When Sonic (Ben Schwartz), a speedy, blue extra-terrestrial ‘hedgehog’, finds himself on present day Earth, he must avoid capture by the villainous Doctor Robotnik (Jim Carrey) with the help of his new friend, a sheriff named Tom (James Marsden).
Sonic the Hedgehog is an admirable effort in adapting a property rooted in the medium of video games. The blue speedster has had many a cartoon series, but attempts at making him fit into the live-action realm have gone undeveloped for decades. Sony Pictures originally began development on the film in 2014, but after a few years in stilted production, Paramount Pictures acquired the license in 2017, signing the cast on by 2018 and officially starting production, almost 30 years after Sonic’s original debut in 1991. Searching for a way to make this concept work, Paramount and director Jeff Fowler have opted for a tried and true, well-worn sub-genre of kids movie: the ‘hapless-human-goes-on-road-trip-with-an-animated-buddy’ comedy. This is a cliché so exacerbated that even the film’s lead, James Marsden, has already acted in exactly the same kind of film, 2011’s Hop. At first glance, any Sonic fan could be forgiven for sighing – when the character’s world is already so full of a well-known supporting cast filled with other lively humans and animals, why make his first movie into another low-rent stab at a lamer Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Thankfully, once you get past this initially tiresome premise, Fowler and co deliver a pleasant and amusing take on the property.
This is undoubtedly down to the energy of the film’s actors. Marsden makes for a charming companion to Sonic, and the relationship the pair develop over the course of the film is as entertaining as it is cute. Ben Schwartz also proves to be a fun and zippy lead in voicing Sonic, livening the character up with a sense of sweetly innocent peppiness and keeping the character’s smart-aleck wisecracking in good check. Without a doubt though, Jim Carrey’s Doctor Robotnik utterly steals the show. Having been a fan of Carrey since I was a kid, seeing the veteran so giddily embrace his innately wacky comedic energy was, for me, a greater nostalgia hit than seeing the blue blur on the big screen. After a good few years away from this kind of role, Carrey effortlessly reminds the audience why he is so talented at creating zany characters that kids will love. Even some of his intonations and line-delivery (“of course I want a latte, I LOVE THE WAY YOU MAKE THEM”) will have any adult with a funny bone chuckling. Though the plot is nothing to write home about, and the cinematography is only at its most interesting when it’s not very subtly riffing off of the X-Men franchise’s Quicksilver scenes, the actors make Sonic the Hedgehog into a genuinely fun adventure.
As a film for kids, Sonic the Hedgehog is sure to entertain and keep them happily engaged for the 100 minute runtime. Adult fans are also bound to be pleased at finally seeing the character in cinemas, provided the rote approach to the premise does not spoil the enjoyment for them. That said though, undoubtedly the most interesting and noteworthy aspect of Sonic the Hedgehog for film-fans came far before it even released into theatres. As mentioned before, it is clear that Paramount did stretch in effort to execute this concept, and no fact showed that more worryingly than the initial design for Sonic, exposed to a repulsed world in the film’s first trailer in April last year. In an effort to match Sonic’s new Earth environment, he now sported separated, little eyes, a small mouth with human teeth, and an anthropological body with humanoid proportions atop weirdly muscular legs. The initial design for Sonic was so off-putting that it led to Fowler assuring fans of a total redesign that would happen before the film’s release.
This was unprecedented. While fans have had an increasingly loud voice since the advent of social media, never before had a film been so drastically affected by their unanimous outcry, and so close to release at that. While the film was eventually delayed to accommodate the redesign, reanimation, and re-insertion into the movie, the sheer fact that this was accomplished, let alone approved in the first place, marks a legitimate shift in film history. The long-term legacy of this is yet to be seen (though I have no doubt we will see more studios reacting to public denouncement and changing their movies pre-release), the short-term effects are a bitter one. After what would have been an indisputably gruelling few months, MPC Vancouver, the studio behind all the animation work, closed only weeks after the redesign was completed. While it did cost Paramount a reported additional $5 million, they have reaped the rewards of a major box-office boost driven by fan support of the more faithful redesign.
No movie is worth putting its workers through such avoidable duress, and it’s important to remember that the film only works because of MPC Vancouver’s valiant efforts in making the lead extensively more appealing. I hope audiences do spare a thought for the talent of these animators, whom I hope are ultimately proud of their work (and swiftly find more). While I wouldn’t necessarily say you need to run to the cinemas to see this one, Sonic the Hedgehog is a light and lively adventure that both parents and kids will both enjoy.
Author: Tom, Chelsea store