Sonic the Hedgehog movie review: Jim Carrey stages ridiculous return to form in breezy blast for kids
Sonic the Hedgehog
Director - Jeff Fowler
Cast - Ben Schwartz, James Marsden, Jim Carrey
Perhaps because of its very nature, not many would be willing to go out on a limb and give Sonic the Hedgehog the kudos that it deserves. Here’s a film, aimed squarely at kids, that doesn’t reduce itself to flavour-of-the-week antics like making references to trending memes and plugging the latest Selena Gomez song. It relies on a good story, skilfully told, instead of distracting its audience with a pop-culture gag a minute.
Sonic the Hedgehog is a way better film than it had any right to be, thanks in most part to the delicate line that it treads between catering to attention-deficit pre-pubescents and their nostalgic parents. It’s disconcerting enough to imagine that 90s kids who grew up playing the Sonic video games — the first one was released in 1991 — are probably old enough have children, but even more so when you picture them watching this film together.
Watch the Sonic the Hedgehog trailer here:
And to this end, debutant director Jeff Fowler has released the Kraken, so to speak, and brought Jim Carrey out of whatever career funk he seems to have been in for the last few years. Carrey’s last feature film — the murder mystery Dark Crimes — was released four years ago, and holds the stunning distinction of having a 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes. For the past few years, the once infallible star has bided his time on the comedy-drama TV series Kidding, and by posting provocative political paintings on social media.
His performance as Dr Robotnik in Sonic the Hedgehog is a jolt of 90s nostalgia. As the years have gone by, room for films such as this has reduced, but Carrey has always committed fully to roles that others might consider beneath them. Even the very similar Pokemon: Detective Pikachu took a rather serious approach to adapting its ridiculous source material. But Sonic embraces its old-school charms.
It tells the story of an extraterrestrial blue hedgehog who is sent to Earth in a final act of courage by his guardian, Longclaw the Owl, to protect him from villainous critters looking to harvest his superpowers. “But with great power,” Sonic learns from Longclaw, “comes great power-hungry bad guys.”
Dr Robotnik is one of them. After sensing a burst of unexplained energy, the US Department of Defence calls upon Robotnik — a man who is said to have been behind a coup in Pakistan — to investigate. His search brings him to a small town sheriff named Tom, played by James Marsden, an actor who appears to have cornered the market when it comes to animated/live-action hybrids such as this, and the very forgettable 2011 film Hop.
Unbeknownst to Tom, Sonic has been closely observing him for several years, and has developed a one-sided friendship with him. It’s very cute, but also a bit sad. When Sonic senses Robotnik catching onto him, he turns to Tom, the only decent human he knows, for help. The film then turns into a sort of mixture between Steven Spielberg’s classic ET: The Extraterrestrial, and the road-trip comedy Paul — both movies are essentially about a lonely alien looking for companionship.
There’s something inherently funny about a character who can cross the entire length of the continental United States in under two seconds to be trapped in a road trip with a normcore icon. Their odd-couple energy is consistently watchable, despite the rather stilted writing that often takes away Sonic voice actor Ben Schwartz’s ability to ad-lib. But there is little room to improvise in CG-heavy films such as Sonic, where literally every shot involving a computer-generated character is mapped out virtually before the cameras have even rolled.
This is partially what makes the last-minute behind-the-scenes switcheroo that was performed on this film all the more impressive. Taken aback by the venomous reaction to the film’s first trailer, the filmmakers made the decision to postpone its release and fundamentally alter Sonic’s character design and make it more games-accurate. But while a similar strategy failed miserably for Cats, a film that continued to be tinkered with even after release, it seems to have done the trick for Sonic.
The character has the physical consistency of three-day old chewing gum in several scenes, but because they aren’t going for an hyperrealistic design, they get away with it. A tip of the hat to the Moving Picture Company, the animation house behind the film’s miraculous makeover, whose Vancouver offices were shut down shortly before the Sonic’s release.
They helped create an anomaly among video game movies, a subgenre of films that seems to have been cursed by the Queen of Consoles herself. Sonic is hardly the best entertainment for children, but with a handful of inventive action sequences and a healthy garnish of good-natured humour, it makes for a breezy time at the movies.