It was not that long ago when the world was shown the first look of Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) from Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog. What we were shown was not entirely what we expected Sonic to look like with photo-realistic CGI, especially after Warner Bros. wowed us with their live action-CGI hybrid Detective Pikachu. Now that Sonic the Hedgehog has finally reached us, it is evident that Paramount may have a done a disservice to our favourite speedy blue hedgehog.
In this film, Sonic is a lone hedgehog raised by an old wise owl named Longclaw. He has an impressive power the grants him the ability to move at an incredible speed. However, he is warned to never be discovered, but of course – that’s easier said than done. Forced to run and hide by masked attackers, Sonic is teleported to Earth, with the help of magical rings, which are basically teleportation devices. On earth, in the small town of Green Hills, Montana (yes, it is a reference to Green Hill Zone, but in name only), Sonic makes a home for himself under the unassuming noses of the townspeople. That is until Sonic misuses his powers and draws attention to himself. He then seeks out the help of Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) a police officer that Sonic has grown fond of. Together they must protect Sonic from the dangerous Dr. Robotnik, who is hellbent on having Sonic’s power.
It is very difficult to not notice the enormous shadow cast by Detective Pikachu here. That film did not attempt to have Pokemon exist within the confines of our world, but instead crafted a world that made the Pokemon the norm. What we know of our world was heightened and exaggerated to craft a story that had us believe that a Pikachu (that sounds like Ryan Reynolds) can exist alongside us. However, Sonic the Hedgehog dramatically lessens the experience by having Sonic be an alien in our world and reducing Green Hill Zone into an unremarkable American town. Sonic is bound to exist in a space that by comparison is not as bright, vibrant, and fantastical as he is. It is especially bothersome when the promise of exploring other worlds, as well as his own, is left for potential sequels.
That being said, major props to the production and VFX team that had to work so hard to make this movie and make Sonic come to life. Sonic is well realized and the work to have him believably interact with his surroundings translates very well to the big screen. The effects done to create the blue blur and lightning effects when Sonic charges up light up the screen in spectacular fashion. Perhaps, if a this final design was worked on first the results would have been a tad better, but what we get is very good. If only the story was as fully realized.
Sonic the Hedgehog could have been made following the traditional story of Sonic in the games and in his animated shows. The basic premise is that Sonic must thwart the mad scientist Eggman a.k.a. Robotnik from obtaining some source of power for a nefarious plan. The games and animated series took this basic “good vs bad” formula and adjusted it from adaptation to adaptation. In this movie, Sonic is a lonely creature in need of companionship and is just now being introduced to Robotnik, which means this was meant to set off a series. Much of what most of us already know about Sonic is just being introduced, whereas, Detective Pikachu, just dropped us into the world with occasional handholding to catch up those who are new.
Despite, the potential of being a wacky and insane adventure story about a humanoid blue hedgehog who loves chilli dogs, the film is sweet and fun. Ben Schwartz does an excellent job with the voice (although Jaleel White defined the character for many generations of fans and could have easily slipped back into it). James Marsden and Jim Carrey are total team players, but Carrey goes above and beyond with his total embrace of the zany and insane Robotnik. Tika Sumpter is quite delightful, but she and Natasha Rothwell are completely wasted in thankless roles, but they make the most of it; Rothwell earns the biggest laughs.
What hurts this movie, which is again enjoyable, is the choice of setting. The themes of loneliness, making your own family, and finding your home, could have been told in an environment and with other characters that are fantastical. The lack of imagination in Sonic’s world and the lack of faith that the absurdity of the games could translate into the film is evident in this whole production.