I love Sonic the hedgehog. I’ve basically built a reputation and career out of writing about him. So when his first big screen adventure was announced, I was beyond excited. Since then, the Sonic film has been through some trials and tribulations, and while I can’t say the final product can make up for the overworked artists, shut down studios and lost jobs, I can say that I absolutely loved it.
Review Zone: Act 1
Sonic the Hedgehog opens in the middle of the action, but quickly rewinds to Sonic’s beginnings as narrated by the Blue Blur (Ben Schwartz) himself: he is an alien from a world. Here, his unique super speed makes him a target for those who would use it for their own purposes, in particular a tribe of hunter echidnas that seem like bait for a Ken Penders lawsuit. Thus, his adoptive parent figure — a talking owl named Longclaw who may or may not be an homage to the owl from the Sonic OVA known only as “Old Man” — sends him away to Earth using a warp ring, the standard method of intergalactic travel for advanced races and a wonderful use of Sonic’s famous rings.
This origin sets the conceptual tone of the film: it’s not a live-action version of one of the Sonic cartoons, nor is it a copy and paste of the comics or the original games, it’s building something new with past elements. In this it successfully threads the needle that all adaptations must — honoring the source material while making it work in a different format.
So Sonic arrives on Earth and builds a home for himself. Years pass and Sonic grows up on his own in the small town of Green Hills, isolating himself so as not to become a target once again. Since he can’t reveal himself, Sonic inserts himself into the lives of Green Hills citizens from a distance, especially those of Sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter), who are about to move to San Francisco to fulfill the former’s dreams of making a difference as a street cop.
Eventually realizing how hollow his fantasies of friendship are while playing baseball by himself, Sonic accidentally unleashes his power and causes an enormous blackout. Due to the mysterious circumstances surrounding the event, the government sends their best/most-annoying egghead to investigate. Enter Dr. Robotnik, a character who is a vehicle for Jim Carrey to unleash his inner obnoxious tech billionaire.
Then things get a little weird. Not bad weird, just weird.
In its second act, the film follows in the footsteps of many an adaptation of a popular childrens’ property: it tries to pander to what it thinks kids want to see, focuses a bit too much on the live-action cast, and drags a little bit as it tries to get its characters to the next major plot point. Also, we learn that Tom Wachowski was breastfed and Robotnik was not, and Sonic’s feet are projected on a giant screen. Yeah.
Fortunately, these bizarre moments and wheel-spinning aren’t enough to bring the film down. In a sense, these oddities are befitting of the weirdness of extant Sonic media. They’re also interlocked with so many genuinely fun action scenes, great Robotnik moments where Carrey gets to let loose with the flair of The Mask and the energy of Ace Ventura, and a surprisingly great dynamic between Marsden and Schwartz.
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Review Zone: Act 2
The film’s climax begins as Robotnik corners Sonic and his friends before he can use one of his rings to warp away from Earth and to safety — an encounter that follows a cheesy but heartwarming scene where Sonic is gifted his signature shoes. Using power from one of the hedgehog’s dropped quills to boost his ship, Robotnik is able to keep up with Sonic’s speed, amping up the stakes for the final fight.
Sonic tries to ditch Robotnik — who he has now dubbed Eggman — via warp rings, but he can’t seem to shake him. They two eventually land back in Green Hills, where Sonic has a brush with death only to rebound at full strength thanks to the power of friendship. Charged up with energy and tired of running, he knocks Robotnik into the very mushroom world he was planning to escape to himself.
The film wraps up with Tom realizing he wants to stay in Green Hills after all, having fulfilled his desire to save a life by assisting Sonic. He and Maddie take in Sonic as kind of a weird son, giving him a home in their attic and denying knowledge of his existence to federal agents as he becomes Green Hills’ little secret. (Wasn’t Tom a wanted terrorist? Don’t worry about it.) In a coda scene, we see Robotnik taking on his classic appearance with a shaved head and out of control mustache as he loses his grip on sanity and plots his return and revenge. Also, Tails shows up on Earth looking for Sonic.
In the end, Paramount’s Sonic isn’t the disaster we all thought it might be when it was announced. In fact, it’s a fun movie that makes the source material work in an original way. It even puts a new spin on the Sonic character that goes beyond 90s cool guy or impulsive adventure-seeker. In short, Sonic the Hedgehog is a rare video game adaptation that actually has the potential to entertain fans and non-fans alike. Whether you grew up on the Genesis games, love the Sonic Boom cartoon, or only have a vague awareness of the character, you’ll find something to enjoy here.