There was a time when Sonic the Hedgehog was very much in the pop culture zeitgeist. With a rebellious attitude and a persona built on speed, Sonic was Sega’s direct response to Nintendo’s Mario and, for a time, the two were the face of the original Console Wars. But while Mario continued to be relevant in the eyes of gamers, Sonic’s star eventually waned. Largely in part to mediocre games that failed to live up to the promise that the mascot once showed.
So, it was a bit of a surprise that Paramount decided to focus their efforts on an icon who had faded from the public eye, no doubt fuelled by the success of the likes of Detective Pikachu. Still, it did cause a wave of excitement for the remaining fans of the blue mammal, now grown up and nervous of how the Hollywood machine would interpret one of their beloved childhood properties.
That trepidation seemed well deserved when the first trailer for the big-screen Sonic was unveiled. The aesthetic skewed too close to realism, resulting in a character that disturbingly frolicked in the uncanny valley and the backlash from the internet was almost instantaneous. The design was universally mocked, leading to numerous memes and an almost unanimous call for Sonic to be redesigned closer to his source material.
Surprisingly, in a move unprecedented for the industry, the filmmakers listened and took the CG version of Sonic back to the drawing board, delivering a final design inspired a lot more from the Sonic video games. It was no easy feat and a colossal amount of work/risk for a property that had the potential of bombing at the box office.
It was a risk worth taking it turns out. Whether driven by curiosity about the redesigned Sonic, or whether it was word of mouth coupled with a healthy dose of nostalgia, Sonic has taken the highest grossing video game box office opening of all time.
And it’s actually not a bad movie 🙂
Ben Schwartz voices Sonic the Hedgehog who is driven from his home world by sinister forces and takes refuge in the small town of Green Hills. Befriending the local Sheriff, Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and Wachowski’s wife, Maddie (Tika Sumpter), Sonic soon finds himself embroiled in adventure while trying to stay one step ahead of Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey).
It’s a pretty simple story and pretty derivative at times, but the main hook is Sonic’s relationship with Tom. It’s a buddy comedy that works, and while Ben Schwartz does an admirable job voicing Sonic with the right amount of “tude”, it’s Marsden that deserves the kudos for really making the chemistry between the two work. Especially considering that most of the time, Marsden would have been reacting to nothing on set. And to be honest, the relationship between the two wouldn’t have been as relatable if the filmmakers had stuck to the original Sonic “realistic” design. The creators made a good choice to revamp Sonic, and in turn helped elevate the movie from what it would have been.
But it’s not solely the camaraderie between Wachowski and Sonic that works in this movie. Jim Carrey returns to his ’90s shtick in full force here as Dr Robotnik and turns what could have been a generic villain into a manic, semi-crazed genius a la his turn as the Riddler in Batman Forever. It’s a performance that audiences will either love or hate and, growing up seeing Carrey in the likes of Ace Ventura, I have to say I was more on the love than hate side.
The CG is surprisingly good, not only for the character of Sonic but for Robotnik’s drones and the action set-pieces strewn around the movie. There is a stunning depiction of a landscape early on in the movie that will be instantly familiar to the fans of the original games, and that scene alone makes me hope the inevitable sequel spends more time in that world.
All in all, Sonic is aimed at the kids, but adults going in should have enough to entertain them as well. I feel there was a missed opportunity to incorporate more of the Sonic video game music into the movie score, but there are plenty of other background references in the film to thrill the old school Sonic fans.
I give the redesigned Sonic a 7.5 out of 10, and stick around for the end credit scenes 🙂