Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) Review
GOTTA GO FAST!
Throughout the years of video game history, there have been many iconic video game characters that have become main staples in their own right, including the likes of Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, and Mega Man amongst others. In this grouping, the character of Sonic the Hedgehog has become quite a mascot from SEGA. First debuting back in 1991 for the SEGA Genesis video game system, the franchise centers around Sonic, an anthropomorphic blue hedgehog who, along with his many animal friends, battles the series main antagonist, Doctor Eggman, a mad scientist, as well as several other enemies. For the most part, the main entries of the Sonic the Hedgehog games are platformers, while other spin-offs are set in the racing, fighting, party, and sports genres. In addition, the Sonic franchise also had other mediums beyond the video game arena; developing a wide array of merchandise in clothing, toys, printed media, and animated TV shows. Over the years, Sonic the Hedgehog has become SEGA’s flagship character and franchise in its arsenal; amassing many titles and millions of units sold throughout its thirty-year life-span. Now, nearly thirty years since Sonic made his debut, Paramount Pictures (along with SEGA) and director Jeff Fowler present the live-action / CGI hybrid motion picture Sonic the Hedgehog. Does this movie to justice to SEGA’s most famous video game character or is the film a far cry from what many fans out there expect to see from the “blue blur”?
Gifted with incredible speed, Sonic (Ben Schwartz) can no longer remain on his home island world, with enemies hunting the blue hedgehog for accelerated speed and power. Given a bag of special gold rings to help him travel through dimensions by his owl guardian, Longclaw (Donna Jay Fulks), Sonic zips his way to Earth, making a home for himself in the remote rural surroundings in Green Hills, Montana. As the years pass as the hedgehog grows lonely in his isolation, Sonic secretly watches the local humans carry on their lives in the small town, including Sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), who lives happily with his wife, veterinarian Maddie (Tika Sumpter). In a fit of frustration over his perpetual isolation, Sonic reaches newfound velocity, creating an overwhelming power surge that attracts the attention of the U.S. Government, who, in turn, sends in Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey) and his fleet of mechanic drones to investigate the possibility of alien life. In a frenzy panic, Sonic loses his rings; accidentally dropping them through a portal to San Francisco and forced to come to Tom for help. Realizing Dr. Robotnik’s malice intentions for Sonic, Tom reluctantly decides to aid the speedy animal with his mission to retrieve Sonic’s golden rings as the pair commence a cross-country chase while forming a bond of friendship during the journey taken.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Oh yes…Sonic. As I said above, he’s definitely one of the most iconic video game characters of all time. Growing up in the 90s, I remember when Sonic first came out on the original SEGA Genesis video game console. Back during my elementary school years, kids either had a SEGA or a Super Nintendo or both consoles. I personally had both video game consoles. I do remember getting a SEGA Genesis system have year or two after its initial release and got Sonic 2 as my first game. I did play the first Sonic game at my friend’s house, but I preferred actually playing Sonic 2 more. I mean…back then…who didn’t totally “geek out” of getting all the Chaos Emeralds and becoming Super Sonic for the first time. I never got Sonic 3 (though I played it at my friend’s house), but I was able to get Sonic & Knuckles, which I loved. Plus, it was cool that you could connect the game to Sonic 2 and have Knuckles as a playable character in the game. After that, I didn’t pick up or play any of the Sonic games until I bought Sonic Mania for the Nintendo Switch in 2019 (a game that I love and feels like the original games). Why haven’t a played a game since the classic days? Well, I think that the Modern Sonic games are that quite good as (from what I hear) are terrible that have never quite captured the same game play mechanics as the original games had done. Plus, I’ve read many of the synopsizes of the Sonic games and they are quite convoluted and rather dull….at least in my opinion. So, as you can see, I’m more of a “old school” gamer when it comes to Sonic the Hedgehog games (i.e. more of a “classic Sonic” than “modern Sonic”).
As for the animated TV shows, I have to say that I personal love the Saturday morning iteration of Sonic the Hedgehog. I mean, it was everything that the other Sonic cartoon wasn’t…. I’m talking the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, for even though I watched it every now ana again, it was still a horrible representation of SEGA character. So, the SatAM Sonic the Hedgehog show was great; offering up a dramatic and darker story of Sonic and gang (the freedom fighters) against Dr. Robotnik. Plus, who didn’t love the show’s theme song…” Sonic….he can really move. Sonic….he’s got an attitude. Sonic…he’s the fastest thing alive. He’s the fastest thing alive. He’s the fastest thing alive!”. Love that show. So sad it got cancelled and left on a cliffhanger. I knew that there were other animated shows of Sonic (I did see Sonic Underground when it original aired on TV), but, besides that, I haven’t check out any of them since then. Thus, while the franchise has hit some troubled areas (more often than not), the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise has endured over the years; indicating that the everyone’s favorite hedgehog is not exactly “down and out” just yet.
This brings me back to talking about Sonic the Hedgehog, the 2020 movie that makes the iconic “blue blur” character first theatrical Hollywood-style film debut. When it was first announced that a Sonic movie was in the works, I first was interested, but quickly dashed my initial hopes about it as the score count of making a good video game film adaptation doesn’t have the best track record. This was even made further realized when the first movie trailer was released. The cast looked good (was super curious to see how Jim Carrey would play as Dr. Robotnik), but the trailer wasn’t too impressive. Like many out there, I was quite “turned off” by the initial visual design for Sonic; believing that the horrid CGI representation of the SEGA’s famous hedgehog character was too weird and completely out of touch with how the character has been presented in all the various media platforms for the past thirty years. So, when the director / studio announced that the film was gonna be delayed a few months (initially to be released on November 8th, 2019) and to be official released on February 14th, 2020, it was kind of interesting that the studio was listening to its fans with a new movie trailer showing off the newly redesign of the character. So, my curiosity was definitely peaked in seeing Sonic the Hedgehog when it came out, which I did over its opening weekend. What did I think of it? Well, for what it’s worth, I liked it. While the movie struggles in creative department (deciding to playing it safe more often than not), Sonic the Hedgehog is fast-paced feature film that’s light on its feet with its visuals, humor, and its reworking SEGA’s mascot. Its not the absolute best, but, if one takes the film at face value, you’ll enjoy it more.
Sonic the Hedgehog is directed by Jeff Fowler, whose previous works include such projects like Rockfish, Where the Wild Things Are, and Gopher Broke in various capacities. Thus, given his background in animation, writing, and few shorts, Fowler makes Sonic the Hedgehog his ambitious project to tackle as well as being his theatrical full-length feature film debut as a director. In this regard, Fowler certainly succeeds; approaching the film’s source material with a sense of relative nuances for its fans base (spanning over thirty years) as well as trying to establish itself as a modern-day kid’s feature film. Yes, despite what some Sonic fans wanted to see, this 2020 movie is in fact as family friendly kid’s motion picture. Would’ve been cool to see something a film that had more grit and sophistication to it (something like the Saturday morning Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon show had)? Of course, it would. However, like a lot of long running properties that are aimed at kids that have become movies (i.e. Power Rangers, Pokémon, etc.), Fowler knows what today’s demographic is, especially since Sonic is being represented on video games and in animated TV shows; making this movie feels appreciate for its age range. Don’t worry…. older viewers out there will surely get their “Sonic kicks” while watching the movie with plenty nostalgia references that are scattered throughout the movie. Yes, Fowler’s film is very much different from the classic notion animals in aggressive robots, defeating the villainous Eggman, and the hunt for mystical all-powerful emeralds, but the movie still harkens back to several nods and winks to the Sonic’s past. I won’t spoil what they are, but sure to be on the look out for them throughout the movie. In Fowler’s direction, he does a good job in selling his iteration of Sonic; playing up the fun and youthfulness of the character, which will surely delight the young crowd out there. Plus, the movie does have plenty of laughs along the way that, while some jokes don’t exactly land well, are admirable in their attempt.
Also, the film isn’t just a mad dash of Sonic references and a bombardment of visual scenes, with the movie’s heart being focused on thematic messages of isolation (the effect it can gave of loneliness) and the merriment of friendship (no matter who or what you are). Of course, these are very common themes to be found in a motion picture aimed at kids, but they are always a good reinforcement of morals / lessons to be learned in a movie. This is clearly represented in the characters of Tom and Sonic, with Tom looking for something more purposeful in his life, while Sonic is looking for a friendship connection. It’s cute, light, and definitely works in the film’s story. Additionally, the film only having a runtime of 99 minutes (one hour and thirty-nine minutes), Fowler keeps the movie moving at a brisk and steady pace from onset to conclusion; making Sonic the Hedgehog feel very much “light on its feet” as it moves from plot point to the next. Nothing gets bogged down with unnecessary bits and pieces or side-stories, so (in this regard) Fowler shapes the feature in a very streamlined way, which is a good thing.
In terms of presentation, Sonic the Hedgehog looks pretty much better than some of the family friendly movies out there (even better than some of the recent endeavors). Of course, I wouldn’t say that the movie is “on point” with some of Hollywood’s big time blockbuster tentpoles projects, but the film’s overall look and appeal is quite meeting the industry standards when it comes to its presentation, which (in my book) is fine as I didn’t expect the movie to heavily loaded with expansive sets, locations, and large scale blockbuster visuals, especially since what was showing during the film’s movie trailer. So, on the whole, the movie certainly looks good and is pleasing to the eye to watch. This, of course, brings up the subject of Sonic’s newly reworked design, which I do have admit is ten times better than what was original planned and design for the movie. I think everyone can agree on that. Plus, the redesign look for Sonic is more in line with how the original character design has been for Sonic, including how his eyes look. So, from that point, I do have praise the film (and the powers that be) for actually listening to internet feedback from the public and giving a better physical representation to such an iconic video game character. The only thing that I would have to say about the new design for Sonic is that its just a tad out of place in certain scenes. Yes, I do understand that the movie only had a few months to go back and give Sonic a whole new makeover design look, but there are several parts throughout the movie that it looks a bit rushed….as if someone just dropped another character in its place. Everything else about the film’s presentation, including the production design, set decorations, costumes, and editing, is on the level with many other films, so it’s good for what’s given (no harm, no foul). Plus, the movie’s score, which was composed by Junkie XL, is pretty good and definitely has that adventurous kid’s movie vibe throughout.
Unfortunately, Sonic the Hedgehog does have several points of criticism that do hamper the feature from reaching a well-rounded goal within its storytelling and overall theatrical execution. What do I mean? Well, for starters, the main problem with the film is that its simply conventional from start to finish. Despite its nods and winks of its source material, the movie is straight up a formulaic adventure in the family motion picture variety, especially when you like at similar endeavors (i.e. cartoon CGI characters in a live-action world) such as 2007’s Alvin and the Chipmunks and 2011’s Smurfs. Considering the familiarity of those two feature films, Sonic the Hedgehog plays its safe (very much so) in the narrative path department; traveling down a path that’s formulaic and predictable to the touch instead of creatively carving out in its own path. Who is to blame for this? Well, it’s a combination of both Fowler and the film’s script, which was penned by Patrick Casey and Josh Miller. For the direction, Fowler keeps everything very much the “status quo” of the family friendly arena; never really striving for anything creative or original to the proceedings. Thus, the movie, while fun and entertaining, never truly stands on its own merits and seems to never color outside the lines of presenting the story being told. Even the film’s climatic battle seems a bit underwhelming as I was expecting something a little bit bigger. This also extends to the film’s breezy runtime as Fowler, while keeping the ball rolling at a steady pace, seems like everything flows a little bit too quickly; never allowing for character movements to feel the impact and / or to absorb the situation of the story’s events. It’s also like several sequences were filmed, but later cut from the feature’s final presentation; creating several fragmented pieces along the way.
As for the script, the movie, much like some of the direction, gets hampered by giving a rather simplistic story and watering it down with thinly-sketched characters and motivation details as well as some cheesy dialogue lines Thus, the script handling and overall shaping of the film’s narrative is quite formulaic with most of the film’s big twists and surprises being quite muted in how they play due to the overall predictable nature throughout the movie. Younger kids might be surprised, but everyone else won’t be. That’s not to say that Sonic the Hedgehog isn’t enjoyable, but (again) plays it safe and never fully explains certain things It’s as if some particular scenes you just have to accept things happen. An example of this is in how Dr. Robotnik gets involved with everything, with the US government accepting him to spearhead such an investigation. Yes, I do know that the movie is targeted for a young audience, but a little more bulk / substance are indeed for the feature’s script, character builds, and sharp dialogue lines. In addition, while some of the jokes and are gags are funny (as mentioned above), there are a few comedic moments that don’t work. This also plays out in the film’s world, with the script playing fast and loose with what works and what doesn’t. What do I mean? Well, the character of Sonic, who has been on Earth for nearly a decade in the film, doesn’t know what certain stuff is (i.e. the terminology of a “Bucket List” is or what a police sheriff is), but knows plenty of modern terminology and references in pop culture. So, its kind of hard to imagine that Sonic has been on Earth for roughly ten years and is still a bit confused on “what is what” in everyday life. Plus, let’s not forget that some of the huge product placements and modern pop culture references that are featured in the movie. I don’t mind product placement in movies and TV series, but some of the product placements in Sonic the Hedgehog is a little bit “on the nose” and one can not simply just groan over the inclusion of some of them.
The cast in Sonic the Hedgehog has a mostly recognizable selection of acting talents that are attached to this project. While the film’s writing is a bit undercooked in certain character moments, the cast is up to the challenge and definitely elevates the film’s characters. Headlining the feature as the main protagonist of Sonic is actor Ben Schwartz who brings the blue hedgehog’s voice to life. Known for his roles in Parks & Recreations, House of Lies, and This Is Where I Leave You, Schwartz has always been a supporting / secondary character in many of his projects, but his fast-talking voice has been recognizable and utilized in various endeavors. So, when playing the role of Sonic, Schwartz seems like the great fit for the character, with the movie giving the actor ample time to make the character his own. In that regard, Schwartz succeeds; giving the fast-talking blue hedgehog a quick whip of snappy dialogue to make the character fun, amusing, and likeable right from the get-go. While Schwartz’s iteration of Sonic doesn’t have that “too cool for school” type feeling (of which I always remember the character from the original cartoon shows), what’s presented definitely works and is a great attribute…. made even better by the new redesign of the character.
Perhaps who does better (and probably the best) in the movie is the film’s antagonist character of Dr. Ivo Robotnik, who is gleefully played by actor Jim Carrey. Of course, Carrey, known for his roles in The Mask, Bruce Almighty, and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, has certainly been around for quite some time and has always been known for his comedic performances in his career. However, Carrey’s hasn’t been in much these past couple of years (for personal reasons), so it’s great to see the comedian actor return to his humorous roots. As Dr. Robotnik, Carrey gives such a zany and “over the top” performance that feels definitely in-line with the rest of the movie, which is a great foil to the feature’s heroes. To me, Carrey is absolutely perfect and definitely feels reminiscent to the “former days” of the actor. It’s not his best performance, but is one that works and a welcomed one at that. Despite that, the character build for Robotnik is rather thin and one-dimensional, with the script never fully delving into generating a solid backstory for the villain. There’s not much to Robotnik’s villainy in the movie in the way of explanation…. just that he is power hungry, arrogantly intelligent, and wants Sonic’s power. Nevertheless, Carrey’s humorous manic iteration of Dr. Robotnik is probably one of the best parts of the film.
Behind Schwartz and Carrey, actor James Marsden plays the role of Tom Wachowski, the police sheriff of Green Hills and the main friend / companion that accompanies Sonic throughout the movie. Marsden, known for his roles in X-Men, Enchanted, and Hairspray, has always been the “secondary” character in many films (i.e. always the bridesmaid, never the bride), so it’s good to see him in a more large / prominent role in the movie. As Tom, Marsden is relatively good in the role; playing up the likeable / good natured of the classic “everyday man” throughout. However, the script just simply makes the character “go along” with everything that happens, which makes Tom a bit predictable (again, one of the problems with the film’s narrative). Still, for what its worth, I did like Marsden as Tom. Plus, the dialogue he exchanges with both Schwartz and Carrey is great. Sadly, actress Tika Sumpter (Southside with You and Ride Along) gets probably the short end of the stick in the movie as Maddie Wachowsk, a veteran / Tom’s wife. While Sumpter is perfectly fine in the movie (i.e. her acting and everything like that), the character of Maddie is less-than important…. barring one scene. Kind of wished that the movie’s script could’ve incorporated more of her into the main story.
The rest of the cast, including Lee Majdoub (The 100 and You Me Her) as Robotnik’s right-hand henchmen, Agent Stone, actor Adam Pally (Band Aid and Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life) as Tom’s friend / fellow police officer in Green Hills, Wade Whippie, actor Neal McDonough (Captain America: The First Avenger and Band of Brothers) as Major Bennington, actor Frank C. Turner (Needful Things and Alone in the Dark) as Crazy Carl, and actress Natasha Rothwell (Love, Simon, and Like a Boss) as Maddie’s sister, Rachel, are in minor supporting roles as Fowler (and Casey / Miller’s script) seems more interested in the main characters; leaving these characters to have smaller….almost cameo-like roles throughout the movie. That being said, despite their limited screen-time, each one gives a solid small supporting character performance in the movie, which is good thing.
Lastly, be sure to stick around during the film’s ending credits as Sonic the Hedgehog has an Easter Egg secret ending (a mid-credit scene). While I won’t spoil what the scene is, what’s shown is something fans of Sonic will definitely like and hopefully “teases” a possible sequel adventure in the future.
Sonic has lived his life alone and always on the run. Now, the super-fast blue hedgehog gets ready to prepare fight for what matters in the movie Sonic the Hedgehog. Director Jeff Fowler’s latest film takes famous video game character of SEGA and gives him a live-action theatrical motion picture to play around in; allowing Sonic’s first trip to the big-screen to be well-mannered family friendly environment that’s easy to follow and to digest throughout. While the movie does play it safe within its storytelling parameters and creates a formulaic narrative (from start to finish) that has thinly sketched motives and fragmented pieces, the film’s appeal certain does make up for its faults, especially in several of Fowler’s directions, the breezy pacing, the lighthearted nature of the film, some of the jokes, the thematical message, the better design of Sonic (definitely), and several members of the cast, including Schwartz and Carrey. To me, I liked this movie. Sure, its generic in its narrative storytelling and could’ve been better shaped than its cookie-cutter film cut, but it ultimately works, which is quite strange. It’s one of those movies that I have spilt decision about it. The movie critic is a bit more critical about the movie, but my other half (the one who just loves movie escapism) sees the project in a different light; one that is more mindless entertainment fun. So, I’m more inkling to favor the latter than the former. Why? Like Sonic says in the movie “I have no idea!”. That being said, my recommendation for this movie is “recommended”, especially if you go into the feature by switching off your brain for a bit and enjoying the 99-minute ride. As mentioned, the film hints at sequel. Could there be? It’s hard to say if that project will materialize in the near future, but I welcomed the idea of one, especially in where it takes the movie’s story. For now, while it doesn’t come close to breaking the “curse” video game film adaptations, Sonic the Hedgehog is a lighthearted and family friendly romp that will, more than likely, please its target audience and may even surprise some of its 90s nostalgia viewers out there as well.
3.7 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: February 14th, 2020
Reviewed On: February 17th, 2020
Sonic the Hedgehog is 99 minutes long and is rated PG for action, some violence, rude humor, and brief mild language