Courtesy of Paramount Pictures/SEGA
Believe it or not, “Sonic The Hedgehog,” the live-action adaptation of the popular 1991 SEGA character isn’t a horrible movie.
In fact, as far as children's fare go, “Sonic The Hedgehog” might be one of the better video game adaptations of all time. Then again, that’s a fairly low bar when you consider its chief rival is “Super Mario Bros” starring Bob Hoskins and we all know how that turned out. Instead, director Jeff Fowler treats the character with an ingenious story, a campy and whacked out Jim Carrey (in full “Pet Detective” mode), and gives adults who grew up with the character enough nostalgia to subside the elements clearly aimed for children.
You probably heard (or worse, actually saw) the trailer that dropped last April in which the blue, super speedy hedgehog’s design was met with swift online backlash. Why did he have human teeth? And in what world did the VFX designers think we wanted Sonic to look, I dunno, like an actual hedgehog? Hindsight is 20/20 and thankfully the filmmakers went back to the drawing board, pushed the release date back a few months, and embraced the cartoonish side of our beloved Sonic with his big, beady, eyes, fluffy fur, and sly red sneakers.
The results are genuinely heartwarming, and makes you want to root for the little guy every step of the way. Those not familiar with the video game mechanics need not worry, the popular games never really had a “plot” and so screenwriters Patrick Casey and Josh Miller conjure something up rather quickly. When we first meet Sonic, he’s being looked over by a mystic owl (“An Obi Wan that eats mice” proclaims Sonic voiced with glee by Ben Scwartz) in some far away world and whose life is quickly upended as scavengers seek to harness his super speed capabilities. In a hurry, Sonic is given a bag of gold rings that can teleport him to any location that pops up in his mind, and in doing so ends up in Green Hills, Montana.
Sonic doesn’t know what it feels like to be a normal kid and often lives vicariously through others. Sneaking around to watch the little league softball game, or pretending he’s snuggled up on the couch watching “Speed” (side note: Sonic loves Keanu Reeves, though don’t we all?) with Sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and his wife/veterinarian Maddie Wachowski (Tika Sumpter) two humans he’s spiritually attached too but has no physical connection with.
Things start to go haywire when Sonic has a meltdown at a nearby baseball field and accidentally sets off an electromagnetic pulse, leaving the town of Green Hills without any power. Enter the wacky and zany Dr. Robotnik (Carrey) - a mad scientist with four PhD’s the government has enlisted to track down the culprit and with his tiny drones that can move in any which direction, that’s exactly what he’ll do.
Along the way, Sonic finally collides with Tom and the two must team up in order to get back Sonic’s goodie bag of gold rings that, somehow, got misplaced in San Francisco. This in turn becomes a mad dash, and a buddy-road trip comedy with Marsden doing just enough nice guy shtick to resonate. Which, in contrast to both Sonic and Carrey’s wild antics, is a nice reprieve to keep you from getting burnt out.
Like the character himself, “Sonic The Hedgehog” hustles quickly and never stops to smell the flowers. There’s the obligatory troupe where Sonic, moving as fast he does, basically stops time and like Quicksilver in “X-Men” maneuvers through a bar fight while everyone is frozen to create and foster controlled chaos. Kids who are too young to have seen any of the movies which inspired this sequence (the movie gives a shout out to The Flash, so it’s not taking credit) will likely marvel at how nifty its executed.
All the actors - especially Carrey - know what kind of movie they’re in and they ham it up the max. Carrey hasn’t been in this mode since his “Dumb and Dumber’ and “The Mask” days and it was shockingly refreshing to see him let loose. A dance number midway through the movie comes to mind, and I’m sure it’ll have your kids mimicking it on the way out of the theater.
“Sonic The Hedgehog” had everything going against it, and despite the odds, delivers on its potential and sprints to the finish line with all the charm and heart it can muster. I’m not sure I’d be all in on the inevitable sequel promised during the closing credits, but one more dash around the track never hurt anybody.