2020 | PG | starring Ben Schwartz (VO), James Marsden, Jim Carrey, Tika Sumpter, Adam Pally | directed by Jeff Fowler | 1 hr 39 mins |
The follies of adapting video games into movies is well known. It’s a square peg in a round hole situation to try to force one medium into another. Video Game Movie adaptation usually take game characters, settings and rough stories and use those as details to fill the holes of a generic Hollywood story template. Ultimately changing everything about the game, the mutant product resulting in something that appeals to neither fans of the game of movie-goers. It happened with Super Mario Bros. Resident Evil was turned from a slow Romero-homage to a techno action series. It wasn’t until the 2018 reboot of Tomb Raider that a movie straight-up followed the game that it inspired, with lukewarm results. Now we have Sonic the Hedgehog, an adaptation of the at-one-time mascot of the Sega Game Company designed to showcase the fast processing power of the Sega Genesis. It’s not very good, but it focuses itself on it’s core audience instead of trying to appeal to everyone. Sonic the Hedgehog is a kid’s movie.
When Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz)’s homeworld is attacked by enemies his guardian, a falcon named Longclaw, uses magic portal-creating gold rings to whisk him to safety on another world. He grows up on Earth in solitude in the forest of Green Hills Montana where he keeps watch on the town, particularly the local sheriff (James Marsden) and his wife (Tika Sumpter). Eventually Sonic’s loneliness causes an emotional outburst and emergence of a new power, an electrical burst that shorts out the entire town’s power. This raises the attention of the government who sends in mad Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to single-handedly chase down the alien menace.
Yes, Sonic is an alien. The movie goes in the Transformers direction having our hero come from another planet, interact with humans and folds it into an E.T./ALF story putting him on the run from government goons who want to dissect him (or make him a weapon). We’ve seen it a thousand times as a movie. As a Video Game Movie it kind of works here. I’m sympathetic to the uphill challenge a Sonic adaptation provides. “Make a movie based on a plotless video game where you speed around on loops collecting rings” isn’t an easy feat.
It’s a kid’s movie, aiming at the very young set, and as such will probably entertain the heck out of some little ones who will thrill at Sonic’s speed and one-liners. It’s focus on that crowd gives it an inoffensive quality. Oh, it has all the kid’s movie hallmarks – Sonic has a one-liner to punctuate everything on screen, Sonic just wants to make a friend, we learn about family and not keeping secrets, Jim Carrey absolutely camps it up in a way we haven’t seen from him in a while and, most importantly, we have a big corporate tie-in, which in this case is to Olive Garden.
It’s hard to not think that part of the inspiration for this adaptation was those slow-motion Quicksilver scenes in X-Men. Sonic is a character that provides a franchise with sequences like that, combine that with 90s nostalgia and you’ve got a greenlight. Sonic debuted in 1991, Animaniacs which just got a reboot as well, debuted in 1995. I would be shocked if there isn’t a spreadsheet somewhere in the studios that counts back 25 or so years and pulls every piece of pop culture someone entering adulthood now might be nostalgic for and tells them what to repackage.
Which is why, as formulaic as every single beat of the film is, it is surprising that it feels like it was made by people who actually played the game and have an affection for it. It is full of little references to the game from the town names, to a little piano version of it’s music to Sonic ultimately fighting Robotnik with the same moves you would in the Sega Genesis game. There are some clever little bits snuck in here.
It’s tired, it’s way too long and it makes a mess of itself spitting out every idea it has for a future sequel, but I was surprised that Sonic the Hedgehog didn’t feel as cynical and soulless as it could have. It’s not good, but it’s a sufficiently vibrant light and sound show that should appeal to young kids. As a Video Game Movie it grafts itself to enough movie tropes to keep the final product surprisingly sturdy. As a children’s franchise effort, Sonic the Hedgehog has legs.