REVIEW: Sonic the Hedgehog [2020]

Rating: 6 out of 10.
  • Rating: PG | Runtime: 99 minutes
    Release Date: February 14th, 2020 (USA)
    Studio: Paramount Pictures
    Director(s): Jeff Fowler
    Writer(s): Patrick Casey & Josh Miller / Yuji Naka, Naoto Ohshima & Hirokazu Yasuhara (characters)

Gotta go fast.

While a Nintendo kid growing up with Mario forever winning the mascot war against Sega in my mind, relatives did have a Genesis and played Sonic often enough for me to have watched the little blue guy somersault around loop de loops before losing his golden rings after hitting enemies or spikes. I honestly never sought it out beyond that because the game always seemed to play too fast when compared with the straightforward Mushroom Kingdom and Mega Man platforms. I guess that was the point. Speed was the appeal. If you talk to hardcore fans, however, they’ll go farther than that rush of excitement by shedding light on the robust lore behind their hero’s adventures. They’ll say there’s enough material for a movie without needing human sidekicks.

But that’s exactly what Patrick Casey and Josh Miller added regardless. Rather than let things play out in nature as Sonic seeks to protect the Chaos Emeralds from evil Dr. Robotnik, they make him an alien and turn his speed into the latter’s coveted energy source instead. More than that, Sonic’s abilities prove a desirable possession across the universe. It’s why his owl guardian Longclaw sends him through a portal (created by throwing a ring and thinking of a place to go) to Earth as a means of protecting him from Echidna poachers. Casey and Miller reduce things further from here to focus on their lead character as a solitary stranger out-of-place: living in hiding, growing restlessly frustrated, and resigned to the reality that he’ll be alone forever.

Director Jeff Fowler must therefore create a catalyst to kick Sonic the Hedgehog into overdrive and smoke its titular hero out of his Green Hills, Montana cave of ten years. The result is a town-wide power surge extinguishing enough electricity to catch the attention of Washington DC. So worried that this event might be a precursor for an international incident, the military re-activates an asset they said they never would. Who else but the technological genius Robotnik (Jim Carrey) could begin to unveil the culprit’s identity and neutralize him, though? Who else but this narcissistic, sociopathic madman could bottle Sonic’s (Ben Schwartz) raw potential and use it for his own personal gain? If not for a Podunk sheriff (James Marsden‘s Tom Wachowski), Robotnik’s target wouldn’t stand a chance.

Why? Because Sonic was exiled at too young an age to fully grasp his capabilities beyond running super fast. He inability to effectively fight back renders him a sitting duck unless he can escape to yet another world that provides safety … and isolation. So while Tom’s reflexive action to shoot this blue intruder with a tranquilizer does ultimately prevent Sonic’s exit, it may also accidentally save his life. That may appear counter-intuitive since staying allows Robotnik the opportunity to hunt the pair down, but Tom’s guilt from getting in the way mixed with a long-held yearning to protect and serve during a high stakes ordeal gets them to become a “pair” in the first place. Sonic finally has a friend and thus a reason to keep going.

The result is a generically structured cat and mouse road trip from Montana to San Francisco. Fog City is their destination through convenience because it’s what’s on Sonic’s mind when he throws his escape ring, opens a portal, drops his bag of remaining rings, and loses consciousness. Tom’s wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter) just happens to be there already to scope out apartments for the couple’s big move, so driving his new friend makes sense on more narrative pathways than one. It won’t be a simple journey, however, when you factor in Sonic’s hyperactive curiosity and Robotnik’s relentless pursuit. While fodder for laughs and action abound, this middle third of the runtime can’t stop from feeling like a cobbled together sequence of random set pieces with little purpose beyond entertainment.

And that’s okay since this is very much a PG-rated children’s film. It’s a mildly refreshing one too considering it doesn’t solely rely on poop and fart jokes (save one to shoehorn Sonic’s love for chili dogs in). The focus is instead on physical humor—a no-brainer due to the potential pratfalls that come with the lead’s speed and willing actors in Marsden and especially Carrey. The latter brings his A-game to be at his zany best too, channeling the manic energy that made him a star by way of combining The Mask’s elasticity and The Grinch’s maliciousness. Marsden’s Tom becomes a welcome straight man with which to play off while Robotnik’s right-hand man Agent Stone (Lee Majdoub) provides a punching bag for him to verbally and physically abuse.

Should things have gone much smoother considering Sonic can run to California in the blink of an eye, get his rings, and go? Sure. But then the film loses its ability to teach kids about friendship, empathy, and responsibility. Sonic is showing Tom that what he has in Green Hills is better than anything he might hope to find in San Francisco. Tom, in turn, proves to Sonic that not everyone on Earth is someone to avoid like Robotnik. For every government stooge and/or scientific opportunistic is a village of compassionate souls ready to stand-up and protect an innocent in need. We should be living in a world where strangers are invited with open arms while their would-be oppressors are prevented from enforcing their fear-mongering agendas of dehumanization.

Hardly an original theme or intentional commentary on our world’s current state, it merely is what it is: a simple plot for young minds to understand while having fun with over-the-top characters and cartoonish visual effects. Schwartz provides Sonic a childlike sense of wonder everyone can relate to and a melancholic feeling of existential dread when confronted with the choice between safety and solitude or danger and companionship. The latter is what we strive towards because sharing your life with others makes the risks seem less risky. They’ll be by your side to fight little things (see Natasha Rothwell as Maddie’s Tom-hating sister Rachel) and big (Robotnik’s delusions for world domination). Whatever life delivers will be faced together because even Sonic deserves a break from running.

[1] Sonic (Ben Schwartz) in SONIC THE HEDGEHOG from Paramount Pictures and Sega. Photo Credit: Courtesy Paramount Pictures and Sega of America. © 2019 Paramount Pictures and Sega of America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Neal McDonough, Jim Carrey, and Lee Majdoub in SONIC THE HEDGEHOG from Paramount Pictures and Sega. Photo Credit: Doane Gregory. ©2018 Paramount Pictures Corporation and Sega of America, Inc. All rights reserved
[3] Tika Sumpter and James Marsden in SONIC THE HEDGEHOG from Paramount Pictures and Sega. Photo Credit: Doane Gregory. ©2018 Paramount Pictures Corporation and Sega of America, Inc. All rights reserved

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