Go, go, go blue hedgehog.
To anyone and everyone attempting to make a video game movie in the future: this is how you do it. This is exactly how you do it. When Paramount dropped the first trailer for Sonic The Hedgehog last year and unveiled that God-awful-looking abomination that was supposed to be a blue hedgehog, the Sonic community rightfully ripped it apart and begged Paramount to fix the design. At that moment, Paramount did the smartest thing they could have possibly done in that situation: they listened to the fans.
It’s funny because in a day and age where viewers have criticized how ridiculous other cinematic characters have looked (see Doctor Doom in Fantastic Four or Doomsday in Batman V. Superman), it would have been way too easy for Paramount to simply write the fans off and go about making the movie. But in listening to the fans, Paramount demonstrated that constructive criticism can, in fact, be a very good thing. Can you imagine how quickly all of this might have been resolved if they just brought fans in on day one and simply showed them that horrific-looking rodent they debuted in the first trailer?
In either case, we have our first live-action Sonic the Hedgehog movie after waiting for over 30 years. In this big-screen adaptation, Sonic (Ben Schwartz) is a speedy blue hedgehog endowed with lightning-fast reflexes, and he uses it to jet around in what is aptly described as a blue blur. He lives hidden in a small community in Green Hills, Montana, which is also home to Sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter), who Sonic affectionately refers to as “Donut Lord” and “Pretzel Lady” (take a few guesses as to why).
One day, Sonic releases an electromagnetic pulse while running that knocks out all the power in town, alerting the authorities to his presence. Unsure of what they’re dealing with, the military enlists in the help of Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey), a genius megalomaniac who has thousands of egg robots at his disposal, to find and kill Sonic. Now literally on the run from the government and a psycho robot genius, Sonic has to escape before his powers are used for more nefarious purposes.
One of the immediate elements you catch about this movie is its energy. Like its speedy blue devil, Sonic The Hedgehog is fast-paced, funny, and spontaneous, kicking things off at a quick rate and only barely slowing down to catch its breath. The video games run at a similar pace, with Sonic running through hills, pipes, bridges, and loop-de-loops crazier than a pinball machine. In a rare display, the movie matches the attitude behind Sonic the Hedgehog almost perfectly, with his wild antics and adventures feeling like a crazy level you’re whizzing past in one of those classic Sega arcade games.
The key reason for this is because the movie simply nails the Sonic character. Director Jeff Fowler, who was nominated for an Academy Award in 2004 for an animated short film called “Gopher Broke,” rightfully envisions Sonic as a hotwired little kid; impatient, impulsive, and running wherever life takes him. Ben Schwartz especially does a great job voicing the blue speedster. Whether he’s uttering a clever quip or spouting a long-winded thought excitedly, Sonic feels like a sugar-induced teenager that just wants to pack everything into his day and won’t stop until he fills out his bucket list. Of course, we look forward to the scenes where Sonic is running up buildings and fighting robots, but even in the slower moments, Sonic is still a wildly entertaining character. His exhilarating personality kept the movie moving even when everything else was slowing down around him.
Jim Carrey’s Robotnik also serves as a nice contrast to Ben Schwartz’s Sonic, especially when he incorporates his trademark wackiness into the character. Carrey is admittedly quite different from his video game counterpart: while Eggman in the video games is noticeably chubby and bald, Carry’s Robotnik is thin and has a head full of hair. Yet you don’t mind the differences that much because his performance is just that infectious. Jim Carrey huffs and haws at the less-intelligent beings beneath him and offers no shortage of condescending remarks, like bullets aimed towards the film’s unfortunate victims. He pulls off Robotnik’s haughtiness with the same charisma and pizzazz as his other villainous roles, including the Grinch, the Riddler, and Count Olaf. It’s so nice to see Carrey return to the spotlight yet again to take on a villainous role that really lets his more animated qualities shine on screen. This role could serve as a viable comeback for Carrey, and it would be a very welcomed one if he’s going to consistently deliver this quality of performance.
The story, while basic and predictable, is simple enough to be enjoyable and surprisingly even has a few emotional punches that paint Sonic as a more sympathetic character. James Marsden and Tika Sumpter are functional albeit forgettable in the movie, with Carrey easily outshining them and the rest of the cast. And the movie is visually a delight, with Sonic’s quick-witted and lightning-fast reflexes providing for some fun, exciting, and speedy-filled action that’s akin to the Quicksilver and Flash scenes from the X-Men and Justice League movies (with even a few fun references thrown into the mix as well).
Sonic The Hedgehog further demonstrates the potential for the modern video game movie adaptation. This is the second time where a recent video game movie captured the spirit of the source material with charm and vision, with the first being last year’s Detective Pikachu. What other possibilities are there and where does the genre go from here? I can’t say for sure, but wherever it goes, at least it’s bound to be better than that original anorexic Sonic design. I can almost look forward to a new Super Mario Bros. movie. Almost.