Sonic the Hedgehog, directed by Jeff Fowler, is interested in throwing so much nonsense at you that you don’t really have time to process any of it. Sonic’s ‘Mom’ is a giant owl? Gotta go fast! Sonic floss-dancing more than once? Gotta go fast! James Marsden telling Sonic that he might want to check his fur after a chili dog-induced fart? Gotta go fast! Still, watching Sonic the Hedgehog feels a lot like playing one of the original Sega games. It is bright, colorful, and playful. It revs up and runs blindingly fast in a blur of candy-coated fun — only to slam mercilessly into the spikes of never ending jokey lines and obvious product placement. Although those obstacles derail Sonic from time to time, the film picks up speed again and you quickly forget about the missteps. Giving us the best Jim Carrey performance in well over a decade, Sonic the Hedgehog is entertaining, if not utterly nonsensical.
It gets lonely being a fast-moving blue alien hedgehog of indeterminate age. Living alone in a cave in Montana, Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) dreams of one day being like all the humans he watches from a distance. After one of Sonic’s angst-fueled speed runs causes a power outage, the government hires the controversial Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey), and his fleet of drones, to hunt and capture whatever might have caused the burst. Sonic reaches out to local police officer, Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), to keep him safe… and maybe become his surrogate father while he’s at it.
The truly vile character design rolled out in the initial trailers last year is long gone. Instead of that hairy abomination, we get a fairly standard representation of the Sonic we’ve always known. The animators did some truly marvelous work at recreating the familiar design, with only a few moments showing the rushed nature of the rendering. If anything, the somewhat incomplete nature of the effects gives Sonic the Hedgehog an almost throwback late 90s to early 2000s look, which matches well with the last time anything Sonic-related was anywhere near entertaining (To this day, 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog game is still a travesty). All in all, the animators deserve to have been paid much more than they likely were for completely salvaging this film.
By some level of sheer insanity, Sonic the Hedgehog feels too short. The whole picture is wrapped up in just under 90 minutes, with time left over for a cute and kitschy end credit sequence, and two (yes, two) post-credit sequences. While nobody would request a two-hour Sonic movie, in its current form, everything is excessively rushed. The script by Patrick Casey and Josh Miller is more clever than the pacing will allow. There are some honestly solid comedic moments and lines that are unfortunately obliterated by overly tight editing. Nothing is given any time to breathe — it is just event after event with no moment to take any of it in. Maybe the producers feared the young demographic would get antsy if the film didn’t clip along. Still, a few extra beats after a witty comedic moment would have made a world of difference.
The one area of the film that is given room to flourish is Jim Carrey’s performance. There are moments in Sonic where Carrey plays Dr. Robotnik as an almost alternate-reality version of his 1990s character, Ace Ventura. Here, he is an arrogant genius who is hired to find and capture an animal with destructive drones, rather than find and save one with the help of Miami Dolphins quarterback, Dan Marino. While Carrey never gives Robotnik the depths of villainy we saw in his brilliant performance as Count Olaf in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, it is an absolute blast to see him shine on screen again. His comedic timing seems to be as good, if not better, than it has been since the early 2000s. Here’s hoping this earns Carrey more chances to show his great comedic (and dramatic) chops.
Ben Schwartz does a decent job as the voice of Sonic, giving the blue cartoon a healthy amount of emotional weight and some good comedic delivery. This is likely the best he can do with such an ill-defined character. We don’t even know how old Sonic is supposed to be, but at least Schwartz is able to make him feel like he could be anywhere from 10 to 30. The rest of the non-Carrey human cast is relatively useless. It is always nice to see Marsden, although he isn’t a whole lot to work with as the straight-laced police officer trying to help Sonic. His wife, Maddie (Tika Sumpter), is not given much to do either, besides expressing concern over her husband’s adventures with a brightly-colored, talking member of the Erinaceidae family. While nobody is going into a Sonic movie hoping for well developed human characters, a little more connection to the people around Sonic would have been nice. Then again, maybe any true bit of realism would have made you realize you are watching a movie about an incredibly speedy talking alien hedgehog.
Sonic the Hedgehog is a movie that falls squarely in the “better than it should be” category. While it is never as well-made as last year’s Detective Pikachu, it also never falls to the lows of the last act of that film either. Thanks to some silly humor and Carrey’s return to near excellence, Sonic is worth a watch — you don’t “gotta go fast” to the theater though.