2.5 out of 5 stars.
I can’t really say what exactly I was expecting from the live-action movie version of “Sonic the Hedgehog.” When the first trailer for the film debuted in April 2019, the reaction was outrage from fans, and something between confusion and horror for everyone else. Needless to say that despite an improvement in marketing and character design by fall of 2019 (criticized for his too humanoid appearance in the first trailer, the animated character was completely redesigned to resemble his video game counterpart more closely), my expectations for this movie were pretty low. It was surprising, then, to witness such a positive reaction to the movie itself upon its release, so I went into it prepared to be pleasantly surprised—only to be let down again. The fact is that “Sonic the Hedgehog” isn’t the dumpster fire we all thought it surely must be, but it isn’t a good movie either.
In case you aren’t familiar with the classic Sega racing games, Sonic (who is voiced in this film by Ben Schwartz), is an anthropomorphic blue hedgehog who can run super fast. The film opens with Sonic living a happy life on his home planet, where he is protected by an owl-like creature called Longclaw (Donna Jay Fulks) from others who may want to take advantage of his power. When their home is invaded, Longclaw gives Sonic a bag of rings that can be used to create portals to other planets, sending him away for his own safety.
Years later, Sonic is now living in seclusion on Earth, in the tiny town of Green Hills, Montana. He feels like he knows everyone, like the sheriff, Tom (James Marsden) and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter), but since he can’t reveal himself, he doesn’t actually have any friends. Upset over this one evening, his speed causes a pulse that knocks out power across the region, losing his bag of rings in the process. As a result, the Department of Defense sends genius Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to investigate the source of the outage. When Tom discovers Sonic hiding in his shed, the two team up to elude Dr. Robotnik and recover Sonic’s rings so he can escape to another planet.
I grew up casually playing some of the Sonic video games and watching the animated shows and movies that were released in the early to mid 90s, so while I have some familiarity with the different characters, I don’t think I know enough about their backstories to say for sure whether “Sonic the Hedgehog” is satisfying for longtime fans of the games. I do know that it is fun to see these characters in this live-action/animated format, and that the way Sonic’s rings (an iconic aspect of the game) works for the story. Regarding the animation, this is the rare instance of the filmmakers listening to fans as opposed to sticking with their vision that works to the final movie’s advantage. While the first pass at the design for Sonic’s character had him appearing more humanlike-like to better fit in to the real world, it didn’t have a lot of appeal. And regardless, he’s still a blue hedgehog—how real does he need to be? The cartoony final version at least plays into the fast-paced fun of the rest of the movie.
The actors do a great job too. Schwartz gives Sonic a lot of personality. Carrey is really the highlight, however, and it’s safe to say that this movie would be significantly less enjoyable without his presence. With his exaggerated movements and ridiculous mustache, he really does resemble a living cartoon character, and his performance is reminiscent of characters such as Ace Ventura, the Mask, or even the Grinch. This is the first feature film Carrey has appeared in since 2016 (and it’s been even longer than that since he was in a comedy) and his performance is a reminder of just how great he can be when given the opportunity to go wild. Every scene he’s in is a delight; the mere turn of a head in one scene resulted in more laughter from the audience at my theater than anything else in the movie.
Having said all that, the film’s message is trite, the plot is somehow both simple and convoluted (maybe it’s just me, but it seemed like there were a lot of elements in play for a film that is essentially just Dr. Robotnik chasing Sonic), and the writing fails to strike a good balance to appeal to both kids and adults. Some of the jokes just don’t land, and a lot of the dialogue is really weird (did I need Dr. Robotnik to refer to his egg-shaped robots as coming from his “egg sack?” The answer is no). I never really felt the connection between Tom and Sonic either, even though they have some really sweet scenes together. “Sonic the Hedgehog” is really too harmless of a movie to criticize too harshly, and it’s fast-paced, colorful, and just amusing enough for kids, while everyone will be able to appreciate Carrey’s performance. I’m actually more intrigued by the possibilities of a sequel than I am by this movie. No, it isn’t terrible, but if it’s watchable, it’s just barely so.
Runtime: 99 minutes. Rated PG.