I gotta admit I wasn’t that excited to learn one of my favorite childhood video games, Sonic the Hedgehog, was being made into a movie. Generally speaking, films based on games are terrible and when the first trailer was released with a creepy, horribly designed Sonic character and a very thin Jim Carrey playing the normally rotund Dr Robotnik, I knew this would REALLY be terrible. But I was wrong to prejudge.
Sonic the Hedgehog proved to be not just a great (though not quite accurate) adaptation of the game, but a fun movie that kept me laughing throughout the silly story and made me want to dig out the old dusty Sega Megadrive (or Genesis to you Americans) and collect those golden rings all over again. Sonic Boom!
Sonic the Hedgehog (Ben Schwatz) is a unique creature born with special abilities. His most notable ability allows him to run extremely fast (move over Quicksilver and The Flash), a skill which makes him the target of murderous creatures on his homeworld. Using the teleportation magic of the golden rings given to him by Longclaw the Owl (Donna Jay Fulks) he flees his homeworld to avoid being killed and eventually ends up on Earth.
Living in the town of Green Hills, Montana, Sonic lives a secret, peaceful yet lonely existence observing the people from afar and dreaming of a better life. His favorite town inhabitants are Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), the local sheriff he calls “Donut Lord”, and Tom’s wife, Maddie (Tika Sumpter), a vet who earns the nickname “the Pretzel Lady”. One night Sonic becomes upset when he realizes he doesn’t have any real friends to share his life with and accidentally unleashes a powerful EMP (electromagnetic pulse) that takes out the power across the Pacific Northwest. Naturally, this major incident gets the attention of the US military.
The US Military unleash Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey), an evil genius who loves robots more than people, to uncover the cause of the power outage. In order for Sonic to avoid being a lab test experiment at the hands of Robotnik he must team up with “Donut Lord” to get to San Francisco to retrieve his pouch of rings so he can escape Earth. But along the way he needs to do something very important while avoiding death at the hands of Robotnik’s army of robots – complete his bucket list.
The acting is on point for a movie aimed at kids. Ben Schwatz is great as the voice for the playful, curious and lonely Sonic. With witty dialogue and dynamic animation, Schwatz is able to really bring an energetic and funny portrayal of one of gaming’s most famous faces. The filmmakers aren’t shooting for realism here, however the emotional arc that Sonic goes through during this story feels very real because if you ignore the absurd visuals of a supersonic blue hedgehog from another planet, you can still relate to the feelings of loneliness and the hunger for adventure that Sonic craves so much for during this adventure.
James Marsden is great as Green Hills’ lovable and good intentioned sheriff Tom Wachowski, AKA “Donut Lord”. He embodies that clean wholesome personality from a small town who wants to help other people and is willing to make personal sacrifices in order to support those who need it. Marsden is very natural opposite his CGI co-star and is well cast.
The standout performance for me was the one person I thought was miscast and that’s Jim Carrey. While he looks nothing like the plump video game character for most of the movie, he is nonetheless fantastic as the crazed genius robot inventor and I’m happy to forgive the fact he’s too thin for the role. Carrey is over-the-top and animated like we haven’t seen in decades – in a similar vein to his Ace Ventura performances. But here he’s very much the bad guy, and it’s funny as hell to watch. Welcome back, Jim!
Sonic the Hedgehog is directed by first time feature film director Jeff Fowler, who performs a near-miracle making a film based on a video game that’s enjoyable for both adults and children. While there may have been a rocky start when he showcased the first trailer with the horrible Sonic design, he was smart enough to go back and redo Sonic the way he should be – like the video games.
Fowler has applied the right mix of animated action with comedy while still focusing on strong themes of friendship and finding a place where you belong. Even though Sonic is an alien based on a video game character, we’re still able to relate to his very human needs and struggles. This could have easily been a CGI visual spectacle without substance but instead, thankfully, has lots of heart and dramatic undertones that drive this story revolving around wacky characters.
Sonic the Hedgehog is a fun family movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. While not a perfect adaptation of its video game namesake (Green Hills, Montana stands in for the crazy, color filled polygonal world of its origin) it’s a film with a lot of heart and offers a great mix of adventure and humor that should appeal to game and film fans alike. The performances are all great – Jim Carrey in particular – and the CG hedgehog redo was money well spent. Just make sure you stick around to see the mid-credit sequence.