Over the history of video games there have been certain series that inherently lent themselves to becoming motion pictures. Sonic the Hedgehog, a game about an ultra-fast hedgehog that collects golden rings and contains only the most basic of narratives, didn’t seem like one. Despite that, Jeff Fowler was tabbed to make his feature-length directorial debut on the film adaptation that included a complete visual redesign of Sonic. While that sounds like a recipe for disaster, the results are better than you might expect.
Hunted on his own world for his incredible speed, Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) uses a golden ring to escape to Earth where he lives in secret seclusion for a decade around the small town of Green Hills, Montana. Eventually, the loneliness gets to him, causing him to lose control and emit a massive electromagnetic pulse that knocks out power across the Pacific Northwest.
This draws the attention of the United States military, and the brilliant but eccentric Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) is dispatched to investigate. Using advanced machines, Robotnik is soon able to pick up Sonic’s trail, following him to the home of Sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), who accidentally shot Sonic with a tranquilizer. Wachowski elects not to turn Sonic over to Robotnik, however, knocking out the doctor and becoming a fugitive.
With his cover blown, Sonic must now escape to another world, but he needs the golden rings that he accidentally dropped into an open portal in San Francisco. As Tom and Sonic head toward the Bay Area, their every step is dogged by Robotnik, who wants to capture and study the hedgehog. As they travel, Sonic and Tom strike up an unlikely friendship, which they’ll need to rely on to overcome Robotnik and his advanced machinery.
If you’re a fan of Jim Carrey circa Ace Ventura, you’ll likely enjoy him as Dr. Robotnik. Carrey brings the manic energy that put him on the map as a cast member of In Living Colour, talking over people, insulting them and just generally being a jerk. That shtick has a shelf life, but in a secondary role for a kid’s movie it’s spot on. He’s instantly unlikable to kids, who want to see him get his comeuppance, and provides some humour for parents as well. It’s perfect casting.
Going back to the drawing board with Sonic was a smart move. We re-watched the original trailer, and the lithe, more human look that Sonic had there wouldn’t have worked nearly as well. The other visual effects, most notably Robotnik’s various craft and robots, are quite good, something that often gets kicked to the curb in children’s films. Marsden is solid as the human lead, and there’s some good interplay with his wife’s sister, played by Natasha Rothwell.
Outside of Carrey’s antics, which are pretty juvenile, there isn’t a lot for the adults to get into, which feels like a miss considering it’s the parents that grew up with the SEGA Genesis — the number of nods to the gaming world are shockingly small, and that’s counting what we assume is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Mario with the Mushroom Kingdom. As such, most of the enjoyment adults are likely to pull from Sonic is watching their kids get into it.
THE BONUS FEATURES
There are almost 15 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes, some of which feature unfinished animation. They don’t offer a whole lot, though, other than the subplot of Sonic feeding off of batteries being (wisely) cut from the finished product. Beyond that you get a handful of short featurettes, the best of which is one that delves into Sonic’s origins as a game.
If you have a kid under the age of 10, Sonic the Hedgehog should make for an entertaining evening thanks to its blend of action and silliness.