It took 27 years after the fantastic flop that was the Super Mario Bros. film for Sega to bring its most enduring mascot to the box-office. A lot has changed during that time, including Sega famously bowing out of the console market to become a third-party multiplatform developer in 2004, which meant working with its one-time rival Nintendo. Though Sega and Nintendo are chummy these days, with Sonic even showing up in games alongside Mario and other prolific Nintendo mascots, the company has managed to achieve something that Nintendo couldn’t all those years ago back in 1993: the film based on its flagship mascot doesn’t suck. Far from it.
The Sonic the Hedgehog videogame series is one with a surprising wealth of backstory. It was relegated largely to the manuals before the series went 3D with Sonic Adventure, but there was plenty of material from which the film’s writers could have drawn to craft its narrative. Instead, they decided to ignore all of it in order to tell a story that surprised me by being eerily reminiscent of 1987’s Masters of the Universe. I was just as surprised by how that which made Masters of the Universe such a terrible disappointment, worked so well here.
Much like Masters of the Universe, this Sonic movie takes place almost entirely on Earth. However, where it was due to budgetary limitations in the former, Sonic the Hedgehog weaves a far more acceptable justification for it into the fabric of its narrative. Sonic came to Earth to escape those who would bend his power to their will; the solitary life he leads on Earth, due to the potential that it could happen again, gives the story emotional depth that you wouldn’t necessarily expect a movie based on a videogame to have.
That’s not to say that Sonic the Hedgehog is a super serious film. After the first several minutes, its tone shifts to more family-friendly kids’ fare with a simple adventure plot to go along with it. Said plot may not be all that faithful to the games’ canon, but it succeeds at nailing the spirit of the characters really well while sprinkling in little series easter-eggs and references throughout.
Ben Schwartz voices Sonic as a loveable blue blur, with boundless optimism and a zest for the kind of life that his circumstances had kept him from truly living until events are set in motion that bring him out of isolation and put him at odds with Dr. Robotnik, played here by Jim Carrey in another repurposing of the same rubberband-limbed cartoon character he’s been famous for since he hit the big-time with 1994’s Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. This time he adds some admittedly humorous robotic tics to the mix here and there, but overall this is the same Jim Carrey you know and either love or hate. That’s not to say that he does a bad job. He plays Dr. Robotnik as a maniacal, egotistical genius who favors his robots to mankind, and whose aspirations of world domination – or more accurately, human subjugation – lead him to seek out Sonic so that he might use his power to achieve that goal. Carrey does great with it and seems to be having a blast in the role; it just felt a little too familiar for my tastes. Of course, your mileage may vary.
The principal cast is rounded out by James Marsden, who portrays Tom Wachowski, the sheriff of the small, sleepy town of Green Hills, Montana. Tom spends his days uneventfully patrolling Green Hills, protecting its residents from speeding turtles and bagel-thieving ducks, which understandably has him longing for something more. The kindness that he shows to all creatures great and small makes him Sonic’s favorite Green Hills resident, which puts the two together when things go south for Sonic and the film becomes a road-trip comedy. Marsden and Schwartz have genuine chemistry, and as the film rolls on, Tom goes from being Sonic’s reluctant companion to his friend, and even a partner of sorts during the inevitable showdown between Sonic and Robotnik. It all comes together to make a movie that adults can take their kids to see and not be bored by, and one that I think fans of Sonic will enjoy quite a bit, even if it’s not the direct adaptation of the games that they might have preferred.
I can’t recommend Sonic the Hedgehog enough. Not because it reinvents the wheel, or even because it sets the bar high for future video-game movies; it doesn’t. It simply accomplishes what it sets out to do very well while managing to tell a tale with more depth than you’d expect to see in a movie based on a videogame series that features the anthropomorphic equivalent of The Flash. Sonic the Hedgehog is charming, it’s entertaining, and it’s full of plenty of nods to the games for fans. Just be sure to stick around during the credits for something cool that fans will appreciate, and which sets up a sequel. Here’s hoping that Paramount greenlights one.
Edited by Indigo Altaria
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