I remember buying Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991 for the Sega Genesis video game system. The idea behind the blue anthropomorphic hedgehog with lightning fast speed came from Sega desperately wanting their own mascot to go up against rival Nintendo’s universally beloved Mario. The game was a big success and spawned many sequels and spin-off titles. But did anyone think we would be a talking about a feature length live-action movie thirty years after Sonic’s conception?
Well, we have one and it comes from first-time feature film director Jeff Fowler. It goes without saying its path to the big screen has been rocky. It was original scheduled for release on November 8, 2019, but sweeping criticisms of the first trailer led to a delay and a complete overhaul of Sonic’s looks. This tacked on an addition $5 million to the budget but the money seems to have been well spent. Fans applauded the redesign and the movie set an opening weekend record for a video game inspired film.
I’ll admit, the responses to “Sonic the Hedgehog” have been surprising. It had the scent of box office disaster all over it. But Fowler along with co-writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller have tapped into something that has pleased old fans and drawn in a few new ones as well. Their action-comedy/buddy movie hybrid has its share of dopey storytelling and cornball humor, yet it still works as good-hearted kids entertainment and a fun little nostalgia trip.
The film opens with Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) being sent away from his home planet by his mentor and guardian Longclaw after an attack by some bow-wielding baddies. Longclaw gives Sonic a bag of rings that can transport him to new planets if he is ever discovered. Ten years pass and Sonic has found a home secretly living in a cave outside of Green Hills, Montana. It’s quiet and peaceful but the one thing our protagonist longs for is the friendship he stealthily observes from the local townsfolk.
One night Sonic’s loneliness gets the best of him and in frustration he runs so fast that he inadvertently emits a pulse that causes a brief blackout across the Pacific Northwest. In a ridiculous bit of government overreaction, the Department of Defense sends the military to Green Hills and gives control of the entire investigation to the brilliant yet raving mad Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey). It’s such a preposterous move that you would think it was satire. Unfortunately it’s not.
Enter Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), the Green Hills sheriff with aspirations of leaving the small town and joining the San Francisco Police Department. But then he discovers Sonic hiding out at his house leading to a lot of yelling, a tranquilizer gun, and a portal to San Francisco accidentally opened and then shut. Sonic’s bag of rings ends up atop the Transamerica Pyramid and Tom agrees to help him retrieve them. The two set out on a road trip to San Fran with the tenacious Dr. Robotnik hot on their heals.
The film’s nimble plotting doesn’t allow it to stay in any one place for very long. That’s probably a good thing considering how silly the whole movie is. Fowler would rather breeze through the story than have it make much sense.￼ For youngsters that shouldn’t pose a problem. But parents of children should be aware that Fowler lazily throws in a few near curses, a pinch of sexual innuendo, and yet another tired fart joke. Not sure why any of those things are still considered funny in a kids movie.
When “Sonic the Hedgehog” keeps its focus on the light-hearted charm of its titular lead character and on exploring the theme of friendship it makes for a pretty good time. Also it’s great seeing Jim Carrey once again tapping into some of his signature wackiness. He chews up scenery like a starving man at a buffet, but it’s fun watching him do so. It all makes for a weird and unexpectedly entertaining stew that may challenge your tolerance for silliness but is fleet-footed enough not to overstay its welcome.
VERDICT- 3 STARS