It’s no secret that video game movies often leave much to be desired. Director Jeff Fowler’s adaptation of Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog may not break that curse entirely, but it’s heartfelt, fun, and should play like gangbusters to its intended audience.
Make no mistake, Sonic the Hedgehog is 100% a kid’s movie. There’s a decent amount for adult audiences to enjoy, especially for fans of the games. But the viewers who get the most out of this will be the ones more concerned with a zippy blue CGI character cracking wise and zooming around than things like narrative logic, character motivations that shift on a dime, clumsy manufactured conflict, and saccharine, overly simplified morals.
That’s not to say Sonic the Hedgehog is a bad movie, but it is exactly the movie it looks like. It’s reminiscent of similar CGI/human hybrids, like Hop, and follows a familiar formula. A precocious animated character needs help and teams up with a momentarily confused, reluctant human. They have adventures. The precociousness gets them in trouble. They become friends. Everyone learns important lessons by the end.
In this iteration of the tale, we have Sonic the Hedgehog, voiced by Ben Schwartz, a speedy blue alien on the run from intergalactic enemies who want his power. Sent to Earth by his Owl mother-figure, he hides out in a small Montana town. When the evil Dr. Robotnik (an unhinged Jim Carrey sporting an olde-timey-strongman mustache) decides he’d also like to get his hands on this power, it’s up to Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), the local sheriff, to lend a helping hand. Fun fact: Marsden also plays the reluctant human sidekick in Hop.
At its core, Sonic the Hedgehog is a movie about searching for a place to belong and realizing what’s truly important in life. Because of his situation, Sonic must remain hidden and isolated. As he zips around in the shadows, a blue blur to everyone but the town kook, he spies on the citizens of Green Hills and makes up stories about how they’re all best friends. He calls Tom “Donut Lord,” because he talks to donuts, his yoga-enthusiast wife, Maddie (Tika Sumpter), “Pretzel Lady,” and imagines the three of them watching movies on the couch as he peers in through their window at night.
Schwartz as Sonic infuses Sonic the Hedgehog with the hyperactive energy of a sugar-addled pre-adolescent. He bounces off the walls, never stops talking, randomly dances, cracks wise, makes bad decisions, and is full of toothless sarcasm. But he also carries an air of sadness, longing, and a lonely streak that balance the manic chaos somewhat.
Marsden has an easy, affable, inoffensive charm. Tom’s a bored rural cop who desperately wants to test himself and see what he’s really made up. As a result, he’s about to take a job with the San Francisco Police Department and leave his hometown and everything and everyone he’s ever known. Sonic the Hedgehog handles both Tom’s big dreams and Sonic’s burning desire for connection in shallow fashion—they’re admirable ideas, though never fleshed out in any meaningful capacity.
But thank god for Jim Carrey. He brings the kind of escaped-lunatic mania that made him famous but that he doesn’t often unleash these days. It’s a bit dated at times, and a toned-down, family friendly incarnation of his schtick for sure, but he plays Robotnik (a machine-loving government scientist with his own agenda) with a deranged glee that doesn’t exist in many, if any, other performers. He has a fine time tormenting Tom and Sonic, and he’s easily the highlight of the whole Sonic the Hedgehog production.
Sonic the Hedgehog keeps up a brisk tempo, which generally allows the viewer to not dwell on plot choices that might otherwise be hang-ups. Things like that from all appearances, Tom is a great guy, has a good job, and is a loving, devoted husband. Yet Maddie’s sister despises him. She spends the entire movie screaming about how awful he is and how she needs to divorce him. You’d think he’s a mass murderer.
At few points, the Sonic the Hedgehog script from Josh Miller and Patrick Casey randomly inserts unearned conflict between the characters, seemingly just because. It’s full of similar instances and story decisions that don’t make sense, narratively or practically. And this is in a movie where you buy that the main character is a fast hedgehog from space.
The Sonic the Hedgehog movie kicks off with Robotnik pursuing Sonic through San Francisco, causing massive destruction and an untold number of bystander deaths. Seriously, at one point, he blows up a city bus no one had time to get off of—the whole film has a very casual, cavalier attitude toward human life and collateral damage. Robotnik’s automated toys plow through traffic and unleash swarms of bullets in highly populated, heavily travelled areas full of civilians. It’s concerning that there are zero consequences for any action.
Though there’s a blatant disregard for human life, the action in Sonic the Hedgehog remains solid throughout. Even if it does rely too heavily on the effect where Sonic moves so fast everything appears to stand still. We get an extensive car chase, enhanced by Robotnik’s garage full of high-tech gadgets. The climactic sequence makes excellent, inventive use of Sonic’s speed, Robotnik’s drones and planes, and the iconic golden rings which serve as portals. Not mind-blowing in its originality, the Sonic the Hedgehog movie is all crisp and coherent and sure to thrill and delight younger viewers.
And that’s the demographic where the Sonic the Hedgehog movie is destined to play best: with younger viewers. There are tons of nods and Easter eggs for both casual and hardcore fans—including a few deep, deep cuts—and for the most part they occur naturally as part of the movie. Still, everything skews so much to that side. Most older audiences will have a harder time latching on to an overly familiar story and forgiving skips in logic.
Sonic the Hedgehog is perfectly enjoyable, cute and sweet as it is; but the drama is rote, the humor toothless, and the whole package is sanded down to the point where there’s not a single edge or glimpse of complexity.