Synopsis – After discovering a small, blue, fast hedgehog, a small-town police officer must help it defeat an evil genius who wants to do experiments on it.
My Take – While big screen video game adaptions have suffered the wrath of fans for decade, last year’s Pokémon Detective Pikachu, which saw Ryan Reynolds voice the titular character, found success as it provided the right amount of fun, action and quirky humor to drawn in even the most casual set of filmgoers, drawing in $433 million at the worldwide box office.
This year sees Japan’s multinational video game developer, Sega‘s three decade old mascot, joining the bandwagon, with Paramount Studios hoping to launch a new franchise, now that Transformers is almost out the way. Being a personal fan of the character (as I too am a kid of the 90s), I was skeptical to see how the blue colored manic pixie dream hedgehog, whose only goal seemed to speed around collecting gold rings, would fare on the big screen in a part-CGI, part-live-action adventure.
However, when the first trailer dropped, I, like many fans across the world, were left mortified. Not only did that initial version of Sonic look nothing like the one we grew up playing on our consoles, he was just borderline creepy, with human-looking teeth, aimless, soulless eyes that seemed like the stuff of nightmares, and long, spindly legs that I better not talk about.
In fact, the backlash from fans was so terrible that director Jeff Fowler, who was entrusted to bring life to the ball of super CGI energy, decided to push back the film’s release date several months, in order to head back to the drawing board, and redesign a more game-accurate version of the character. With his design retooled, the film has finally landed in theaters, and I’m happy to say that this new version is much closer to the game design, and most importantly, he has gotten himself a pretty decent film too.
Yes, the film is not a classic, or even especially memorable, but this low-key video game film is built on a foundation of solid writing, likable characters, a mellow escapist vibe and a delightful Jim Carrey, that doesn’t get lost in excess. In fact, this film also seems to strongly acknowledge the character’s 1990s roots, from his love of chili dogs to listening to music on a boom box. In simpler terms, while the world contains many terrible video game films, this just isn’t one of them.
The story follows Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwatrz), an extraterrestrial blue hedgehog who has been on the run his whole life, from anyone who wants use him for his ability of supersonic speed. Jumping through dimensions with the help of his bag of gold rings, over the past few years, Sonic has found his secret home on Earth, in a quiet town called Green Hills. A place where he spends time spying on the mundane life of its residents, particularly Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), the sheriff of the town, who Sonic refers to as The Donut Lord.
Meanwhile, Tom too realizes that his abilities are not being realized to its fullest, and is preparing to move to San Francisco, with his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter), to join the Police Department a make a name for himself. However, when Sonic in a feat of anger due to his loneliness, accidentally sets out an electronic spurge, which knocks out power across the Pacific Northwest, his presence is alerted.
And when the United States Department of Defense, enlists Doctor Robotnik (Jim Carrey), a roboticist and scientific genius, to find out the cause behind the outage, Sonic turns to Tom to help him evade capture and move on to the next dimension.
While history is littered with the corpses of failed video game adaptations, like Super Mario Bros and Prince Of Persia, among others, this film, at least, manages to buck that trend with a delightful adaptation that doesn’t try too hard to be too faithful to the game. In fact, the plot isn’t too far from the classic ET or 2018’s Bumblebee, where an alien lands on Earth to hide and soon must team up with a kindly human to escape the clutches of evil government scientists who want to dissect it.
In a way, it is more of buddy road trip film than anything else, focused heavily on the relationship between a grown man and a teenage, talking-hedgehog. It’s funny and sweet, if a little plodding and bogged down by bathroom humor, but delving into a side of the backstory that’s hardly been broached by the video games works well enough, as it’s hard for fans to get too annoyed with it, and it plops kids right into the world without confusing them too much.
While there is no Tom in the video games, and his involvement in helping Sonic flee is does feel like a tiresome contrivance designed to give Jim Carrey another human to play against, his decent straight man to Sonic’s exuberant big kid, does help calm down what could have easily become a hyperactive film.
Jeff Fowler, who makes his directorial debut for a feature film, does a fine job juggling his storytelling duties with showing off some solid special effects along the way, especially on Sonic himself. The change in design worked well in the film’s favor as not only does he better resemble his video game self, but he even feels more naturally integrated into the real world. Here, he takes his time in these early scenes, showing Sonic giving a ride to a turtle, testing his speed on a radar gun and playing around with town crank Crazy Carl, the only one who has actually seen Sonic.
We watch as Sonic dashes around causing mischief and escaping danger through different environments like the big city or the quiet countryside, deriving enjoyment along the way. This led to some amusing Quicksilver inspired moments which provided great comic relief during several action scenes. Director Fowler and screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller establish pleasing and slightly offbeat characters, while skewing the world into video game terms, so no one ever seems as if they’re in true peril.
Performance wise, Ben Schwartz does a pretty good job with voicing the hyper hedgehog, managing to highlight the character’s boundless energy and enthusiasm without making him overly annoying. James Marsden also gave a likeable performance, and gets to show off his comedic skills as well. Tika Sumpter is solid too as the sheriff’s kind wife, combining to form the kind of loving-yet-slightly dysfunctional home that a smart-ass blue alien might complete.
However, it is Jim Carrey who steals the show here. Here, Carrey is in his over-the-top 90s self, and molds his trademark style inside the video character very fluidly. And most importantly, even gets his own insane dance sequence that had me laughing out loud. In small roles, Natasha Rothwell, Neal McDonough and Adam Pally are good too. On the whole, ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ is an enjoyable adventure comedy that provides apt entertainment despite not being groundbreaking by any means.
Directed – Jeff Fowler
Rated – PG
Run Time – 99 minutes