Back in the 90s, there wasn’t a gaming mascot more iconic than Sonic the Hedgehog, save a certain Italian plumber. During the same decade, no comedic actor ruled the box office like Jim Carrey. With both of these names being such huge selling points, Hollywood naturally decided to bring them together… about twenty years after the fact. An occasional pleasant surprise aside, Sonic’s games aren’t what they used to be. As for Carrey’s comedy career… well, at least he still has Kidding. Through all their highs and lows, I’ll personally always love Sonic and Carrey. On that basis, Sonic the Hedgehog is an occasionally enjoyable 90s throwback, but it’s mostly too little, too late.
The film starts off promising enough as Sonic (Ben Schwartz) zooms through his vivid CGI world, which is comprised of green hills, palm trees, and of course vertical loops. It looks just like the original Sega Genesis game, leading us to believe that this movie is going to get things right. Faster than you can say, “blast processing,” though, Sonic is forced to leave his world when others try to steal his super speed. Using his magic rings, Sonic leaps to our reality where he lives in seclusion. Eventually, the government catches wind of Sonic, who turns to a local sheriff named Tom (James Marsden) to help him get out of dodge.
Therein lies the first issue with Sonic the Hedgehog. Like The Smurfs, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Hop (which also starred Marsden), the film is less about the animated character on the poster and more about an average joe who needs to learn a generic lesson. In Tom’s case, it’s appreciating small town charm and knowing that you can make a difference anywhere. It’s by no means a bad moral, but what is it doing in a Sonic movie? Tom is the one with a character arc here while Sonic gets left in the dust. Despite being a rather thankless role, Marsden brings his signature charm to the table and turns in a solid performance. The same can’t be said about Carrey’s especially manic turn as Dr. Robotnik, the mad scientist who wants to capture Sonic.
Robotnik has gone through a few different variations in games and television, ranging from menacing to goofy. Carrey’s portrayal of the character, however, is the Sega equivalent to Dennis Hopper playing King Koopa. His name may be Robotnik, he may (sort of) look like Robotnik, but he’s not Robotnik. Maybe this would be acceptable if Carrey’s dialogue brought the laughs, but most of his antics feel like the Riddler’s D-list material that wasn’t good enough for Batman Forever. Carrey deserves credit for giving 100% as per usual and at times his awkwardness can spark an unintentional chuckle. On the whole, though, you’re constantly thinking to yourself, “oh man, he’s dying out there…” Again, go watch Kidding!
The best aspect of the film is the animation on Sonic, which is ironic since many initially assumed that it would derail the entire production. Fans weren’t at all pleased with Sonic’s design in the first trailer, what with his beady eyes, human teeth, and all-around grotesque nature. The filmmakers did a complete redesign, even delaying the release date, and results are far more expressive. They clearly took a page from Detective Pikachu, delivering a Sonic that’s cartoony, but doesn’t feel out of place in a live-action environment. Where Detective Pikachu had a whole world of Pokémon to play with, though, this movie mainly just has Sonic, which only invites so many possibilities.
We do get one consistently funny, visually interesting sequence as a bar brawl breaks out and Sonic moves so fast that he takes down every patron in a snap. It’s basically the Quicksilver set piece from X-Men: Days of Future Past, but still inventive nonetheless. With more scenes like this, the inevitable Sonic sequel has the potential to be a worthy adaptation of the games. This debut film feels more like a trial run that’s still finding its footing, never hitting the ground running.
If you’re a 90s kid whose been waiting years for a Sonic movie, this probably isn’t going to live up to your expectations. Let’s just say that the words “Olive Garden” are dropped more than “Chaos Emeralds.” If you’re a kid, the movie’s energy and colorful animation should provide an innocent enough distraction. For the parents who have to accompany their children, it’s a fairly painless outing. Just be prepared to look at your watch every few minutes, thinking, “gotta go faster.”