As a refugee from another planet, Sonic the Hedgehog has spent most of his life in hiding on Earth. While he keeps himself hidden from the town of Green Hills by using his super speed, he feels close to its residents. Sonic feels particularly fond of the local sheriff Tom Wachowski, whom he dubs “Donut Lord.”
Despite his secret affinity for Tom and the citizens of the town, he feels extraordinarily lonely. In a moment of frustration, Sonic accidentally unleashes a burst of super speed energy that knocks out power for miles and draws the attention of the U.S. military.
Fearing a terrorist attack, the government unleashes the mad genius Dr. Ivo Robotnik to discover the source of the energy burst. Arrogant, rude, and egotistical, Robotnik descends on Green Hills and begins scouring the town. Sonic soon finds himself backed into a corner with only one hope of escape – the Donut Lord Tom.
Sonic the Hedgehog, based on the SEGA video game series, is rated PG for action, some violence, rude humor and brief mild language.
I should preface this review by saying I have absolutely no nostalgia for Sonic the Hedgehog. I didn’t play the game, watch the cartoon, or read the comics. In fact, I had zero interest in seeing this film. However, my teenage sons did want to see it. They actually played the games and were curious about the movie.
But they were even more curious due to the controversy over the look of the CG title character. The last minute switch in design from a human looking Sonic to one that more resembled the cartoon character utterly fascinated them to the point they thought it was a conspiracy by the filmmakers to lure them in. While I assured them that wasn’t the case, we went to the advance screening anyway.
While most video game movies are pretty awful, I had to say that Sonic the Hedgehog was not bad. While kids in the audience were amused by Sonic’s antics, I was entertained by the jokes and witty dialogue. I don’t know how many of the humorous lines were from the script by Patrick Casey and Josh Miller and how many were from ad-libs with the actors, but I found myself laughing on more than one occasion.
The comedy starts with Sonic seeing Tom’s affinity for donuts and referring to him as “Donut Lord.” The laughs continue with Sonic’s pop culture references, super-speed gimmicks, and hyperactivity. If you’re a parent dragged to this PG movie by your kids, there’s fortunately something here to keep you entertained as well.
The cast is pretty strong. James Marsden flexes his comedic muscles as Tom Wachowski (which is an odd choice for a last name unless you’re a Matrix fan). He’s likable even though he largely plays the frustrated straight man for Sonic. It’s easy to forget Marsden can be funny because he’s primarily known for serious roles, but his performance here is a good reminder of that.
He’s well paired with Ben Schwartz as Sonic the Hedgehog. Anybody who has seen Parks and Recreation knows that Schwarz is already a living cartoon character, but he is perfectly cast as Sonic. He’s funny, has heart, and performs with the right mix of sarcasm and sincerity. Kids are going to love his character, but adults will too. The supporting characters all have moments to shine as well. Particularly noteworthy is Adam Pally as the Deputy Billy Robb. No matter how minor his scene or line of dialogue is, he ends each moment with a good laugh.
While I’m not a Sonic superfan, there’s a lot here for the lifelong fans. After seeing the movie, my sons were pointing out subtle nods to the games like the name of the town, familiar background music, and more. There were also references to the cartoons that meant nothing to me but were significant for them. They were pretty excited spotting them, so I think other fans will be as well. They were particularly enthusiastic about a mid-credits scene and a sneak peek at a familiar character, so stick around and watch for it when the movie ends.
Even if the Sonic references fly over your head like they did with me, there’s other stuff to enjoy as well. The action is pretty good with one noteworthy car chase standing out. In it we see a robot that just won’t stop pursuing our heroes. It would make the Terminator proud.
And with all sorts of flying drones and lightning bolts flying, Sonic the Hedgehog would be a great movie to see in 3D. The music of this film is also noteworthy from Tom Holkenborg, aka Junkie XL. It has the same energy as his score for Deadpool.
What Didn’t Work:
I used to like Jim Carrey, but something about him now just does not appeal to me. He’s kind of a relic from the ’90s and his performance as Dr. Robotnik just feels like a rehash of his performance as the Riddler from Batman Forever. I know he’s the villain of the movie, but his manic energy and arrogance just make him annoying.
Sonic the Hedgehog also suffers from a lack of originality. For example, Sonic’s speed stunts are just a copy of Quicksilver’s antics in X-Men: Days of Future Past. That being said, those super-speed gimmicks were some of the best moments of the film. They just needed to find an original twist on them which they didn’t do. Fortunately a lot of children watching this movie have probably never seen the X-Men movies, so it’s new to them.
Sonic the Hedgehog also has the most product placement I’ve seen since Wayne’s World. They promote everything from Zillow to Toyota to Olive Garden. Fortunately, they do provide some laughs with these blatant promotions, but it started feeling excessive. Even my kids commented on it after the movie was over.
The Bottom Line:
While Sonic the Hedgehog is not a great film, it’s a fun movie for kids and a lot better than I was expecting. It’s one of the rare video game movies that’s actually pretty good. Sonic fans should be happy with it and I’ll be interested to see what writers Patrick Casey and Josh Miller do in the future.