In April of last year a trailer was released for the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog movie adaptation. It featured a little over two minutes of footage including some that obviously featured the blue hedgehog main character of the movie. That’s when the internet went nuts.
In a wave of near universal hatred, the internet seemingly rose up as a single entity and declared that the character design of Sonic the Hedgehog was unacceptable. The fur was wrong. The eyes were too small. The legs were too long. Why did he have human teeth? The whole thing seemed to exist deep in the uncanny valley where Sonic had strayed too far away from the cartoonish original design and we were now being shown something that was a weird mix of uncomfortably confusing and horrifyingly realistic. The backlash against the character design was so loud that the studio eventually called for a complete redesign of the character forcing the movie to be delayed by several months. Now the movie is finally in theaters with a new and improved Sonic design, one that is more pleasing to the internet, but with the character design issue taken care of, we’re left to face the question if a better looking Sonic results in a better movie or not.
The thing is, that redesigning the character (which was the right move, both from an aesthetic and marketing standpoint) doesn’t really do much to affect the meat of the movie. All of the live action aspects had already been shot and remained the same. Anybody seeing Sonic for the first time freaks out, as would anybody being presented by a four foot tall blue talking hedgehog, so either Sonic design works for the narrative. The Sonic movie we got was really the Sonic movie we were always going to get. Yes it’s great that the producers listened to “the fans” on this one, (mostly adults who have a fondness for playing the games when they were kids) but Sonic the Hedgehog was always intended to be a movie aimed at kids.
Sonic the Hedgehog is going to feel very familiar to anyone who’s ever seen any other live action movie based on a cartoon character where the main character is still a cartoon. (Garfield, The Smurfs, Woody Woodpecker, those kinds of movies) Sonic has been living a peaceful life in the woods, avoiding being noticed by humans until he gets on their radar by accidentally causing a massive power outage. The army, trying to address the possible threat calls in a specialist to deal with the problem, one Dr. Robotnik, played by Jim Carrey. The arrival of the bad guys forces Sonic to turn to the “good human” character to help him escape, who in this movie is Tom Wachowski, the local sheriff played by James Marsden. (Marsden has pretty much done this movie once before if you remember Hop from 2011.) Tom and Sonic then set off to get Sonic to safety, while being pursued by Dr. Robotnik and a series of increasingly ludicrous robots.
Sonic the Hedgehog is not a bad movie. It’s not too long, the animation looks good, none of the characters are really annoying, and there’s a handful of jokes that really land well. If there is an MVP for the movie it would have to be Jim Carrey who feels like he’s putting on a Jim Carrey performance we would have seen if this movie had been released in the 1990s. There are a handful of times where the movie seems to grind to a halt in order for Carrey to do his shtick for an extra ninety seconds, yet these are some of the most enjoyable parts of the movie. You might go to this movie to see some video game nostalgia on the screen, but it’s far more likely you’ll be struck by nostalgia for Ace Ventura/The Mask era Jim Carrey movies.
No, Sonic can’t be called a bad movie, but it’s not really a good movie either, because it chose instead to be a safe movie. People who have been longtime fans of the Sonic franchise know that Sonic can get bizarre. There’s been four separate animated TV shows, dozens of games, spinoffs, and a long running comic story line that spans decades that the movie could pull from, but instead chooses to ignore. There’s no chaos emeralds. There’s no Shadow or Metal Sonic. Sonic doesn’t go Super Sonic. Dr. Robotnik doesn’t turn any animals into robots. There’s a nod here and a wink there (Tom is the sheriff of a town called Green Hills) but the amount of Sonic material in the movie is what you would see on the cover. Sonic looks like Sonic and he goes fast.
Initially, the character of Sonic the Hedgehog was created and specifically designed to be a mascot for Sega the way Mario was for Nintendo. Sonic was a cooperate mascot first and a video game character second. And that’s what this version of Sonic feels like. It’s a very safe movie, but ultimately not a very memorable one. It would be easy to imagine a world where Sony wasn’t able to get the rights to the “Sonic” franchise but were able to make, more or less, the same movie, featuring Chester Cheetah or The Energizer Bunny in the title role. It just so happens that Sony had the rights to Sonic and thought his face and name would make money.
Maybe the thought process is that you have to strip Sonic down to the basics of the character in order for it to work on screen. After all, maybe one percent of your potential audience has ever read a Sonic comic book, and you don’t want to venture too far away from the handful of Sonic things people are sure to know about (blue, fast, etc.), but the few times that the movie does venture outside of the safe, paint by numbers territory is when it’s the most interesting. There’s a character called Longclaw who appears briefly in the movie. This character was invented for the movie but would fit right in with the rest of the wacky, bizarre world of Sonic and it’s one of the most interesting parts of the film. There are flashes of really interesting stories between the cracks here that you almost get to see for a second, but every time you do, they’re lost in the movie’s quest to play it safe.
Tags: film, Jim Carrey, movie review, Sonic, Sonic the Hedgehog, video game