It’s hard to qualify exactly how far Sonic the Hedgehog’s star has fallen from his heyday in the early 90’s. For every lacklustre 3D effort that appears, there’s a shining light of 2D platforming joy or a kart racer to lift his spirits further. He’s both an icon of the industry, and the butt of some of it’s most unpleasant jokes, but through it all he’s remained unequivocally cool.
What wasn’t cool was the original trailer reveal for the Sonic the Hedgehog movie. Showcasing a CGI variant of the blue hedgehog created by someone who’d presumably only seen the character from afar, through a dirty window, and before they’d put their specs on, it was a horror. With horror teeth.
Unbelievably, and in an event that’s unlikely to be repeated in your lifetime, the ensuing internet furore turned out to be both well-advised and useful, causing the creative team behind the movie to rethink the character’s look and head back to the drawing board. The poor CGI folks then had to completely rework the digital Sonic in less than a year, to bring him more in line with, well, how the character actually looks. Fortunately, they’ve succeeded, but depending on your age, you might end up wondering if the film’s script could have done with some tweaking too.
Sonic is from Green Hill Zone, an idyllic place boasting a lush green landscape filled with enough loops to keep any young super-fast hedgehog happy. It looks pleasingly like the games, and it’s just a shame that you don’t see it for the rest of the movie. Raised by Longclaw, an odd all-new character who seems to have lost her way from Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, it’s no time at all before someone is after Sonic thanks to his remarkable powers of speed and… electricity?
With shadowy Sonic-baddies on their tail, his surrogate owl mother thrusts him on his way, with a bag of rings that open portals that enable travel between worlds, and warns him to keep moving. Not a particularly tall order for a hedgehog that likes to move really, really fast.
Speed is the name of the game here, but the relatively straightforward buddy tale that emerges doesn’t run roughshod over the details. It gives you plenty of time to warm to James Marsden’s police officer Tom – or Donut Lord as Sonic calls him – after he tranqs Sonic and loses his rings, forcing a road trip up the coast to San Francisco with a maniacal Dr Robotnik on their tale.
Marsden is as charming and affable here as he is in most things, putting to use the CGI acting chops he gained filming Hop, while benefitting from having a stronger character and a sturdier foil to play up to. Tom’s motivations are occasionally in service to the plot rather than to becoming a fully three-dimensional character, but he has just become tangled up with a talking blue erinaceinae, so you’ll forgive a few wobbles.
Sonic has also turned out excessively well. Energetic, hyper-kinetic, but emotionally grounded, you just might end up feeling something for the little blue guy. Ben Schwartz’s voice work nails the timing and the character, and the only possible negative is that he doesn’t get to have enough of the laughs, leaving the bigger gags to the wider cast. Schwartz’ Sonic will still lie in the shadow of Ryan Reynolds pitch-perfect Detective Pikachu, but it’s another piece of evidence that video game films seem to have turned a corner.
In a film about Sonic, speed is key, and they’ve captured that element perfectly. The blue blur zips here and there, and whether reading comics or playing baseball alone, there’s a hyperactivity that manages to be endearing rather than teetering into the annoying. That said, the strongest cinematic use of his speed are in Quicksilver-aping slow-motion set pieces, where he has all the time in the world to change the outcome of a fight in the blink of an eye. It’s a shame that we’ve seen it before.
Dr Robotnik, played here by Jim Carrey, with all of his Mask-era gurning in tow, is a little too slim for Eggman for my liking, but he otherwise does a decent job of hunting down a blue space alien with a load of egg-shaped drones. Carrey contorts and hoots his way across the screen with enough sinister energy to prevent it becoming utterly ridiculous, and there are few actors I can imagine pulling it off as well as he does.
There’s some weird moments, though. Ostensibly a kids film, there’s a hell of a lot of explosions and missiles flying around, and an extended scene in a biker bar where Sonic manages to cross numerous items off his bucket list feels weird and off kilter, like Sonic’s wandered into a deleted scene from Roadhouse. I’ve already thought of at least two locations that would have made more sense, and fit with the character’s target audience better, so I’m left wondering how it made it through to the finished movie.
Still there are some laughs to be found. Natasha Rothwell, as Tom’s sister-in-law Rachel, probably owns the lion’s share of the film’s comic relief, even if you’re not given any real context why she thinks her sister should be divorcing Tom. I mean, he worked three jobs to get her through veterinarian school and they seem idyllically happy – at least until Sonic throws a couple of quills in the works.
You can probably file things like that under ‘it’s a kids movie’ and give up thinking too hard about any of it. My eight-year-old son gave the film a glowing 9/10, saying it was one of the best movies he’s ever seen, adding “it was quite funny and cool. The Doctor fights Sonic at the end and that was my favourite bit”. He’s also very excited to see the next movie, given that they’ve left it wide open to continue the story and managed to get a decent return on the film’s opening weekend.
Our youngest meanwhile is only three, and while he hasn’t quite grasped the concept of numbers, or scoring anything that doesn’t end with the word poopy, he clapped at the film’s finale. That’s probably the highest praise possible. Oh, there’s also a mid-credits scene that he was overjoyed with too. To be fair, I was pretty impressed by that bit too.