“Confidence! A fool’s substitute for intelligence!”
It’s a line Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik barks at Sonic (Ben Schwartz) just before their climactic battle – but it’s equally fitting for the creative team behind Hollywood’s latest video game adaptation. They too were probably feeling overconfident when they dropped the first trailer for “Sonic The Hedgehog” back in April of 2019.
That overconfidence resulted in epic backlash to the iconic character’s grotesque humanoid design that plopped him down in the middle of the uncanny valley. The result was a $5 million visual effects overhaul, a three-month delay and a heroic hedgehog that actually looks true to himself. But visuals aren’t everything. So, what else does “Sonic” have to offer? A surprisingly heartfelt, laugh-out-loud adventure that the whole family can enjoy.
The setup is simple: Sonic was sent to Earth years ago as a child to escape danger on his home world. Ever since, been living on Earth and taking refuge in Green Hills – a quaint town in Montana named after the Green Hill Zone, the first level of 1991’s “Sonic: The Hedgehog” video game. Now, he spends his days evading detection in the woods while also living vicariously through police officer Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter). Tom’s line of work has earned him the nickname “Donut Lord” from Sonic, while Maddie works as a veterinarian and enjoys yoga, earning the nickname “Pretzel Lady.” Tom just got a job with the San Francisco PD, so the two are getting ready to relocate.
But Sonic himself is lonely, a refugee living on the periphery of a meaningful existence. It’s all played for laughs at the outset, but there is a genuine sadness to the character’s day-to-day life. Luckily for Sonic, his frustration leads to him inadvertently triggering an electromagnetic pulse that knocks out the power in the entire Pacific Northwest. The U.S. military elects to send in the “psychological tire fire” that is Dr. Ivo Robotnik. From there, the movie is a race to get Sonic to safety.
Marsden’s Tom is as charming as ever, and he has great chemistry with Tika’s Maddie and Sonic himself. There is also a nice rivalry developed between him and Robotnik as Tom grows more attached to Sonic, willing to defend and protect the hedgehog. Schwartz as Sonic is pitch perfect, and his voice is far more suitable coming out of the newly redesigned mouth rather than the original one. His performance is fittingly high on energy and upbeat, but still, he hits the film’s more dramatic and emotional notes. It’s really the relationship between Sonic and Tom that anchors the movie’s heart. Tom is desperate to go to the big city and help people in real danger, while Sonic is desperate to feel love and feel like he belongs. Watching the two realize they are the person that can fulfill each other’s desires is a truly heartwarming journey.
But of course, not everything is sentimental here. The majority of the film’s laughs come from Carrey, the comedy veteran. In “Sonic,” Carrey is in rare form, with Robotnik feeling like a mash-up of Ace Ventura and HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” His larger-than-life physicality is the perfect match to go head-to-head with a super speedy hedgehog. The film’s humor doesn’t always land, though, and the dialogue can be pretty weak at times. The worst jokes are dependent on pop culture references – from “Men in Black” to ZZ Top to The Fast Saga, so they won’t necessarily age very well. There are also some borderline unforgivable instances of product placement that makes it feel more like you’re watching a commercial than a movie.
While the story doesn’t do anything to reinvent the wheel, it’s still everything you could ask for from the first ever live-action Sonic the Hedgehog film. Sonic is beautifully brought to life with the rejuvenated effects and the film does enough to entertain and engage both children and adults.
Eight months ago, no one would have given this movie a chance. Thankfully, the entire team came through to deliver the year’s first legitimate crowd-pleaser that will leave fans hoping for more stories with these characters.
Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Johnny Sobczak is an entertainment journalist and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in Media and Journalism and minored in Global Cinema. Johnny is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has been with Inside the Film Room since August 2019. He was named Senior Writer in January 2020 and co-hosts the Inside the Film Room podcast with Zach Goins. Johnny spends his days job-hunting, watching films and obsessing over every new detail of Denis Villeneuve's "Dune."