A swift-footed alien hedgehog must team up with a small-town cop to retrieve his magic rings before he’s captured by a government-sponsored mad scientist in Sonic the Hedgehog, an adaptation of the SEGA video game that moves fast enough to keep its audience consistently distracted, if never truly invested in the storyline.
For the film’s target audience, however, that’s probably just fine. And considering the dread that preceded the release of this version of Sonic the Hedgehog – its release date was pushed back three months after negative reaction to the main character’s design in an initial trailer – the mild success of mediocrity was probably the best anyone could have hoped for the final product.
While the story here is a barely-developed outline, three strong central characterizations greatly aid in keeping things moving forward. Central to those is the presentation of Sonic himself, and kudos to the effects teams responsible for seamlessly integrating an entirely new character design into what was essentially a finished product.
While Sonic’s design in the original trailer lived uncomfortably in the uncanny valley – those teeth were truly upsetting – the new creation is much closer to the character’s appearance in the video games. Like last year’s Detective Pikachu, the team behind the new design realizes that no amount of realism will heighten our belief that this animated character, essentially a Roger Rabbit cartoon, is really interacting with his real-life co-stars.
Instead, it’s the performances that get us to buy into the reality of 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog. Key among those is voice actor Ben Schwartz (Jean-Ralphio on Parks and Recreation), who nails the essence of this smarmy, overactive creation. I’ve managed to get this far in life without hearing Sonic speak (Jaleel White, among others, voiced the character in earlier cartoons), but I can’t imagine anyone else in the role.
A short prologue on an alien planet establishes the basics for 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog: the familiar blue speedball is not really a hedgehog, but an intelligent alien being pursued throughout the galaxies for his unique powers. His latest hideout is on Earth, where he has a bag of magic rings that will transport him to other worlds – and that’s exactly where he needs to be headed after a bout of baseball excitement causes widespread power outages, prompting an investigation.
Playing the straight man to Sonic’s hyper schtick, James Marsden is also a natural fit here as Green Hills sheriff Tom Wachowski; no wonder, since Marsden essentially played the same role in 2011’s Hop opposite a pint-sized Easter Bunny.
Here, Tom mistakes Sonic for a common racoon and tags him with a bear tranquilizer, causing that bag of magic rings to transport itself to a San Francisco rooftop. Realizing this creature is more intelligent E.T. than animal, Tom agrees to accompany Sonic on a road trip that will take up much of the movie’s running time, despite the fact that the hedgehog could get himself where he needs to go instantaneously.
That’s bad news, because government-sponsored mad scientist Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) and his army of drones are hot on the pair’s tail. Carrey, who hasn’t appeared onscreen since 2016’s Dark Crimes, is Sonic the Hedgehog’s one true pleasure: not only does the actor return to his comedic roots, but he dials it all the way back to his madcap In Living Color/Ace Ventura/The Mask days and lights up the screen whenever he’s around.
There are few actors that could bring the kind of joyous energy to this kind of role that Carrey does, and he delivers Sonic’s few genuine punchlines with unbridled glee. Despite limited screentime, Carrey’s a blast to watch and elevates 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog from bland studio product to something just a little more.
Carrey’s work here is enough to warrant at least a mild recommendation for 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog, which tends to flounder in other regards; the familiar storyline never really tickles the imagination, and other cast members (including Tika Sumpter and Neal Mcdonough) have shockingly little to do. But for a movie that’s based off a 1992 video game and feels it – a speedy blue hedgehog collects shiny rings and battles a mad doctor – Sonic the Hedgehog represents the best possible result, and acceptable family fare.