Have you ever had the kind of friend whom you've always known meant well, but when it comes down to it they actually contribute almost nothing to your life? You know the kind of friend I'm talking about? They don't hurt. They don't help. You never go out of your way to see them, but you'd also never go out of your way to avoid them. They're nice, really, but mostly they're just timid and inoffensive and honestly just kind of "there."
Sonic the Hedgehog is that kind of friend.
Sonic the Hedgehog is cinematic fluff, too timid to be truly offensive but too nostalgically sweet to simply toss it aside.
Sonic the Hedgehog is the kind of film you don't necessarily mind spending 90 minutes with, but it's also not necessarily a 90 minutes you would ever acknowledge publicly that you enjoyed. It's a kind of parental penance film, the kind of film you watch because you forgot to slip on a condom and the price you've paid is a kid who now wants to watch Sonic the Hedgehog. You love the kid, dammit, and you can't help but find Sonic the Hedgehog a little endearing.
You won't think about Sonic the Hedgehog again, at least until your kid spies the blu-ray on the shelf at Target and it becames your latest Target impulse buy that the kid will play over and over and over again without ever actually being able to pronounce hedgehog.
There will be those who find Sonic the Hedgehog to be simply godawful. They're right.
There will also be those who find Sonic the Hedgehog to be rather sweet, affectionate, and an escapist crowd-pleaser. They're also right.
Sonic the Hedgehog is a film that got an awful lot of early publicity for all the wrong reasons when its initial trailer revealed a Sonic that had the nostalgia overlords up in arms. Paramount Pictures went back to the CGI drawing boards, not quite literally, and came back with a Sonic that pleased those same overlords despite an updated trailer that still made the film look like a disaster waiting to happen.
Sonic the Hedgehog is not a disaster. It's too safe, too timid, too friendly, and too nostalgic to ever be considered a disaster. Sonic the Hedgehog is a "friendly" film, softly warm and affectionate with mostly light laughs and Sonic himself being voiced with absolute delight and wonder by a spot-on perfect Ben Schwartz. If you absolutely hate Sonic the Hedgehog, it may be time for you to sit out of movies for a while because you've obviously forgotten what it's like to be a child looking up at the big screen with wide-eyed wonder.
Get that back, because it's an awesome feeling.
In case you're unaware, Sonic the Hedgehog is inspired by a series of videogames that started in 1991 and continue to this day. Sonic is a blue hedgehog from another place who travels at near-warp speed and escapes his planet to get away from those who want to possess his special gift. He plops himself down in the tiny town of Green Hills, Montana, the first of several references to the nostalgically beloved game that players will recognize but non-players won't be distracted by.
Sonic tries to keep a low profile in Green Hills, but that's pretty hard to do when you're a blue hedgehog and faster than snot. During a one-man baseball game, Sonic accidentally knocks out the town's power and causes overall satellite wonkiness that attracts nefarious government figures doing nefarious government things. Along with those nefarious government figures, he attracts one Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey), whose nefarious ways are so broad and overdrawn that you sometimes forget he's actually one of the live-action actors here. So, of course, no one but Jim Carrey could possibly play him.
The vast majority of Sonic the Hedgehog zips along when Sonic hits the road alongside the town's Sheriff (James Marsden), a bewildered young fella whose initial response to Sonic is predictable but who soon takes a liking to the speedy little hedgehog and the two head off to San Francisco in search of a bag of rings that will allow Sonic to return to his home planet.
Have I mentioned that you will have to suspend an awful lot of belief in order to have fun with Sonic the Hedgehog?
I have? Good.
Both Carrey and Marsden do what they do best here and manage to make paper-thin characters come to life.
Carrey could play a nefarious evildoer in his sleep, though we haven't seen much of this type of character from Carrey since 2002's Dumb and Dumber To. Carrey's clearly having a blast here, egotistical and self-possessed and played at hypersonic evilness. It's fun to watch because Carrey's clearly having so much fun with it all.
Marsden possesses an inherent sweetness in his persona that made his post-Enchanted breakthrough choices rather maddening. Marsden was seemingly poised for the A-list before a series of questionable film choices left him struggling his way back up to the B-list. While Sonic the Hedgehog may have as many misses as hits, Marsden reminds us here of that essential Enchanted goodness and it's rather endearing and feelgood to watch. Ben Schwartz's vocal work is energized, warm, affectionate, and fun while Tika Sumpter has a good time supporting it all.
Directed by Jeff Fowler, Sonic the Hedgehog is mostly a film for the kids but possesses enough affectionate nostalgia that longtime fans of the video game should be at least not be disappointed. There's no denying that Sonic the Hedgehog occasionally hits too familiar notes and goes paint-by-numbers way too often, but there's a genuine affection in the film that's contagious and such an authentic spirit that it's easy to forgive its many missteps along the way.
In its own formulaic way, Sonic the Hedgehog is a film about loneliness and it's a film about life being a whole lot better if we don't go it alone. It's a film about friends, including those friends who seem to be too timid and too safe and not particularly relevant to our lives but years later we realize they're sometimes the best friends of all.
Sonic the Hedgehog is in theaters now.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic