REVIEW: Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Theatrical Release Poster – Paramount Pictures

The following is a review of Sonic the Hedgehog — Directed by Jeff Fowler.

Jeff Fowler’s Sonic the Hedgehog is based on the popular iconic video game franchise of the same name, which is about an anthropomorphic blue hedgehog that can run extremely fast. At the outset of the film, the aforementioned blue hedgehog (voiced by Ben Schwartz) is just a fast young hedgehog without a care in the world, but, when it becomes too dangerous to stay on his homeworld, Longclaw the Owl (voiced by Donna Jay Fulks), Sonic’s guardian, gives Sonic a small bag full of magical rings that can help him travel to different worlds in the universe. Sonic the Hedgehog needs to find a safe and new home.

Sonic’s portal hopping eventually leads him to Earth and Green Hills, Montana, a quiet small town. This teenaged Sonic has a lot of freedom, but he has become lonely, and he is in desperate need of friendship. This need eventually brings him to Tom ‘Donut Lord’ Wachowski (played by James Marsden), a local sheriff who has dreams of becoming a big city police officer that can make a difference. However, Tom and Sonic won’t have all the time in the world to bond, because the manic and arrogant mad scientist, Dr. Robotnik (played by Jim Carrey), wants to capture and study the speedy blue alien.

If there is one thing that filmmakers, animators, and film studios probably learned from the marketing process for Sonic the Hedgehog, it is that you have to be extremely careful when you alter the look of an iconic character. Video game movies have troubled history in Hollywood, and this video game movie certainly didn’t need the internet reaction that surfaced once the film’s character design for the titular character was revealed. The film’s first trailer showcased the character design for Sonic the Hedgehog, and the look of the character was harshly criticized online. It, just, did not at all look right. The design that they had originally intended for the titular character was, frankly, mind-boggling. They had taken a cool animated video game character and made him too anthropomorphic. The human teeth that Sonic had in that first trailer were disturbing, but they weren’t the only problem with the design.

You have to remember that the first trailer was revealed a month prior to the release of Detective Pikachu, which had character designs that fans of that series were excited about. I was stunned and very disappointed by the character design in the Sonic the Hedgehog-trailer. After the near-universal criticism, it felt like the film would be doomed to fail if the film studio chose not to redesign the titular character. But, in the end, they decided to listen to the harsh feedback, and the redesign that they showcased in the following trailers was such an improvement on their original design, which quickly became an internet meme, that the film got a lot of good press, social media comments, and word of mouth. Although the studio most certainly had to invest new money in the character design, some might say that the fiasco that was the first trailer was perhaps a blessing in disguise.

What is definitely true is that this new character design, which is obviously featured proudly in Jeff Fowler’s Sonic the Hedgehog, is more than close enough to the original character design that fans know and love. The new character design is outstanding and the visual effects utilized to bring him to life are very good. The only visual effect that I thought was subpar was the look of Dr. Robotnik’s drones in some scenes. In general, I was very pleased with the character design and the visual effects of the finished product. In fact, I wish the film would’ve dared to spend more time in the fully animated homeworld that the film opens in because it certainly looked more exciting than the live-action shots.

This is the feature film directorial debut of Jeff Fowler, an Oscar-nominated animated short film director, and I think most people will be pleased with his first foray into feature-length entertainment. It is both a road trip movie and a bucket list movie. But, first and foremost, this is an energetic above-average video game movie with a lot of heart. I am sure that this will be a huge crowd pleaser with its young target audience. I am, however, pretty sure that older long-time fans of the character will be disappointed by the simplicity of the plot and the fact that the film takes place almost entirely on Earth. However, those fans should be pleased by the way the film tries to set itself up for a sequel, which, I will admit, I am now very interested to see.

You see, there is a lot about this movie that works. For one, the character design for the titular character is spot-on, and, eventually, you do get used to Ben Schwartz’ voice for the character. Sonic the Hedgehog also just feels fast-paced and, with a 100-minute runtime, the film doesn’t outstay its welcome. In Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, the character Quicksilver, a mutant whose superpower is superspeed, was introduced to great success. In that film, there is an outstanding scene where Quicksilver basically stops time by moving so fast that he can influence everything around him before anyone notices it. The filmmakers behind Sonic the Hedgehog have, thankfully, been smart enough to steal the look of stopping time by moving extremely fast for their own film. To see Sonic copy Quicksilver was just perfect.

“Of course, I want a latté, I love the way you make ’em!”

Sonic the Hedgehog, which once looked like a disaster, is, ultimately, fun for the whole family. Some of the lines are really bad, some of the jokes really don’t land, but the movie is still fun enough. Though I was worried at first, the Sonic-character grows on you, and there are some really funny line deliveries from the film’s antagonist, which, finally, brings me to Jim Carrey. I think that Jim Carrey, who plays the villainous madman, Dr. Robotnik, is really fun to watch in this movie. Carrey had his heyday in the 1990s with films such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber, and his performance in Sonic the Hedgehog felt like a return to the type of manic performances that made his characters in those aforementioned films so beloved. He brings a special brand of energy and zaniness to Dr. Robotnik that, frankly, made me forget about the fact that his character design is noticeably different from the original game character. Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik is ludicrously cartoonish. His line delivery is sometimes inspired and hilarious, and to see him swivel around in a chair or dance in his private laboratory was so much fun.

However, I can’t say that this film is a complete success. Like I’ve hinted at, I think it has some pretty noticeable problems. The dialogue is not very good, the comedy of the film is mostly based on reference humor, and, except for Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik, the human characters are generic and the performances are bland. I also think the film’s plot is not just simplistic but misguided. A road trip movie with Sonic the Hedgehog sounds fun, but it also doesn’t make a lot of sense that the extremely fast hedgehog has to sit still in a car that travels through multiple states. It makes sense that Sonic would be impatient in the vehicle, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense that the only reason why he has to wait in the car is that he, I assume, is unable to read maps or signs. Sonic the Hedgehog can run to San Francisco in a split-second, so why doesn’t he?

Furthermore, I don’t entirely believe the relationship that Tom and Sonic have at the end of the film. It feels rushed, and their disagreements on the road trip feel forced. Of course, you could say that it is ‘just’ a movie meant for young audiences, and therefore the plot doesn’t always need to be nit-picked. But I also thought that the main events of the film were too easily resolved by the end of the film. The film expects us to ignore or forget that, for a large part of the film, James Marsden’s character is vilified by the government and the media in the film.

Look, video game movies are often pretty woeful. We still haven’t seen a truly great video game movie, and that is pretty disappointing. But, in spite of the bumpy marketing process, Jeff Fowler’s Sonic the Hedgehog has revealed itself to be a pretty decent and above-average family-friendly video game movie with a lot of heart that works in large part due to the performance given by Jim Carrey. It is another step in the right direction for the video game movie genre, but it is only a small step forward.

6.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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