The road to the silver screen has been a long and tumultuous journey for SEGA’s mascot. Between the development hell and a complete redesign of the CGI protagonist, delaying the film from a November 2019 release to February 2020. After an embarrassing first trailer that was followed up by a much more impressive mulligan, is Sonic the Hedgehog just another soulless video game movie adaptation?
Sonic the Hedgehog
Producer: Paramount Pictures
Director: Jeff Fowler
Cast: Ben Schwartz, Jim Carrey, James Marsden
Release Date: February 14, 2020
Against all the odds, Sonic the Hedgehog is a shocking success of a video game to film adaptation. Just how did they do it? A lot of it has to do with the fact the film is a simple story aimed for children, and for the child-at-heart.
Most fans would find the addition of the generic human characters to utterly drag the story down, but Sonic manages to pull it off by keeping the focus entirely on Sonic’s arc of being a hyperactive child to becoming a hero.
The plot’s structure is very clearly inspired by the likes of Marvel’s Thor. Sonic starts off as a much more innocent or naive incarnation than we have seen before in his games, and Ben Schwartz really gives it his all to show how a blue hedgehog can believably grow as a character.
James Marsden plays Officer Tom Wachowski; a shockingly likable audience surrogate character whose purpose is to guide us through Sonic’s journey. He is also becomes a semi-father figure to the blue blur. Tom grows as a character too- becoming a more mature adult, and ready to accept the responsibilities of fatherhood.
James Marsden manages to have actual chemistry with a cartoony CGI hedgehog. The man really cared about what he was working with, and the illusion does not break.
Which must have been extremely difficult for the crew when it came time to redesign Sonic. When his scenes were filmed, Marsden was acting with what he thought was going to be the original nightmarish Sonic, not the Tyson Hesse approved redesign.
The real headliner of Sonic the Hedgehog is Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik. The casting of this character left everybody shaken in awe. After seeing him in action, you’ll be begging for more and won’t want it any other way.
Carrey is a totally an unhinged egomaniac, and effective diabolical mad man. He adds so many layers to Dr. Robotnik’s character with mannerisms and some off-hand comments, that explain so much about who he is, and where he came from. There is some elements of Chip Douglas from The Cable Guy, Ace Ventura, and the Riddler, all rolled into one wonderfully evil and highly entertaining package.
To those apprehensive about Carrey’s appearance not resembling the familiar rotund and bald mad scientist that we all know; everything will make sense in the film’s context. Sonic the Hedgehog is a film that, surprisingly, is rich with lore, and is also setting things up for potential sequels.
The gradual build-up of Robotnik’s transformation is something the film earns, and his descent into madness is made all the more believable.
This is a story about a punk-rock cartoon hedgehog. If you can accept that, then everything is the story involving magic rings that open portals to other worlds is fair game. Despite the completely fantasy premise, the plot manages to stay grounded with some real stakes, and the writers never take the cheap way out.
The effort put into the script goes far beyond anyone would have expected for a Sonic the Hedgehog movie. Both Sonic and Robotnik are orphans that are extremely gifted, and there is a theme about nature versus nurture that nobody would expect to see in this kind of film.
The idea that Sonic and Robotnik both being orphans is something that they can share one day. It is part of Robotnik’s own motivation for desperately trying to hunt Sonic down, because he apparently represents his own loss of innocence- since he has constantly been achieving his entire life. It is a small nugget of depth added to what is essentially the most bog-standard, mustache-twirling villain.
The amount of fan service in Sonic the Hedgehog is off the charts, yet it is not obnoxious or obtrusive. Some of it happens so fast or is so subtle, even the most die-hard fans will likely miss some real clever ones.
A few highlights are Sonic’s “balancing on the edge” animation, a street named “Mega Dr.”, and a slow piano version of Green Hill Zone. There is so much to see, that this will be a great re-watch to go frame by frame on a blu-ray disc to catch all this little details packed into each shot.
The cast really gives it their all, but the real accolades have to be given to the effects team. There really is no other way that a live-action Sonic the Hedgehog movie could have looked. Robotnik’s “badniks” all resemble a sleek military design, something that might look right at home in the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog game.
After the upsetting initial trailer, Paramount had the crew take Sonic back to the drawing board, and brought in Sonic Mania‘s Tyson Hesse to oversee the redesign.
The efforts paid off, because Sonic looks very close to his design as seen in the Sonic Adventure games, but with highly detailed fur and quills. A constant detail is the off-centered mouth, that has always been a subtle trademark of Sonic’s attitude.
Some of the best and most atmospheric shots is during some low light scenes set in Sonic’s cave. He has a slightly grittier look to him than we have seen before, which helps sell the idea that he’s been living in the woods for 10 years. The one thing that might set off the most dedicated of fans is that Sonic’s arms are blue now.
The effects shine their brightest during the action scenes. The few car-chase scenes that are there are fairly vanilla, but what stands out is when Sonic is allowed to do his thing. There are some moments that channel Dragon Ball Z with how the action is presented.
One of the most memorable action scenes involves Tom and Sonic getting into a bar brawl with the patrons. The action plays out like the Quicksilver scenes in the X-Men movies, where Sonic is able to move so fast that everything is seemingly standing still for him. Hilarity ensues and some wholesome PG, slapstick violence occurs.
There aren’t too many action movies geared towards younger viewers that don’t devolve into insipid, mindless drivel. Sonic the Hedgehog is such a classier brand of film that the entire family can legitimately enjoy. It has some real heart to it, and the crew clearly cared about what they were making.
It isn’t perfect by any means; there are a few instances of sloppily written exposition early in the story, and a confusing running joke about Olive Garden. It is a tale seen before, but rarely with this much panache and character. A little bit road trip movie, a bit of Howard the Duck, and a ton of 90s SEGA nostalgia can go a long way.