Count me as one of the chorus of people who, when the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie was announced, rolled my eyes and exclaimed, “No one asked for this!”
And yet, here I sit completely eating my words, because that movie with the weird VFX re-do that inspired some rather harsh memes turns out to be a complete delight, offering some really great family-friendly fun.
Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) lands on Earth as a child after escaping his home planet, where he was chased by evil creatures who wanted to use his abilities for themselves. Using one of the golden rings given to him by his pseudo-mother, Long Claw, he lands in Green Hills, Montana. There he grows up, enjoying the simple things — reading his favorite comic books (“The Flash”), playing ping-pong with himself, listening to music, and observing the townspeople, while staying completely hidden. His favorite people to watch are the “Donut Lord” aka town sheriff Tom (James Marsden) and his wife, the “Pretzel Lady,” local vet, Maddie (Tika Sumpter).
Tom spends most of his days sitting at a speed trap, waiting for anything, anything at all, to happen. And when he gets home, something does: He’s been offered a chance to join San Francisco’s police department, where he feels he might actually get to save a life or do something more than just escort a family of ducks across the street. That same evening, Sonic — having just watched a Little League game he yearned to be part of — literally tries to outrun his loneliness and creates a power outage so massive that the U.S. government becomes suspicious.
They hire Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey), the smartest man in the world, who has an army of technologically advanced gizmos he created himself. Soon, Robotnik discovers Sonic’s abilities, and Tom and Sonic head out on a road trip both to escape Robotnik and to find Sonic’s rings, so he can be safe once more by leaving the planet he has fallen in love with.
When that infamous first “Sonic the Hedgehog” trailer dropped, the VFX was definitely questionable, but there’s not a trace of that earlier awkward look in the final product. The effects, while maintaining fidelity to the popular video game, turned out stellar. Sonic and his homeworld were exactly as I would have pictured them back when I couldn’t put my Sega controller down.
Making his feature film debut, director Jeff Fowler stays true to what fans presumably want to see in a Sonic film. The worlds were believable, and Fowler seems really in-tune to what families would enjoy in a film about an insanely fast, laid-back alien creature. Wisely, he just makes it fun.
The script itself is very light-hearted, even with undercurrents about being an outsider and the loneliness that comes with it. Co-writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller (Blumhouse’s YouTube series “12 Deadly Days”) never let the heaviness dwell too long. Kids who might be venturing to a new school or a new city will definitely identify with that aspect, and I appreciated that not once in the film is Sonic asked to change who he is; in fact, it’s by being himself that he finally finds the community he’s longed for.
The entire cast knows what film they’re in, providing the perfect blend of energy and charm needed to sell this wacky story about a little blue alien hedgehog. But I couldn’t contain my glee at watching Jim Carrey operate in peak early-’90s form. Robotnik is definitely a villain, but you can spot elements of “Ace Ventura” and “The Mask” whipped into this tech-savvy, egotistical, psychopath. There’s a dance sequence to “Where Evil Grows” that shows off Carrey’s genius.
(Props to cartoon vet Ben Schwartz for voicing a sweetness into a character that could have easily gotten lost in the oddities that surround it, all the while matching Carrey’s energy and comedic timing beat for beat.)
“Sonic the Hedgehog” might not become a kid-movie classic, but it makes for a great little getaway to enjoy with the whole family. That, in itself, earns a golden ring.