I’ve always been excited about the idea of a feature film focused on Sonic the Hedgehog. In fact, I had pondered ideas for a potential live-action/CGI movie for the franchise long before an actual project was first greenlit in June 2014 (although I’d unquestionably produce anything Sonic-related now using traditional animation, mainly because all of my original animated projects are also 2D in style). Now, after a longer-than-expected wait, the video game icon finally speeds onto the big screen—so without any further ado, let’s make like the Blue Blur himself and do it to it!
In this big-screen adaptation of SEGA’s flagship video game franchise, our title character (voiced here by Ben Schwartz) has been in hiding in the small Montana town of Green Hills for many years, and has particularly taken a liking to their local, donut-loving sheriff, Tom Wachowski (James Marsden). However, the U.S. government soon discovers his presence and recruits Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to capture him. Sonic ultimately befriends Tom, and he reluctantly agrees to team up against the villainous scientist.
The idea of a feature film based on Sonic was tossed around as early as 1993, even despite the critical and commercial failure of the first video game films, and was originally at MGM before failing to be resuscitated at DreamWorks. Sony Pictures then acquired the film rights in 2013, but after they put the film into turnaround four years later, Paramount Pictures assumed the reigns.
This film is effectively an alternate-universe reboot of the SONIC franchise (although it’s not nearly the first alternate universe this series has had), but it’s even more of a clean slate considering the medium and the direction the film’s story happens to take, although there are still many wink-and-nod game references throughout which are fun to spot while not being overbearing to those who aren’t as familiar with them. The plot itself is relatively simple and (no pun intended) well-trodden territory, and some minor scenes are rather obvious family-film fare, but Sonic historically hasn’t needed an intricate plot to succeed if even his first game alone—which is basically save fellow creatures from roboticization—is any indication, so admittedly I may be more forgiving of this than I probably would be if I wasn’t as enshrined in the fandom. However, what the story lacks in depth, screenwriters Patrick Casey and Josh Miller more than make up for in wit and pathos.
Ben Schwartz may not have been a household name up until now (in fact, his best-known mainstream role up to this point was a recurring guest appearance on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation), but he is a perfect casting choice for Sonic and has quickly become one of my favorite voice actors to portray the Fastest Thing Alive. I haven’t heard as much emotion or charisma from any version of Sonic in years, and while the script’s dialogue definitely helps in this regard, Schwartz (who is himself also a huge Sonic fan) nails the performance with the vibe of an excited kid exploring a big world. Given this movie’s origin-story nature, it’s a refreshing take on the character that not only maintains his familiar personality and vocal aspects, but takes them to a whole new stage.
Marsden has had previous experience in live action/CGI films of this type before in HOP (2011), and while his character is not the most interesting this film has to offer, he still manages to provide enough chemistry with Sonic to not fade into the background and hold his own when needed. Carrey, meanwhile, manages to steal the show at times in the kind of role that hearkens back to his 1990s comedy-movie heyday. This version of Robotnik (a.k.a. Dr. Eggman) is unlike any version of the character we’ve seen up to now, so it may take a little getting used to; having said that, it more than works for this movie. Supporting the main cast are Tika Sumpter as Maddie, Tom’s veterinarian wife; Lee Majdoub as Stone, a government agent and Robotnik’s effective right-hand man; and in smaller roles Adam Pally, Neal McDonough, Frank C. Turner, and Natasha Rothwell.
I won’t discuss the controversy regarding Sonic’s movie design as much has already been written about it elsewhere, except to say that whatever excitement I had always had about the movie—even despite my concerns with the first version of Movie Sonic—only soared when his new, far superior design was revealed in a new, far superior trailer. The visual effects involving Sonic translate very well to a live-action environment, however, and there’s no doubt that all the extra work the film’s VFX artists took on definitely paid off. Tom Holkenborg (a.k.a. Junkie XL, who previously worked with co-executive producer Tim Miller on the first DEADPOOL film) contributes a very workable score which fits very well with the tone and action of the movie.
For whatever rocky starts this film might have had, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG manages to pack a ton of action, humor, and heart in a 99-minute package. It is a fantastic debut for director Jeff Fowler, to whom all credit must be given for listening to the fans and doing the right thing. And, all fandom biases aside, I truly believe this film has finally broken the almighty curse of the video game movie. My recommendation here may be at least partly obvious, but even if you’re not much of a Sonic fan, I still think you can get more out of this one than you’d expect. There’s no telling if this film by itself will gain any new Sonic fans, although it’s very likely many of them will be convinced to at least explore the games—and with Sonic’s 30th anniversary coming up next year, I hope his newest title won’t let us down.
P.S. There is a mid-credits scene.