After the very dramatic outcry when the first trailer for the film was revealed, it seems almost improbable that the Sonic the Hedgehog movie even exists. If it was possible for the internet to hate-scream at something enough to obliterate it entirely through WiFi, the original Sonic would have been proof of that power. But it didn’t; the studio listened and made changes and now they’ve delivered a very video game-accurate version of the character and I’m happy to report that the movie itself is totally watchable, thanks largely to Ben Schwartz’ magical take on the title character.
Based on the classic SEGA video game series, albeit with some embellishments for the sake of being its own thing, the film is quintessentially Sonic. There are references to the larger “mythos” of the character and many of the memes that have sprouted out from his popularity, but this is the Sonic that fans know and love. Let’s not get carried away that this movie is trying to be something bigger than what it is, either; it’s a movie about a talking hedgehog and Jim Carrey at perhaps his most hammy. It’s a totally serviceable kids movie, and there’s nothing wrong with it aiming for, and achieving, just that.
Sonic finds himself on Earth, but isolated, with his speed/power making him a target, forcing him to stay hidden. This sets up a world where the character can learn about Earth without being completely clueless, offering plenty of cute pratfalls along the way as he ventures off to find his missing bag of rings. At no point will you forget that this is a movie for children, but it’s still endearing. One of the strengths of the film is that it's always throwing new gags and jokes at the audience, so even if one doesn't work, there's another right around the corner that arrives as quickly as Sonic himself.
Director Jeff Fowler clearly put his heart into the set pieces of the movie, which showcase a clear stylistic vision that the filmmaker has for movement and staging. This being his feature debut, I’m eager to see him play in an even bigger sandbox, or even just a more elaborate version of Sonic himself. Sequences where Sonic runs about, moving things and people really quickly (in a PG-kid friendly version of the Quicksilver scenes from the X-Men movies), work like a charm, but the flat and boring exposition in-between them all feel stiff. Luckily, the standard two-shot or wide shot of a dialogue scene featuring Sonic always has a spark, thanks to the little blue devil.
Sonic the Hedgehog is a totally harmless kids movie that manages to have enough heart and humor to keep the adults entertained, too. Schwartz perfectly embodies the character to hilarious effect and steals the show so often that the movie suffers when he’s absent for too long, though sequences of Carrey's Robotnik offer plenty of jokes to keep the adults laughing. Natasha Rothwell also appears in a supporting role that generates some of the biggest laughs of the movie, despite minimal interaction with Sonic at all.
Since the conversation will naturally always land there, I don’t think Sonic is the best video game movie to date but the competition is so slim that the argument could certainly be made by parties about its claim to the crown. Sonic the Hedgehog succeeds where so many other video game adaptations fail because it captures the spirit of the games and the character. It doesn’t matter that it’s not a 1:1 adaptation of the games, because Sonic’s core personality and need for adventure are fully on display and the good-natured narrative at its center is heartwarming and wholesome entertainment. I eagerly await to see if the film gets the sequel it sets up, because this is a world that I could continue to find endearing and enjoyable, which is not something to be said about so many other kid movie franchises these days.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Sonic the Hedgehog hits theaters on February 14th.
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