I didn’t have the patience for the Sonic the Hedgehog video games. To do well required memorization of the level layouts and near-perfect runs lest you lose all of the rings that you collected and set yourself up to also lose a life. However, I loved the wisecracking, speedy blue hero. Somewhere buried, I have pictures with costumed Sonics at various trade show booths and parties, including an appropriate one at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. You can imagine how I cringed when I heard that someone was making a combo live-action/animation film. After a kerfuffle over the animation, which might have actually helped the project, we finally see the results. Sonic the Hedgehog exhibits lack of originality and enough wrong decisions that it reinforces the established theory that most video games should not be turned into movies.
The simple plot from writers Patrick Casey and Josh Miller feels like a combination of a buddy movie and a road trip that’s ultimately kind of a rip-off of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Director Jeff Fowler previously helmed the wonderful 2004 Oscar-nominated short Gopher Broke. He shouldn’t expect any Oscar nominations for this mess. Sonic the Hedgehog (voiced by Ben Schwartz) comes to Earth after some problems on his home planet and hides out in Green Hills, Montana, as he sneaks out to observe human beings and otherwise keep a low profile in his hedgehog cave. Police officer Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) has become bored with Montana and applies for a job on the San Francisco police department where his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter) can be closer to her sister Rachel (Natasha Rothwell). When Sonic causes a power blackout, the government sends out Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to investigate, which forces Tom and Sonic to go on the run to escape Robotnik and find Sonic’s magic rings.
When your star is a blue hedgehog, the rest of the cast almost blends into the background. Schwartz (Parks and Recreation and BoJack Horseman, among many others) delivers a fun version of Sonic in line with what I would want from the Blue Blur. Marsden ranks up there with others like Chris Pine or Chris Evans as a talented, attractive actor who picks great franchises like the X-Men titles or the Westworld TV series as well as other projects. I’m rather surprised that Marsden signed up for this romp after his similar experience with a difficult animated costar in 2011’s Hop. The filmmakers don’t give Sumpter much to do here beyond the wife/girlfriend role, although her job as a veterinarian almost comes in handy. Rothwell actually made me laugh a few times in her limited appearance, and she had the same effect on me in the recent Like a Boss. Sadly, all of the fine acting from the cast gets bulldozed by the unnecessary Carrey every time that he appears on screen. Imagine every annoying Carrey character and acting habit rolled into one to understand why he was a bad choice on every level. From the rubbery facial expressions to interrupting characters in mid-sentence, you’ve seen this all before. It would have been so much better to balance Sonic with an animated Dr. Robotnik than to subject audiences to Carrey’s tired shenanigans.
For those of you who didn’t catch any of the controversy over the special effects, I’ll give you a quick summary… with visuals via links. Paramount released a trailer for the movie and received an almost universal negative response over the design of Sonic. Described as creepy or even too much like a human being, Paramount took the body blows and made the unprecedented decision to hold up the movie so that they could redesign their digital star. If you examine before and after comparisons, you can see that Sonic looks so much better and closer to the video game version now. Honestly, I would love to see the movie with the original graphics intact in a so-bad-it-must-be-funny way a la Cats. The special effects throughout the rest of the movie are mostly seamless, and the action scenes near the end save this from being a total failure. One creative scene made me think of the game Portal, and that can be no accident. Unfortunately, the filmmakers stole what was an innovative idea at the time and adapted it to Sonic’s speed conundrums… twice. In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Quicksilver can move so fast that everything and everyone else stands still as he moves around a scene to adjust things to his liking. Sonic also plays around like this and further adds to the confusion about what his powers really are.
The inconsistencies and bad ideas left me with so many questions more than answers. I’m not some cranky critic, either. These things are just obvious, and the writers didn’t adjust their story to account for them. Exactly how fast is Sonic? Who knows. At one point, he seemingly moves as fast as The Flash or even faster when time stands still, but in other cases, he can’t run away or make the road trip to San Francisco by himself instead of sitting in a car with Tom. Why does one of his quills that was left behind glow and have magical powers as a single strand while Sonic doesn’t glow in his regular state? If Sonic can do loop de loops on his home planet, why can’t he accelerate and run up the sides of buildings? When you see Sonic perform certain actions, it explodes the plot, so better writing could have fixed it. Ironically, as the film speeds to its final minutes, it gets better with an action-packed finale, end credits that reproduce the plot in graphics made to look like various Sonic video games and a bonus scene.
In my review of Jumanji: The Next Level, I decried the checkered past of video game adaptations. Fortunately, Sonic the Hedgehog benefits from those months spent on changing the character design by providing timely comparisons. Although I’d place this film on the same level as Super Mario Bros., it’s not nearly as bad as the truly awful Cats or the merely terrible Dolittle. Dr. Robotnik wears a pair of powered gloves with buttons and gadgets as perhaps a veiled dig at Nintendo because of the long rivalry between Nintendo and Sega (publisher of Sonic’s game series). Well, Nintendo can confidently raise the middle finger of their own Power Glove to Sega for this nonsense. Expect a sequel anyway. I would rather have a completely animated movie than this mixed-up mixture. Even better, I would rather play the game and repeatedly lose all of my rings than watch this again. Best of all, I’d rather eat at Sonic than sit in a theater with Sonic the Hedgehog. It was a smart move for Sonic to steer clear of the obvious cross-promotion that might have been.