“Sonic the Hedgehog” is a mercenary movie. It’s based on a popular video game franchise (and is stuffed with subtle and obvious references to said franchise and its internet fandom). It’s got a load of obvious product placement — particularly from Olive Garden, which must have paid an arm and a leg. It even essentially got a do-over to appease hardcore Sonic fans, who rebelled at an early trailer with a weird-looking take on the super-speedster main character (the film was delayed to its new opening this weekend, complete with an updated, more cartoony look for the CGI protagonist).
However, the most mercenary element of Sonic is the fact that it is a children’s movie that attempts to hit every beat of a children’s movie as hard and as obviously as possible. Does that make it a bad movie? Dear reader, I did not enjoy it, but I know that when I take my kids in a few weeks, they’ll love it.
In a strange yet understandable choice, “Sonic the Hedgehog” barely spends any time in the areas fans would be familiar with from the Sonic games, stranding the blue anthropomorphized animal (voiced by Ben Schwartz) on Earth instead. After a series of accidents, Sonic is at risk of being captured and killed by the evil Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey), Sonic’s nemesis from the video games (though, in another curious move, he hails from Earth in the film). In need of assistance, Sonic turns to the only human he knows he can trust: Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), the sheriff of a small Montana town named Green Hills (a name you’ll know if you’ve played any Sonic game).
The shame of “Sonic the Hedgehog” is that somewhere buried inside it is a pretty goofy family movie, one parents can laugh at along with their kids. In hindsight, the casting is perfect: You could hardly name two people in Hollywood who more readily commit to any material, no matter how silly, than Carrey and Marsden. There are even some pretty funny jokes; I laughed aloud a number of times, mostly at Carrey’s delivery. Taken as a whole, however, the positive elements are drowned in hacky gags and out-of-place, kid-flick moralizing that seem to have been injected more out of obligation than genuine interest by director Jeff Fowler and screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller.
The most glaring element of that color-by-numbers approach is the decision to attach a tragic backstory to Sonic, a character heretofore known primarily as a wise-cracking cool dude who loves to go fast. The movie does this inelegantly; it will be clipping along at a light, zany pace until suddenly remembering that it has to make Sonic remember that he’s desperately lonely every 20 minutes or so. These scenes happen so jarringly, complete with maudlin music, that they almost seem like a joke about this kind of storytelling, but unfortunately they’re played straight.
There are other issues, like a subplot that shames Tom for having aspirations beyond staying in his hometown for the rest of his life, but honestly, I’m probably giving “Sonic the Hedgehog” more critical scrutiny than it deserves. While I didn’t find, say, the movie’s fart joke to be amusing, the audience of kids who watched it with me laughed quite a bit. The action zips along, the set-pieces come fast and furious, and Carrey’s commitment to the part will go a long way to invest children in the story.
There’s a cameo at the end of the movie that left my audience positively abuzz, and a credits sequence that made me wish I had played a video game based on the movie rather than watch the movie itself. The creators of “Sonic the Hedgehog” did a good job at crafting a film that will absolutely entertain its target audience. It’s just a shame that their parents weren’t offered a little more.
Ryan Howard writes about pop culture for The Forest Lake Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.