Sonic the Hedgehog is by far one of the best video game adaptations.
You would be forgiven if you went into the Sonic the Hedgehog movie with a certain amount of fear and trepidation. Video game films haven’t had the best reputation and this particular one had a fair amount of controversy surrounding it. When the first trailer for the film was released around nine months ago, the internet was up in arms about the odd choice of design for the titular blue blur. As much as it seems wrong to stifle the creativity of those working hard to create a film, the criticisms seemed pretty pertinent. Sonic was made to look more human with creepy humanoid appendages, small eyes, and weirdly human teeth. Director Jeff Fowler took the criticism on board and decided to push back the movie to give Sonic a complete redesign. There is no doubt that Sonic’s new look improved the general feel of the film but what is surprising is that the movie has got a big heart as well as respect for fans of the games.
The plot of Sonic the Hedgehog is a simple one: after attracting unwanted attention as a child due to his powers, Sonic comes to our world to hide. When he accidentally causes a huge power outage, he finds himself needing to escape from diabolical genius Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey). He embarks on an adventure with small-town cop Tom (James Marsden) in search of a new home.
The plot is very much focused on Sonic. He is center stage here which is part of what the film does right. Whilst the human characters have their own goals, they are the backup to Sonic’s stardom. Ben Schwartz takes on the role of Sonic here, adding to the long list of voice actors who have portrayed him over the years. Schwartz does an absolutely brilliant job of bringing him to life. He encapsulates Sonic’s manic energy and boundless enthusiasm perfectly. During the film, Sonic’s inherent loneliness becomes apparent as he has always had to hide away and isolate himself. Schwartz manages to capture these moments of sadness within Sonic to the point where it is difficult not to feel sorry for the little blue hedgehog. Schwartz clearly has an understanding of the character and it comes across in his impressive and surprisingly nuanced vocal performance. Sonic’s design is far superior to the original look from the first trailer. Tyson Hesse, who worked on the Sonic Mania games, was brought in to lead the design for a new look. It is safe to say that he and the animators who worked on it saved the Sonic film to an extent. Bringing in a Sonic veteran to help with the project shows the commitment the director and the rest of the team had to listen to the fans and give us the Sonic that we deserved.
Unlike other films that utilise the “CGI cartoon character coming to our world” cliché, the humans are actually quite likeable. Tom and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter) are serviceable human protagonists. Tom even has some one-liners here and there that offer up a good laugh. His chemistry with Sonic is strong too, making their friendship feel believable rather than forced. There are some awkward moments surrounding the humans in terms of product placement which comes across as disingenuous advertising rather than quirky humour but in comparison to other films of this genre, it is a small offense. Carrey’s Robotnik is the stand out human character. Nineties era Jim Carrey returns in full force in all his ridiculous and entertaining brilliance. Robotnik’s sardonic put-downs combine excellently with the physical hilarity of Carrey’s performance, making for perfection. This will be especially pleasing to fans of the games as Carrey clearly has done his research. His expressions, movement, attitude and even the tone of his voice get more and more Eggman like as the film progresses. Much like how Schwartz clearly knows the character of Sonic, Carrey definitely knows Robotnik/Eggman and plays him with fervor and dedication to the source material.
Sonic the Hedgehog Video Game References
One of the best elements of the film is the obvious respect that the team has for the video game series it is based on. From the music to the references, the characters to the settings, the love that the filmmakers have for the Sonic series is palpable. Even as the movie opens, you can hear the familiar tune of the infamous “Green Hill Zone” play out through the orchestra. Composer Tom Holkenborg- a.k.a Junkie XL- even includes the classic “Sega” chant –a memorable titbit of music that would pop up when you turned on a Sega console back in the day- into his opening score. Sonic comes to our world in the film via a portal created from a gold ring. Portal rings had significance in the Sonic comic series whereas even casual fans will know how relevant gold rings are to the Sonic series. During the film, Sonic gets hurt several times. When he loses his rings, it takes him longer to recover from his injuries. This is a nice touch that reflects the rings from the games whilst also giving them a new purpose too. The opening scene of the film is also a great tribute to the games. We see a young Sonic on his world and the landscape is clearly meant to be “Green Hill Zone”, with vast greenery, loop de loops and the ground collapsing as it did in the very first Sonic game when traversing the level. The town that Sonic has been hiding in is called “Green Hills”, another strong reference to that particular stage. The music that plays in this beginning scene is “Friends” by Hyper Potions, the theme for the Sonic Mania game. There are also strong references to the “Mushroom Zone” from Sonic & Knuckles as Sonic’s backup planet to escape to is a land that has nothing but breathable air and mushrooms. Speaking of Knuckles, a tribe of red Echidna’s chase Sonic and his protector Longclaw the owl in the opening scene. It is shown that they are the ones seeking Sonic’s power. There is also a cameo from a much-beloved Sonic character in the post-credits scene but I won’t spoil that for you. References to Sonic’s various moves in the games are also scattered throughout, such as his turning into a ball or bouncing off of Robotnik’s ship to cause damage. Even little things can catch your attention if you are a Sonic fan. Sonic’s various poses throughout reference the games such as him performing his impatient animation (tapping his foot and checking his invisible watch) when he is fired on by Robotnik or his ledge animation where he precariously dangles at the end of a ledge which is seen when is in the motel room with Tom. There has been a great deal of care and attention put into this film to make it a recognizable reflection of the Sonic game series.
Despite the film being a love letter to Sonic fans, there is still a lot that can be enjoyed by families and those who aren’t as familiar with the franchise. Carrey steals the show as Dr. Robotnik and offers up some classic Carrey style comedy whilst being an excellent portrayal of the character. Sonic is loveable, charismatic and well-voiced as well as being animated fantastically. The film is far from perfect, suffering from plot holes, forgotten narrative elements, awkward pop culture references, and shameless product placement. However, none of these things take away from the fun experience that is Sonic the Hedgehog. Sometimes, a movie doesn’t have to be about being critically acclaimed or culturally relevant. It can just be about having a good time whilst you’re watching it. Sonic the Hedgehog delivers on that aspect. An entertaining, surprisingly funny and heartfelt film, Sonic the Hedgehog is by far one of the best video game adaptations to date.