NOTE: Brick-and-mortar movie theaters might be closed due to COVID-19, but home movie theaters are running in full force thanks to on-demand streaming services. One recent hit dashing to your device of choice this March 31st is Sonic the Hedgehog, one of the first of many to come.
To mark the momentous occasion, the following is an unreleased review straight from the archives to you lucky reader, who may be hungry for content in this unprecedented era. The following was written during the film’s release, so jump through a ring and enjoy a perspective from simpler times.
Blink and you’ll miss it: racing into theaters is the fastest thing alive, the blue blur himself: Sonic the Hedgehog. For the first time ever since the release of the hit original Sega Genesis game in 1991, Sonic has earned his very own movie adaptation. The spiky blue hedgehog has cameoed in the Wreck-It Ralph franchise before, but Paramount Pictures’ cinematic tribute heralds not only his first headlining feature, but his first appearance in live action. It’s no Detective Pikachu, but Sonic the Hedgehog is sure to please gaming fans and to bring plenty of fun to the whole family.
Sonic first dashed onto the scene in 1991 in Sega’s innovative and mega-popular platforming game Sonic the Hedgehog. Based on an order from the Sega brass to devise a company mascot to compete with Nintendo’s Mario, Sonic was also developed based on an idea for fast-paced gameplay on a curved environment, paving the way for Sonic’s signature speed and loop-de-loop racing. The game exploded into one of video games’ most successful franchises, paving the way for over 40 games, as well as comic books, five television series, and now a feature film.
The blue hedgehog has seen a variety of interpretations throughout the game series’ stops and starts, as well as his various T.V. incarnations, but he has always remained two things: carefree, and lightning-fast. Jeff Fowler’s Sonic captures this quite accurately, with his Ben Schwartz-voiced hedgehog showing more inspiration from the Jaleel White-era Sonic of 90’s television, rather than the more mature, hip sonic of the 3D platformers or the Sonic X anime. As this is a blue, anthropomorphic hedgehog in a live action context, a less serious take is much deserved.
Sonic the Hedgehog opens with Sonic himself telling us his story of how he came to Earth. Recounting his childhood on a lush tropical island that resembles the original game’s first level (complete with ramps and loops), we’re introduced to his owl caretaker Longclaw (a new character to the franchise). Never having seen such power of speed before, Longclaw warns Sonic that there are evildoers who will wish to take it, and gives him a bag of rings which open portals to new worlds. That very thing comes true, and Sonic uses his rings to escape to Earth.
Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) is the beloved sheriff of the small town Green Hills, Montana (named after zone one of the game). He’s soon to find out Green Hills is also home to a certain speedy blue hedgehog. Believing he needs to stay in hiding, Sonic loves Earth, but is increasingly lonely. After his powers accidentally cause a power surge one evening, government agents, including the eccentric Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey), rain down on Green Hills to find the source. Tom and Sonic then team up to find his rings and get Robotnik out of Green Hills for good.
Anyone who has spent any time on the internet in the past year is likely familiar with the major fiasco Paramount saw with the response to Sonic’s original visual effects. A more realistic, unsettling hedgehog was first unveiled in the early stages of the film’s marketing, with the producers clearly underestimating the power of nostalgic millennial gamer wrath. The response was swift, as director Jeff Fowler stated on Twitter that “The message is loud and clear” and that changes were “going to happen,” with the release date being pushed from September to February.
Fowler and his team clearly took the fan suggestions to heart, and a visual overhaul was taken out that hits that perfect sweet spot of being both faithful and in line with the original essence of the character, while simultaneously taking enough liberties to both make it work in live action, and allow this iteration of the character to stand on its own. The redesign reportedly added about $5 million to the production budget, and the studio shouldn’t regret this at all, as I’m sure Sonic would doubtedly have had that stellar $57 million opening had the creators not been so open to fan feedback.
While Sonic’s portrayal has been appropriately adjusted, the other major character from the video games to make a starring appearance here is Dr. Robotnik (or sometimes “Eggman”). Played by Jim Carrey making an overdue return to the signature zany physical comedy he’s built his career on, Robotnik is very different here than he is often portrayed, and that’s just fine. As robot-building mad scientist with a burly mustache is a rather cartoonish idea for a villain, it’s quite fitting to grab Jim Carrey and just set him loose, and it’s about as entertaining as you would expect.
Those are the only two major characters from the games to really appear here, though we do get to see some Knuckles-like echidnas in the opening scene. However, there is a mid-credits scene that boasts the introduction of a certain iconic presence that is sure to get fans excited. And as Sonic the Hedgehog is now on track to be the highest grossing video game movie of all time, I wouldn’t rule out getting to see that character and perhaps some others in a sequel. If you’re a fan of the franchise, I’d go and support this movie now to make sure that becomes a reality.
As far as the rest of the film goes, it’s a rather standard family-friendly live action-CGI hybrid, a-la Garfield or Alvin and the Chipmunks, although this one is definitely of a higher class. As a longtime fan of the games, I would probably prefer a Sonic film to be animated, allowing it to be a little less goofy and more faithful to the games, without the burden of having to stand up to the scrutiny that live action demands. But any Sonic movie is a delightful gift, especially this long past the series’ heyday, and this one is a lot better than it could have been, especially given that initial design.
There are certainly some scenes that are far-fetched or flat-out just don’t make sense, and the humor also panders to the little tikes a little more than one would desire, with some fart jokes here and there, but the film does provide some solid hedgehog action noticeably inspired by the game, though this fan wouldn’t mind seeing some more. What’s unexpected is the film does deliver some palpable heart, as the bromance between Sonic and Tom works quite well. If you’re a Sonic fan or are just looking for a decent time at the movies, I’d tell you this: Gotta go fast.