The Sonic The Hedgehog Movie Is A Little Weird, But Mostly Fine

sonic the hedgehog movie review

When I left the theatre after a private screening of Sonic the Hedgehog, one of the organisers walked up to me with a question. Would the movie please hardcore fans? I took a moment to think. It didn’t matter, I said, shrugging. It wasn’t a movie for them; it was a movie made for kids. A movie with a sappy friendship plot, a silly cartoon animal, and Jim Carrey. Will hardcore fans love Sonic the Hedgehog? I don’t care. Kids will, and that’s the point.

If you told me beforehand that I’d walk away from Sonic the Hedgehog smiling, I wouldn’t have believed you. I am one of the aforementioned hardcore Sonic fans. The Sega Genesis was my first console, and Green Hill Zone is as familiar to me as the backyard of my childhood home—even if I think Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s Emerald Hill Zone is the better level. I dressed up as Sonic for Halloween one year, started reading the Archie comic series from issue number one, and will gladly spend hours explaining to you why Sonic Adventure’s use of hub worlds is absolutely a good thing. I love Sonic, and the early details about the new movie sounded nothing like the Sonic I knew. So, what? He’s in the real world and his friend is a cop? Robotnik is some type of government Men in Black scientist? There’s no chaos emeralds? Sounds like bullshit to me.

Then came the reveal of Sonic’s original design. He was a tangled little thing with small eyes and a freak mouth full of human-like teeth. It was shocking enough to make me feel that Sonic the Hedgehog would probably be a disaster. The internet—contingents of both good-hearted true blue bomberheads and less well-meaning 40-year-old YouTube opportunists who rant about Captain Marvel—were not pleased. That moment of digital saber-rattling eventually led to a redesign much more in line with the Sonic folks knew. But that reaction felt excessive. Uproar meant meetings meant delays meant art-sessions meant animation dashes. The Vancouver studio of the visual effects company responsible for the work, Moving Picture Company, shut down last December. It’s not clear whether the decision to redo the animation caused the shutdown, but their last project would give fans the Sonic they wanted before losing their jobs.

If that’s a downer, please know that Sonic the Hedgehog is fun. It is not the thing that nerds probably wanted: a reference-packed recreation of their favourite video game plots. It’s strange; a mixture of a buddy-cop and road trip movie whose scenes I remember distinctly but which will ultimately leave no real impression on me. Instead, whenever I think about Sonic the Hedgehog, I’ll think about the theatre I was in. It was packed with dumbass critics like me, but also with parents and their kids. This is what I know: A lot of people worked extra hard to make a loveable hedgehog have an adventure on that screen and they did their job perfectly.

When Sonic goofed off and played baseball by himself—moving so fast that he fielded all positions—folks laughed. When Sonic was in danger, a kid behind me very worriedly asked their mum if he was ok. Of course Sonic’s ok, kiddo; you’ll see. He’ll get up and beat the bad guys. It was like watching an old friend perform familiar tricks. Sonic means the world to me, and now maybe there’s a few more kids out there who think he’s the coolest thing ever. Which, of course, he is.

Sonic the Hedgehog abandons pretty much everything from the video games or other materials. In this version of the story, Sonic’s basically an alien (or at least an interdimensional animal pal) who lives in the idyllic town of Green Hills. Watching human life from a distance, he lives vicariously through others. He’s enthusiastic about the world around him, particularly the local sheriff Tom Wachowski (played by living Greek statue James Marsden). Wachowski’s life in Green Hills is dull; the most he might deal with on a given day are raccoons. Both of these characters want more. Sonic wants real friends and family; Tom wants excitement and adventure. It’s a simple set up, and they both come to rely on each other after one fateful night where Sonic runs so damn fast that he knocks out all the power on the West Coast. This attracts the attention of the United States government, who immediately dispatch the questionable Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to investigate the situation.

The glue is Ben Schwartz’s energetic performance as Sonic. It’s not quite as cheeky as Jaleel White’s turn as Sonic during the 1990s cartoon series or as brash as the anime-inspired modern games. Schwartz instead opts for something more vulnerable. Sonic’s a lonely kid brimming with energy and an eagerness to please others. That sentimentality plays well with Marden’s everyman performance as Wachowski. It’s actually surprising how well the two work together. Schwartz’ Sonic is a joke-a-second goofball slowly becoming a hero, and Marsden—who by now has cornered the market on well-meaning fellas with credits including Westworld and Enchanted—is clearly having fun. There’s just enough of a growing father/son dynamic to give development but it never sinks into wrought oversentimentality. Again, this is a movie for kids, about growth and family and friend-making. I don’t think Tom Wachowski is going down in the fan pantheon of favourite characters, but thanks to Schwartz and Marsden’s shared earnestness, I felt invested enough.

Opposite the cosy friendship of Tom and Sonic is the absolute batshit world of Jim Carrey’s Doctor Robotnik. I’ve had a few days to mull things over, and I cannot decide if I absolutely love this stupid little gremlin villain or if he’s officially way too much to deal with. Please understand that I struggle with the knowledge that anyone ever found Ace Ventura Pet Detective funny, and while I love Dumb and Dumber, I’m far more likely to re-watch The Truman Show than one of Carrey’ slapsticks. Few have aged well. There’s no denying that this is a man who has perfect control of his body in a comedic sense. Robotnik’s various contortions, screwball mugging, and exclamations are delivered with Carrey’s famous excess, but it’s somehow not as enjoyable as Schwartz’ hyperactive chirpings. The script never quite manages to make Robotnik’s intellect manifest as anything other than insufferably over-syllabic ramblings. For all of his bumblings in the video games and comics, Robotnik was a villain first and foremost. He’s dangerous. Carrey’s Robotnik never quite manages that.

Sonic the Hedgehog isn’t an action movie per-se, but there’s enough excitement to punctuate the emotion. The plot’s roadtrip structure eventually shifts to a lengthy chase, which does provide plenty of action showdowns with Robotnik’s dastardly mechs and egg-robots but also means that the two most iconic characters in the movie tends to interact with each other in bite-sized pieces. Sometimes, Robotnik’s not really around. Sonic will smash a robot, often in spectacular fashion, only for a quick cutaway to Robotnik in his lab shaking his fist or pushing a button to summon another mechano-monstrosity. This feels like a missed opportunity. Sonic the Hedgehog clearly has aspirations of a sequel. It is, to an extent, an origin story for the rivalry between Sonic and Robotnik. It takes until the final confrontation for the hero/villain dynamic to fully form and it fizzles out too quickly in an anti-climactic showdown.

Sonic the Hedgehog is fine. That’s the best thing I can say for it here, particularly for any diehard reader who finds themselves conflicted about their investment in this movie. It’s fine! The premise is flimsy and the script isn’t memorable but the earnestness is infectious. It’s a silly story about growing up and finding your place, which just happens to have a blue hedgehog and a mustachioed Jim Carrey. If you wanted some intense adaptation of Sonic Adventure or something more specific to the games, you won’t find it here. It’s not your movie; it’s your little brother’s. Leave expectations behind and you’ll have some fun.


Comments

    'few have aged well'. - Dumb and Dumber could well be listed as the funniest movie of all time. It is still funny now, and I really cannot think of a comedy that holds up as well as it does as none of the jokes are products of the time, just timeless hilarity. In this one statement you have rendered yourself unfit as a critic of comedy IMO. Totally lost me there.

      That's one movie. The word few implies a "small number" or, for most people, two or three. Few doesn't mean zero or none, so ... might want to double-check that.

        The mask still holds up extremely well, and so does liar liar. And personally i think ace ventura is still awesome too.

          Wouldn't agree on the Mask or Liar Liar, but definitely behind Dumb & Dumber and Ace Ventura.

    Sonic the Hedgehog is fine. That’s the best thing I can say for it here, particularly for any diehard reader who finds themselves conflicted about their investment in this movie.

    Personally, I love Ace Ventura, I love Dumb and Dumber, the Mask and a lot of Carrey's movies. They're not for you, I get that, but comedy like anything, is subjective. It's a pity that you probably didn't get to experience Jim through his heyday, but that stuff was gold when it came out. Struggle all you want, but respect peoples rights to love them :)

    As for Sonic, saw it tonight and loved it. Remember, there's really no 'canon-Sonic'. We have two different cartoons, multiple different comics and a lot of different origins for little Blue. Every so often he gets 'rebooted' in some form or other in a terrible 3d game, or a new short lived comic, but all in all, there's no true defining canon other than he lives in the green hills of his planet, seeking the chaos emerals and he fights Dr Robotnik. Most of that was here, some of that will be saved for sequels :)

    I had *heaps* of fun with this movie, I found it to be a great time, the easter eggs in the movie for long time Sonic fans, the ease of accessibility for new fans who can join in the fun. The heart it wears on its sleeve as a genuine crowd pleaser. There's truly something I feel you really miss here, and that's that we have our confirmed second 'good to very good videogame movie'. People can argue Mortal Kombat, but that's a bad movie that's very fun to watch. Detective Pikachu was a really good movie, this is too.

    Next time you write a review for a movie, maybe leave the passive aggressiveness towards older people at the door, maybe they're not all as bad as you're making out here? We're not all Jeremy Hambly or Nerdrotic for gods sake.

      Not sure why you think there was anything directed at older people? I will say if you consider the conclusion of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective it's pretty easy to see why it's not fondly remembered by everyone.

        I'm not concerned if it's not remembered fondly by everyone. It's a product of it's time and should be remembered as such. As many things are. Many people love it, many don't, that's more than fine. Primarily the constant digs that 'it's for kids and not fans' etc get tiresome after a while. The Sonic movie did a lot right and should be praised, fans in general will like it, some might not, but overall, it does far more right than what it does wrong. It shouldn't be merely written off as 'just for kids' when it should be praised as a videogame movie that, along with another contemporary peer, finally ditches the videogame curse and delivers a damn good movie for multiple generations. Or you know, maybe I'm just at that age where in my 40's, I just tire of seeing everything relegated to labels, age brackets and whatnot. Because quality always trumps those sort of things :)

          Couldn't agree more. This is one of the few movies Im actually excited for this year. One that isnt bogged down by trying to push an agenda.

          Would you put this on the level of Warcraft, Det. Pikachu and Mortal Kombat? I havent seen it yet as i wasnt sure when it was comming out but am going to see it even if it were at the level of MK:retaliation which i admit is a guilty pleasure of mine just to support the redesign.

          If on par with Warcraft i will be happy.

            I enjoyed Warcraft but ultimately found it very lacking. I think it stands shoulder to shoulder with Detective Pikachu. While that movie was great, the third act fell apart quite a bit, the first two acts were magnificent. This ones very similair in that respect. First two acts are great, third act is still good but ends up being very predictable, yet still very fun :)

            But that being said I'm still pissed we never got a WC sequel :\

            I may rewatch that this weekend!!!

              Same. I think if a Warcraft sequel/new movie could have focused on a tighter story then it could have turned into something special.

              I feel for the movie writer(s) though because they had a hard task of trying to be relatively faithful to Warcraft: Orcs vs Humans but making it fit in the time constraints of a movie. It would be a problem virtually any Warcraft movie based on a core game story would have.

              Something outside of the games, but still related to the games would work much better (for example the upbringing of Thrall).

          I feel as though the author was not trying to be dismissive but rather, sort of apologetic? Trying to write a review for everybody when it was known beforehand that it would be divisive. I mean, it's great that you genuinely enjoyed and I'm sure that many like you will, probably including myself. But surely you know that there are also /that/ kind of snotty, hardcore, hard-to-please fan. The ones who already start from a negative point of view because Sonic is on Earth and not on his world, and from there onwards, every little thing that doesn't conform to their perfect ideal will be yet another nail in the coffin.

          I feel that for the former viewers (i.e. you or me), this article is giving enough hints that the movie is enjoyable and feel-good while making sure that the latter fans are warned of what to expect.

            I did reply, but then it got put into edit hell *sigh* when I foolishly changed something.

            Anyhow let's try reply 2!

            So what I was saying is I agree with you generally. You're never going to please all the people all the time unfortunately. Especially those on the net who seem to go out with the intent of being contrarians. Sometimes in these articles, it feels a bit condescending though, that the movies are written off as 'it's just a kids movie'. The most inherent problem here, is that that's what kids movies *have* become (this is not Heathers fault of course). For every decent movie that comes out like say, Despicable Me, which was pretty goddamn witty, we have a Trolls, an Angry Birds, a... take your pick. These movies force adults into a situation of actually turning off their brain during the movie and occasionally smirking at the stupidity. But we still have movies occasionally, like Despicable Me, Sonic and a few others, where adults can genuinely enjoy them too (again, not Heather's fault as per se, but this is genuinely a point that should be acknowledged). This movie genuinely didn't 'talk down' to kids, wasn't condescending like a lot of other ones, it was just *fun* and didn't feel like you had to feel embarassed walking out having watched it, or like you couldn't tell your mates you saw it. In that regard, that's a heck of an achievement these days it seems.

    Sonic the Hedgehog may be a kids movie but it's also for Sonic fans like myself who love Sonic the Hedgehog more than ever and Jim Carrey acting as Dr. Robotnik seems fine to me and so tomorrow I'll definitely be watching Sonic the Hedgehog and after watching the movie I'll be going home with Sonic the Hedgehog memories that will last a lifetime for myself and all the other Sonic fans.

      Stay for the credits. The 16bit art will have you, like me, crying for a new hires 16bit game...

    Reading about the plot, it absolutely feels as though this movie could work as the prologue for the better-known Sonic canon (i.e. the 2D games one), with Sonic returning to his world to escape Robotnik and accidentally bringing him alone. Cue little animals being made into energy sources for his robots and Sonic truly becoming a hero.

      I'm not going to tell you how close to the mark you are... *cough*

    Jim Carrey was the best part of this film. I absolutely loved him. Such a delight to see him being, well, him.

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