ben Schwartz) lives in a magical kingdom that contains many nefarious foes that want to capture him and learn what makes him achieve running speeds that would make The Flash blush with envy.  Realizing his dire predicament, he utilizes some special metal rings that allow him to teleport to a different universe - our own - and crash lands in Green Hills, Montana, after which time he spends the next twenty years in hiding to avoid detection from anyone of both sides of the alternate worlds.  Incidentally, Green Hills is the same of the zone in the first level of the Sonic video game, one of the film's many little Easter Eggs and winks. 

Unfortunately, Sonic's once cozy and clandestine world gets turned upside down on its head, which also leads to him losing his prized coins that would allow him future teleportation back to his home world.  Realizing that he may need some assistance from a human, Sonic teams up with a local town sheriff, Tom (James Marsden), who manages to take in Sonic's alien appearance, lightning quick reflexes, and ability to speak fluent English with relative ease.  With the knowledge that Sonic's much needed rings are now in San Francisco (conveniently, also the location of a potential big job offer for Tom), the pair decide to road trip it out to California and avoid anyone noticing.  Unfortunately for them, Sonic's actions have caught the attention of the U.S. military, who have decided to enlist the aid of the self anointed "smartest man in the world" in Dr. Robotnik (Carrey), who's not only a fiendishly intelligent and crafty scientist ("I'm top banana in a world full of monkeys!"), but is also very much obsessively crazy.  When he maliciously unleashes every technological tool in his arsenal to find and catch Sonic, both he and Tom release that their mission to get to San Fran won't be an easy one.



Even though Sonic is produced entirely in CGI (the source of some of the largest pre-release chatter about this film...again...more on that in a bit), the character remains kind of adorably sarcastic and pleasantly expressive, which is thanks in large part to the solid voice work by Schwartz, who understands that he's harnessing what's essentially a cartoon character, but wisely plays him with a well rounded set of relatable, human emotions.  On top of that, I appreciated how first time director Jeff Fowler shows how passionate he is about the video game's legacy while not being too aggressively fan service-y (which is a really hard dichotomy to pull off).  Removing Sonic well away from his exotic home world and placing him in a fish-out-of-water narrative seeing him occupy our own world mostly pays off, but that's not to say that there isn't winks and nods throughout to appease the most diehard of Sonic fanboys.  Most importantly, they seem to capture the visual and personality essence of this character rather well.  Sonic is an agreeable chap, and not one of those overly and exasperatingly cutesy characters that you just want to dash away from.  It's no wonder that Tom takes a liking to him.   

And speaking of appearances, Sonic went through a rather unprecedented visual overhaul before the film was released, which was tied directly to its now infamous - and mostly hated - early marketing and trailer campaign that showed him as a grotesquely humanoid creature that not only haunted fans, but even upset the character's own creator in Yuji Naka.  The overwhelmingly negative outcry over Sonic's creepy visage led to Paramount delaying the film by several months so that Fowler and his VFX teams could completely scrap this design and start fresh again (Fowler even took to Twitter to explain that he and his team got it wrong and were on board to fix their mistakes).  Now, there's something to be said about the unhealthy amount of power that social media has in creatively dictating how a film will come out in final form (generally speaking, it seems like a disturbing artistic trend), but there's no denying that the first Sonic design was an unholy concoction and Fowler and his team absolutely improved this character for the better.  Yes, some of the CGI used here seems a bit unpolished and rushed (no doubt because of time restraints), but his new cuddly form (helped by Schwartz's unbridled performance enthusiasm) wins the day in the end. 

Let's talk about some of the actors appearing in human form for a bit, like Marsden, who has the trickiest performance job out of everyone here, seeing as he has give a credible job serving as understated straight man to all of Sonic's tomfoolery (Tom and Sonic do make for an warm pair of mismatched misfits).  But, of course, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG is utterly owned by Carrey, who goes full-on hog wild (no pun intended) as his ridiculously egomaniacal baddie, a role that fully allows the rubber faced and spidery limbed actor to cut loose in ways her hasn't perhaps since the 1990s.  One of the giddy and hysterical pleasures of Robotnik is just how much perverse pleasure he takes in cutting off people mid sentence to explain to them why they don't matter and how they'll never, ever be as smart as him.  Considering that SONIC THE HEDGEHOG is about an animated character graced with an outlandish appearance and otherworldly powers, it's compellingly ironic that Carrey gives the most admirably over-the-top and cartoonish performance in it.  Watching the near 60-year-old actor, in one sly scene, dexterously gyrate and dance uncontrollably while plotting his mad scheme against Sonic shows that Carrey hasn't lost a step as an unparalleled physical comedian; he's an absolute hoot here. 

Alas, not all of SONIC THE HEDGEHOG is wonderful fun.  The road trip/on-a-mission story arc here has been done countless times before and seems a bit too mechanically conceived here.  Plus, for every verbal zinger and sight gag that works there are others that simply don't (references to, in no particular order, the FAST AND FURIOUS series, a possible presidential run by Dwayne Johnson, and Olive Garden aren't as funny as this film thinks they are).  Some sequences in the film are sort of conceptually lazy, like a would-be inspired slow-mo action scene showing Sonic having his way with some bar patrons that's almost plagiaristic of a similar scenes featuring Quicksilver's powers in the X-MEN films.  Lastly, it's hard to ignore that SONIC THE HEDGEHOG - like the less entertaining and more cynical minded POKEMON: DETECTIVE PIKACHU from last year - is, in most respects, a cash-grabbing  hour and a half-plus product placement commercial.  Yet, as far as cash grabbing, hour and a half-plus mass marketed products go - and in large comparison to its historically troubled genre as a whole - SONIC THE HEDGEHOG has a lot more going for it than most, and it eagerly zips along as a fast-paced family adventure that delivers on intended promises.  And a lot of Carrey's hammy-to-the extreme, constantly freaking out, latte loving, and literal moustache twirling antagonist here goes an awful long way. 

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