Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

“You are a weird little dude.”

I’ve always tended to root for and to be a fan of the underdog, which is a fair description of Sonic the Hedgehog, a movie that was ridiculed and bore the brunt of many jokes after its initial trailer debut. The character design was awful and the film itself looked like it was well on its way to becoming a bona fide flop. However, the internet spoke and the studio listened, and despite the pressure it put on animators to completely redesign the character, the picture is all the better for it. Sonic the Hedgehog succeeds as a modern throwback to the cartoonish films of the 90’s, and in a time where it costs an arm and a leg for families to go to the theater, it’s one of the few that’s actually worth the price of admission, not to mention all the kid sized snack packs.

The movie opens with a mini origin story, introducing us to Sonic’s (voiced by an excellently cast Ben Schwartz) lightspeed personality, as well as where he’s from and how he gets to Earth. It’s a bit stilted and messy, like an abridged version of Bambi’s emotional start, but there’s enough here for us to believe in. Sonic crash-lands in the idyllic valley of Montana’s small town Green Hills. The alien hedgehog is a lonely little guy who can only take his own company for so long, using his speed to sneak around and feel like less of an outsider. He’s most interested in sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), a do-gooder with dreams of joining the force in San Francisco, hoping to be more of a cop and less of the local community caretaker. Tom wants to leave. Sonic wishes to stay. Their interests collide as they meet and go on a journey.

Chased by the nefarious Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey, using his trademark blend of slapstick and physical comedy to full embody a more colorful version of Snidely Whiplash), Sonic and Tom come to an agreement, taking the film into the realm of a PG buddy road trip story. One sequence in particular, as the two new friends enter a country saloon, felt particularly clunky and inorganic even though it stills provides some laughs and creative slo-mo shots. It’s there when Sonic is humanized by realizing he hasn’t gotten to live and I have to believe something more kid appropriate – like a zany arcade visit – would have been truer to his video game inspired spirit. Regardless, there’s a surprising level of character development in a script that raises questions and has the wherewithal to answer them. The plot creates holes that are mostly filled in and paved over later on.

Sonic the Hedgehog borrows the emotional core of something like E.T. and puts it into a picture that wholeheartedly embraces just how animated everything here looks and feels. There are plenty of solid 90’s references, with a Speed movie night and Sonic quoting that classic being the best of the bunch. I think that’s the greatest strength of director Jeff Fowler’s family friendly adventure. Sonic the Hedgehog opens up a time capsule for the older members of the crowd who played the games and watched the cartoons, and it introduces a new generation to a reinvigorated, flat out fun rendering of a lovable, loyal blue friend. Sonic the Hedgehog packs plenty of speed and thankfully it knows when to tap the brakes, allowing the dust to settle before kicking up another sandstorm. I liked this movie well enough as an adult, which tells me I’d have loved it as a wide-eyed kid.

“I was not expecting that.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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