As a youngster, I had a Sega Genesis, meaning I was plenty familiar with their mascot and video game star, Sonic the Hedgehog. I was very aware of Mario as well and found myself more or less confused about why I had the chance to see a Super Mario Bros. movie, but not one based on the cool blue hedgehog. Of course, even as a kid, I was aware something strange had happened in bringing Mario to the big screen. Maybe it was better Sonic did not attempt to cash in the same way. Well, we’re now a long way from 1993, and while video game movies haven’t had the most stunning of forward evolutions, some have managed to feel less embarrassing for the property. Fortunately, Sonic the Hedgehog is among those that has sped past the sadder side of this genre.
What does it take to make a good (or at least passable) movie about Sonic? It would appear writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller, along with director Jeff Fowler seemed to have a good idea on this. The games revolve around a hedgehog with the unique ability to run at high speeds doing his best to stop an evil doctor from getting his hands on powerful emeralds and trapping animals inside of robot bodies. Naturally, the Marvel movies have capitalized on plots involving sacred stones, so what you have left is the speedy hedgehog, a mad scientist, and animals.
To the film’s credit, we get off to a good start as far as the video game fans are concerned. There’s a fantasy world presented that feels in line with what’s familiar, and enough kid-friendly voiceover for everyone to keep up with. That cold open quickly moves into fish-out-of-water territory, with Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) now in hiding on earth. He’s lonely, longing to be able to connect with the humans he watches from afar.
One night changes things, as Sonic gets a bit too excited, unleashing an energy wave that gets the attention of the government, who in turn dispatch Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to check on the situation. For various reasons, Sonic ends up partnering with a good-natured cop, Tom (James Marden), who agrees to help Sonic stay away from trouble.
I suppose there’s a line to walk as far as what sort of tone to lean on. Naturally, being a movie based on a kid-friendly game about a constantly sprinting hedgehog should be easy enough fodder for a family comedy. At the same time, the Sonic games did try to have the appearance of edge, as a way of standing out. No, I don’t think we needed a gridmark Sonic the Hedgehog movie, but the idea of incorporating some major action elements into this film is not surprising. For all the fun that comes with the Ben Schwartz/James Marsden dynamic (let alone Carrey, who I will get to soon), the film does eventually take on the structure of a chase movie.
At the film’s core, however, is a buddy movie. While having nowhere near the type of content found in Ted, one can see the filmmakers using that film as a sort of skeleton for what to build on for this movie. As a result, you get some fun interactions between Tom and the energetic Sonic. The hedgehog is designed to be curious, with a natural sense of fun and innocence in his heart, which is basically a way of saying the character has to be borderline annoying, without leaning full into this territory. That can be a tricky area to approach. Still, between the recorded dialogue from Schwartz and the “game for anything” nature of Marsden when it comes to physical comedy and his easygoing personality, there’s fun to be had.
It doesn’t hurt that Sonic looks pretty good. When the first trailer debuted in 2019, there was a remarkable amount of fan outcry criticizing the CG interpretation of Sonic at the time. While I can’t say I needed this change to happen, the original design was notably disturbing as far as an interpretation of this Sega mascot goes. Now, after a change in release date to allow for extra time for the visual effects artists (who I can only hope were paid extra for their efforts), we have a film that delivers on what a Sonic the Hedgehog can look like in the real world.
Sure, Fowler’s take on the film doesn’t exactly scream pure cinema, with the sitcom plotting and the merely decent level of storytelling and characterization on display, but it makes up for it in the tone and spirit of the feature. The interactions are enjoyable, the action moments work, and then there’s the other key element – Dr. Robotnik.
As a big fan of Jim Carrey, going back to his 90s comedy days (I’m talking In Living Color Carrey), it is fun to see him taking on a totally zany role with the pure intention of having fun. One could call this chewing up the scenery or whatever, but if you hire Jim Carrey to play a mad scientist in a Sonic the Hedgehog movie, I’m not sure what the more nuanced approach to this role accomplishes. As it stands, Carrey feels refreshingly unleashed in a way that allows him to have a lot of fun in his scenes with other characters, or on his own. It’s a lot of silliness, but it’s the kind of silliness I can get behind.
One of the big things that can rub audiences the wrong way in films like this is the restraint taken in giving fans the version of the character they expect. Too many mistakes are made by studios who believe having an origin film work its way up to showing the audience the version of the character they have all come to see is the only route to take. Sonic the Hedgehog does its best to get past this.
Part of that is due to the simplicity of the character. He’s a fast hedgehog, so there’s only so much evolving a film can provide compared to, say, Lara Croft. The other win is having such a distinct villain in place who similarly doesn’t need too much build-up when Carrey arrives on screen making robot noises, and sporting a ridiculous mustache.
Look, if you’ve gotten this far in a review about Sonic the Hedgehog, I’d have to think there’s some interest in whether or not the movie is worth your time. I’ve known better than to get excited about video game movies at this point, so the best I can say is the film delivers on what it sets out to do. It’s a decent time at the movies made better by a solid level of commitment from all involved. It’s quick-paced, delivers enough visually to make an audience appreciate the effort to turn this game into a live-action feature, and has a level of comedic energy that makes the film fun for all who are looking for this specific kind of fun. For whatever gripes there are about IP-driven studio flicks, I’d rather get ones that are competent enough to make a Sonic instead of another Mario.