Jeff Fowler after over a decade of not sitting in the director’s chair returns with the insurmountable task of creating a film for one of the most beloved nineties mascots of all time. “Sonic the Hedgehog” brings the twenty-nine-year-old icon onto the big screen for his first feature-length film that is an entertaining ride from start to finish. With Ben Schwartz voicing the titular character of Sonic and Jim Carrey acting as his legendary rival, Dr. Ivo Robotnik, these two expertly steal the show as they wonderfully bring these classic characters to life in fresh and exciting ways that pay homage and feel familiar to their original depictions. However, not all is well within the land of Green Hill Zone as “Sonic the Hedgehog” features an empty plot that goes nowhere fast until a third through the film’s runtime as several vacuous jokes plague the pages of the script and do no favors for the overall quality of the film. “Sonic the Hedgehog” is a children’s film at heart that will surely entertain audiences throughout the course of its hour and forty-minute runtime that brings Sonic back into the mainstream consciousness for all of the right reasons.
“Sonic the Hedgehog” immediately introduces us to a young Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) as he frantically runs away from a pack of tribal echidna that are hunting him down. Sonic meets with his guardian, Longclaw the Owl (voiced by Donna Jay Fulks) who senses trouble on the horizon. In an act of selflessness, Longclaw gives Sonic a pouch of rings that act as gateway portals to other planets and dimensions; she uses one of those very rings to send Sonic to Earth. The plot jumps forward ten years where during that time, Sonic has grown accustomed to his life of secrecy near the small town of Green Hills, Montana. During his stay, Sonic has grown to appreciate the work of the local sheriff, Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) so much that he spends nights outside of Tom’s house as he watches films and relaxes with his wife Maddie Wachowski (Tika Sumpter). Despite Sonic taking part in the joy of being around others he adores, when he retreats back to his shelter and reflects on his own personal life, he can feel the deep internal loneliness that eats away at him every waking day; gifted with the ability to be everywhere at once, but cursed with the inability to show himself. Then, in a moment of sorrow, Sonic runs at a supersonic level causing a massive shockwave of energy that causes a blackout all across the Pacific Northwest. The United States government is unaware of what energy source could have knocked out that much power, and so the Defense Department decides to enlist the help of the mad scientist himself, Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey). With the stage set, Sonic employs the help of Tom as the two travel to San Francisco in a race to recover his long lost rings, while the sinister Robotnik tracks them down in an effort to capture the hedgehog and extract his source of power to build an army of unstoppable machines.
“Sonic the Hedgehog” is a film that relishes in its silliness from scene to scene that finds a good balance between being goofy and heartfelt. Still, the overall plot of the film is tremendously thin and for the first thirty minutes, a number of pointless sequences take place that are solely used to garner a few laughs out of the kids in attendance. But, where “Sonic the Hedgehog” shines the brightest, is in its characters, more specifically, Ben Schwartz as Sonic and Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik. Carrey digs into his bag of absurdity harkening back to characters such as Ace Ventura and The Mask to put on a show that only he could pull off. Carrey masterfully reinvents the stale old villain by delivering his lines in such an exaggerated fashion that is amplified by his wacky movements and overall demeanor to play a refreshing villain that has not been seen in a while. Had any other actor stepped into the shoes of Dr. Robotnik, the character’s awkward dialogue and childish nature would have not been fully realized. Although Carrey delivers an excellent performance, it is the title character of the film that ultimately excels above the rest; Ben Schwartz is not just the voice of Sonic, he is Sonic. The character of Sonic has always been designed to be the “edgey” rival of Nintendo’s super mascot, Mario; Sonic listens to rock and roll, who knows what Mario listens to, Sonic is all about speed, Mario lightly jogs and jumps, Sonic wears stylized crimson shoes, Mario wears blue overalls. The two brand icons have always been at odds (they’ve even faced off in the Olympics) but as time moved forward, the two diverged fruther; the Sonic series added guns, explosions, and medieval fantasy while Mario continued being cute and family-friendly. No matter how much the Sonic series altered over time, the one aspect that always appeared to remain unchanged was Sonic’s overbearing confident personality that always had one leg in the present, and the other firmly planted in the nineties. Schwartz clearly understands the character of Sonic and lets the audience know with every line of dialogue he reads. Regardless of whether Schwartz is telling a joke or sharing a sincere and emotional moment, he perfectly encapsulates the essence of the classic Sega poster child. The character of Sonic could have been completely annoying and one note, but Schwartz’s performance represents Sonic in a way that everyone, no matter age can rally behind and enjoy. At the end of the day, Schwartz’s own enthusiasm about the project and the character is truly infectious and will grow on audiences with every comment and retweet he shares.
The origins for a “Sonic the Hedgehog” film can be traced all the way back to 1993, where at the time, Sega CEO Tom Kalinske refused to go forward with the project given the critical failures of other video game film adaptations, most notably 1993’s “Super Mario Bros.” and 1994’s “Street Fighter”. With rumblings of a Sonic film popping every few years, it wasn’t until 2013 when Sony Pictures Entertainment acquired the rights to develop and distribute a film that things really began. After several years passed, in 2017 Paramount Pictures wound up with the Sonic film in their laps ready to finish the project. On April 30, 2019 the world got their first look at “Sonic the Hedgehog” and it was a disaster no one was prepared for. Every corner of the internet sounded the alarms as the world finally got their first look at the abomination they were calling Sonic. The blue hedgehog was designed to look like a semi-realistic animal human hybrid with a taller body, no connected eyes, lifelike fur, no white gloves, and human teeth. Needless to say, Sonic was absolutely hideous. This new depiction of the character lacked any ounce of soul the classic character once had; it was a design no one could support. In spite of Sonic’s awful design, it also did not help that the original reveal trailer was just simply put, flat out terrible with a weird tone and odd music selection. Thus, the internet unanimously agreed that Sonic looked monstrous and boy did they let the studio know. On May 2, 2019, Fowler announced that the film would be delayed until the calendar year of 2020 and would now be pushed back nearly four months from its original release to do Sonic the justice he rightfully deserved. Then, on November 12, 2019, the “New Official Trailer” was released and the world rejoiced; Sonic was perfect the world cheered. However, the glorious new redesign came at a tremendous cost; the jobs of dozens of talented animators at the Moving Picture Company (MPC) Studio in Vancouver. No number on how many people were let go is known, but what is certain is that this should not have been the final outcome. Those animators worked tirelessly to ensure that the film would meet its new release date, painstakingly going through frame-by-frame fixing everything; and so for the entire studio to be shuttered just days before Christmas, it is truly tragic. Unfortunately, this is a story we have grown all too familiar with within the film industry as several other VFX studios have been overworked on a project, to then be demolished shortly thereafter. It is a cruel fate that makes me believe Sonic’s redesign was nowhere near as important as the jobs of those animators.
“Sonic the Hedgehog” is a video game movie that gets it right (or at least about as close as you can get). The film is an enjoyable watch that will no doubt make older fans of the series smile while also creating a new wave of young Sonic fans. “Sonic the Hedgehog” is not for the “Oscar” crowd, and nor should it be. The film will make you laugh with the wild antics taking place on screen, but still pull on your heart strings when needed. Fowler and company craft a well-made entry for the Sonic series that can only be greatly expanded upon in the future with new installments (of which there will be many) that can introduce new characters and locations but will only succeed if they employ the same strategies laid out here, within “Sonic the Hedgehog”.