Review By Alex Skrapits
I have been waiting FOREVER to talk about this. Not just the movie itself, but Sonic the Hedgehog himself entirely. Whenever someone mentions the name in general, it leaves to a whole wide variety of impressions.
During the early 90s, then-video game developer SEGA decided to create a mascot in order to distinguish themselves from Nintendo having Mario as their mascot. After a few animal suggestions and a fast-paced gameplay direction ironically inspired by Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog was born. Not only was the game a critical and commercial success, but it allowed SEGA to be in healthy competition with Nintendo during the 16-bit console era. After SEGA had a difficult but overdue time jumping Sonic into the 3D bandwagon, the company ultimately decided to become a third-party company, including developing Sonic games for further third-party consoles. Over time, the franchise created a large cast of characters and core gameplay mechanics that would become staples. It also spawned countless merchandising, including comics, toys and adapted into a few animated television series.
To date this review, the quality of Sonic games has been…like I mentioned before, a whole wide variety of impressions among the video gaming community. The best way to describe it: it’s like going on a roller coaster. Sometimes, you go up with the Sonic Adventure games or Sonic Mania. Other times, you go downhill with Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), with the latter deemed as one of the worst video games of all time. Once in a while, you stop in-between with Sonic Heroes or Sonic Forces. You get the idea.
From my personal preference, I became a huge fan of the franchise ever since Sonic Heroes and later grew an appreciation with the classic series. Nonetheless, most of the community still supports the franchise and while I do not speak for other people, I always keep high hopes and remain supportive for the blue blur’s future.
…Wait, did I forget something- Oh, right! The movie!
Well, technically speaking this is not the first attempt of making a movie about Sonic. Some would point to the 1999 “anime film”. In actuality, it is a two-part episode OVA where the English version was released as a direct-to-video film. It has its goofy and action-packed moments, but it didn’t count. There was also a 2013 short fan film that was intended as a prequel to the original game. The biggest highlights about it were Jaleel White reprising his Sonic from the Saturday morning cartoon, along with Internet comedian cameos such as James Rolfe and Doug Walker. Alas, it didn’t count.
When a live-action/animated Sonic film was announced, I was excited yet skeptical about it. Originally, Sony had the film rights but later put the project in turnaround where Paramount acquired the rights and continued development. Things start out promising when Deadpool director Tim Miller was producing, Marza Animation Planet was providing the visual effects and big names like Jim Carrey were attached to the project.
That is, until one day when the first trailer was released where Sonic looked…different then the public and was quickly panned seconds later. It is important to quickly address the blue elephant in the room, no poor pun intended. Initially, Sonic had a more realistic and humanoid appearance as an artistic attempt to clash with the live-action setting. Again, while I don’t speak for other people, my impressions on the design were mixed. I’d appreciate its ambition but is poorly executed for being uncanny with the family-friendly tone that the film aimed for. Suddenly, within 24 hours after the trailer, the director announced that not only Sonic would be redesigned, but delayed the movie for a couple months with no overtime. This is filmmaking news I deeply admire and when Sonic’s new look was revealed, everyone rejoiced and my hopes have ignited.
Now, that the movie is properly released after an awkward first impression months ago, how does the movie end up overall? As a Sonic fan, it was a fun ride! As a movie itself, it’s…harmless but an entertaining family flick. You would guess which perspective I’m speaking from.
When a super-speed blue hedgehog named Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) arrives on Earth, a local town sheriff (James Marsden) must help and protect him from a mad scientist named Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) sent by the government.
Hearing that synopsis alone, you probably ask yourself: How many times have we heard THAT story? I guess we start off by addressing how unoriginal and clichéd the plot is. It’s the typical buddy road trip comedy mixed with action where it is predictable from top to bottom. Anyone who grew up with Sonic would easily compare this set-up to select 3D Sonic games where he interacted with human characters, especially the infamous Sonic ’06 and the anime Sonic X. Average moviegoers would also draw comparisons the road trip aspects to Illumination Entertainment’s Hop, another live-action/animated comedy coincidentally starring James Marsden interacting with a CGI character. Yes, this story is weak…on paper.
In terms of EXECUTION however, they actually found a way to make it passable. Here’s the deal: the Sonic games were never emphasized on plot to begin with. They were straightforward, exhilarating and fun to play with. And that’s EXACTLY what this movie delivered. The story is easy to understand without any side-plots to make it all over the place. The movie provides a healthy dosage of fast-paced action sequences that are reminisce to the video games. Not to mention, a lighthearted tone full of innocence and heart where the story is never meant to taken seriously.
As soon as you start to apply logic and asking questions, you’ll be too busy having fun watching Sonic run or getting into a bar fight. You’ll be busy having fun watching Jim Carrey mugging. You’ll be busy having fun the epic chase scene between a blue hedgehog and a mad scientist around the world through giant rings! …Did I mention it was fun?
Like every video game movie, this one is loaded with Easter Eggs that any Sonic fan would love to point out and watch again to find ones they miss. I also give the film credit for subtly incorporating other elements, such as Sonic curling into a spin dash or using rings for magical transportation. This is evident and refreshing to see a video game based movie being faithful to the source material. Granted, the first few minutes give us a bit of Sonic’s world such as the organic Green Hill Zone and meeting his adoptive mother, which is a giant owl. However, due to the straight-forward pacing, it would be a waste of its full potential. Then again, without getting into spoilers, there is a mid-credits scene, where the seeds have been planted for a brighter future.
Thanks to Sonic artist Tyson Hesse for contributing to fixing Sonic, I couldn’t be happier with the results. Not only they follow the source material, but Sonic himself LOOKS like the source material and it fits the movie’s tone appropriately. The visual effects team managed to highlight the one of the twelve principles of animation into the design: appeal. You will take notice of Sonic’s big and expressive eyes through the motion capture and quickly tell how he feels whether he looks happy, sad or angry. While Sonic’s speed is implemented for action scenes, it is also used for comedic purposes, including a visual gag that is similar to Quicksilver’s scenes from the X-Men films. In addition, the CGI around Robotnik’s egg-shaped machines and portable laboratory are imaginative yet in a bizarre and intimidating manner. At first, you’ll be scratching your head at a mad scientist dancing in his secluded facility with a virtual simulation behind him. Soon after, you’ll be chased by a tank-like car that launches other weapons full of surprises using remote-controlled gloves. I’d also give props to the credit animated sequences where they use 16-bt graphics as a homage to the Genesis games. When expecting visually from a Sonic movie, the outcome is definitely worth the wait.
For the characters, that is tricky to discuss regarding the movie’s tone. If there is anything weak to discuss, I would say that the human side-characters are mostly one-dimensional with no development. Maddie is Tom’s veterinarian yet supportive wife, Wade is Tom’s naïve partner, Stone is the government agent that works for Robotnik, and Rachel is Maddie’s sister whom dislikes Tom. The only exceptions are Crazy Carl and Tom’s niece JoJo. But, let’s just ignore about them for a moment and focus on the REAL stars of the movie.
First, we have the Blue Blur himself, Sonic. He is the wisecracking teen with a gifted power of super-speed. But, he has trouble making friends due to his loneliness and uncontrollable powers. With Tim Miller producing, his mannerisms of narrating and spewing pop culture remind me of Deadpool, if that was intentional. Tom Wachowski is the sheriff who’s bored of the lackluster action in his hometown and plans to pursue police work in San Francisco. Together, their chemistry is average but charming enough to benefit the tone. And then, you have easily the BEST and FUNNIEST character, Dr. Robotnik (or Eggman, whatever you prefer) played by Jim Carrey. He is an eccentric man with a high IQ and full of high-tech gadgetry. However, due to his intellect, it gives him a superiority complex and threatens anyone in his way till he gets what he wants. What these three characters have in common is they all go through a development and deliver entertaining performances.
Despite what I said about the weak writing and one-dimensional characters, many of the actors surprisingly give out the most for what the script could offer, especially since this is Jeff Fowler’s directorial debut. With combined use of voice acting and motion capture, Ben Schwartz captures the cocky yet goodness nature of the character. James Marsden’s sarcastic and witty dialogue has caught me off-guard and laugh. Do I even need to mention Jim Carrey? He’s SO over-the-top and animated that he is an instant show-stealer and looks he is having the time of his life!! If you going to make a cast of basic but likeable characters, this is how you do it.
Overall, Sonic the Hedgehog is a silly but lighthearted family flick full of heart, non-stop action, solid performances and faithful to the video game franchise. As if my enthusiasm wasn’t clear enough, I’d highly recommend this movie for die-hard Sonic fans and families with children, they’ll definitely have a blast with it. For non-Sonic fans and average moviegoers, I would only recommend it to those looking for something fun and have a good time. It may not be entirely what you expect, but you’ll get something out of it in the end. Gotta go fast!