February 14th, 2020. Love was in the air. Flowers exchanged, candy eaten, movies watched. And what movie could one possibly go see? Why, Sonic the Hedgehog, of course! Starring Ben Schwartz, Jim Carrey, James Marsden, and directed by Jeff Fowler. Even if you were flying solo that day, how could one resist getting a ticket, sitting back, and seeing the blue blur on the big screen? We here at Sonic Retro couldn’t. Which is why we’ve all come together to share our thoughts on the latest offering from Paramount Studios. Were we amazed? Did we feel like Sonic was actually sitting next to us in the theater? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out.
Be mindful, there are some minor spoilers ahead. So if you’re still waiting to see the movie and don’t want to know anything…well, I’m not sure how you’ve avoided Twitter so far. And if you don’t intend on seeing the movie anytime soon? You can still read this, we don’t mind.
I’m almost certain my pessimism about the movie fed into my surprise of it not being complete garbage, but actually pretty dang good. It’s rare, but not unheard of, for video game movies to be watchable, though coming from the studio that brought us the live action Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, there was plenty of doubt to be had. And honestly, the first 20 or so minutes of the film seemed to be the case in that regard. Paramount has this formula where the characters you want to see take a backdrop to often bland, stilted humans that don’t really fit in with the material the flick is supposed to be based on. But lo and behold, Jim Carrey steps into frame, and the movie completely 180’s from that moment forward.
I’ll be frank, I like my Robotnik very evil and my Eggman fairly wacky. You can argue semantics over names all day, but the fact is, how the character has been presented to the majority of us in the West has been dramatically different in several incarnations. Carrey’s Robotnik nails a perfect blend of being delightful evil and arrogant, caught up in his own self-importance, while also taking the time to crack jokes and antagonize his subordinates. He’s the driving force for this film and honestly the major reason most of it works.
The plot is about what you’d expect, though not quite as road trip-y or buddy cop comedy as the numerous leaks, rumors, and pitches would lead you to expect. Sure there is a journey to be had and yes, Tom, the lead character beside Sonic, is a cop in the film. But these don’t really hit the tropes that much (some are there though,) and what is there, is usually good for a laugh.
Sonic himself is quite a bit of fun, giving some depth to the character and a personality that’s been sorely missing since… well arguably just about ever. It is a little strange to hear a character, whose carefree attitude leads him to where he pleases, wax poetic about how lonely he is but for this film, and this version of Sonic, it does work. And yes, the redesign makes a world of difference. I don’t picture myself having much sympathy for a character that looked like a bad knock-off at a pawn shop, so Tyson Hesse’s wonderfully expressive and all around adorable design has done wonders for the film in its own right.
By no means is Sonic a huge game changer, and really, it didn’t need to be. Being a decent film based on a video game is a feat in and of itself, so the fact that you can call it good is nothing short of a miracle. The road to it releasing was a roller coaster to say the least, dating back way further than just the design reveal, but for what we got, I’m pleasantly surprised and pretty happy about it. Of course, if this nice essay isn’t enough for you and you prefer numbers, you can always check out my fiance’s Twitter thread, where she gauged how I reacted to the film in real time. I’m not sure what compelled her to do this, but I’m glad she did… although I might be suspicious when she wants to hold my hand for a while.
I think it’s fair to say that everyone and their dog was apprehensive about this. A Sonic the Hedgehog movie? With live action human beings and a CGI Sonic? As if that wasn’t bad enough, we were subjected to an absolutely horrific trailer back in April 2019 featuring a ‘realistic’ design for the character that’s probably been brought up in just about every other review, to the point where I’m going to stop mentioning it here to save us all the headache. One update later – courtesy of Tyson Hesse and a very talented crew of CG artists – and we have the finished product.
I think about half-way through the movie my mind had been made up. To say it met my expectations would be inaccurate, my expectations being that the only entertainment value to be gained from it was it being so terrible and ‘out there’ that it became comedic. This was not what I got at all. That’s right, the Sonic the Hedgehog movie of 2020 was actually good. How did this happen? How did something that looked set to be such a bitter disappointment end up so shockingly above-average? Almost everyone thought the only redeeming quality would be Carrey’s performance as Eggman and while he absolutely does elevate the film, he is far from the only reason to smile throughout.
Sonic himself actually stole the show for me, his character being a sort of amalgamation of the many different interpretations that have come before over the years. There are so many words that you can apply to Sonic here – charming, funny, endearing, cute…? That’s right, between the wise-cracks and pop culture references (which never felt tasteless to me), Sonic somehow manages to come across as a cute little guy with bags of heart and charm. He’s hyperactive and cheerful but has the capacity to be scared, sad and lonely and it makes the character feel more alive than he has in years. His relationship with the two main human characters, Tom and Maddie, is genuinely heart-warming and gives proceedings a much-needed emotional core. The friendship that develops between Tom and Sonic in particular feels quite natural and well thought-out.
Meanwhile, the plot is extremely rote and by-the-numbers, adhering to the ‘buddy road trip’ framework that we’ve seen many times before and at times almost seems to be completely derivative. The opening shot shows Sonic running through San Francisco being chased by Robotnik as the latter blows parts of the city away, before freezing for Sonic to ask us if we want to know how things got to this point. As a framing device it’s extremely overdone and a film trying to pull this in 2020 actually feels quite regressive. The plot then proceeds to move along at an astonishingly (ironically?) quick pace and never is there a dull moment throughout the 100 minute runtime.
This review may sound mixed – the plot and framing device are routine, the pacing is perhaps too fast at times and some of the jokes do fall a bit flat, but the key thing to remember is that this is a kids movie first and foremost and it’s that prospective a ‘Sonic fan’ audience should keep in mind. I tried to go in with a similar mindset to one 10-year old me might have had in the late 90s and I think this was a huge contributing factor in how I got so much enjoyment out of it. Not that there’s any shortage of references and easter eggs to keep eagle-eyed fans occupied, but this is certainly one for the kids first and Sonic fans second, and that’s no bad thing. Hearing a new generation of kids in the theatre laughing and enjoying the film was so refreshing and only added to the experience.
All in all, Sonic the Hedgehog is a fun experience that I can’t help but recommend. If there’s one thing I think we can all agree on, it’s that it could have been much, much worse.
If you’d told me after the first Sonic movie trailer surfaced online that most of us Sonic Retro folk would be pleased after exiting the theater, I would have laughed at you. That terrible original design for Sonic aside, the initial trailer made the movie out to be a by-the-numbers, visually bleak experience. Flash forward to the present, and…well, those things still hold kinda true, I think. And yet, over a week later and I’m still a bit shocked over the fact that I enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong, its negative elements stand out and hurt it. It’s a very generic road trip movie. At times the shot framing, writing, and performances borderline on being equivalent to a TV sitcom waiting for a laugh track. Pop culture references are flung all over the place much like rings from an injured hedgehog. And those product placements? Good lord do I ever need to rent four apartments from Zillow, stat. But the movie has a heart to it that saves the entire production. A weird heart, but one nonetheless.
And thankfully almost all of it stems from Sonic and Eggman as it should. The other human characters are fine. James Marsden is a surprisingly fun counterpart for Sonic as an example. But it doesn’t often lose its focus on letting Jim Carrey throwback to his 1990’s legacy, and developing Sonic from a wistful loner to someone who can embrace the companionship this iteration longs for. This Sonic in particular is both new and familiar. He’s not unrecognizable to those familiar with the cartoons or maybe even the recent games, but he also has a bit of an annoying kid brother vibe to him. As another surprise, that also works well in this movie! There’s a baseball scene where Sonic’s speed lets him cover every position on the field from two separate teams, but in the end when he goes for a high five, no one is there for him. It’s a sequence that definitely resonated with me and is easily one of the strongest the movie offers.
Frankly it’s just nice to see a version of this character with some depth again. Even more frankly put, it’s just nice to be able to care about something in the franchise again. To ponder its story implications, where it may go next, what the heck happened to Agent Stone…Sonic Forces put me in a sort of stasis with this series, and after some time away it’s been so refreshing to come back and openly care again. Viewed as a film, the Sonic movie is just okay. It had a low bar to pass and hey, it did that. It’s not the ideal Sonic movie I would have dreamed of, but it’s a mostly respectful one. It surprised me a lot with how adeptly it handled certain things, but the way it most surprised me is that I can’t wait for a sequel.
As a kid, when it came to Sonic I only cared about seeing him doing cool stuff. If you were to give me an issue of Archie Sonic, chances are I would skip reading the story and just look at the parts where Sonic was running around fast and fighting badniks. Watching an episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, I would only pay attention to when Sonic was running around, doing stunts, or pulling pranks on Scratch and Grounder. The very least I could say about whatever medium you had Sonic on, if he was running around and looking cool I would have been satisfied. I could only imagine whatever a Sonic movie would’ve been like had it come out two decades ago or so. I’m pretty sure my younger self would’ve been happy with the action and the attitude portrayed in the film. The action sequences ensure that the movie has enough fun, silly moments that even if you’re not in it for the story, it’s still got plenty of great character moments showing Sonic fighting, playing around, or goofing off. That alone makes it worth seeing the movie, to see how Sonic in the real world could happen.
There is more to the movie than just the action, we’re looking at Sonic the Hedgehog adapted for the big screen which means a transition from a video game to a movie that arguably has a more direct method to tell a story. It’s a very different sense of narrative that cannot be translated between the two mediums so easily. The action is fun but a movie has a greater opportunity to tell a story that video games achieve through a very different process. With the movie comes a new version of Sonic who is not a facsimile of any version of him that had appeared in any game, comic or television series made prior. While I don’t think it does it better or worse, it has an interesting take on what makes a believable character that behaves and acts the way he does. Movie Sonic lives almost carefree, heavily influenced by pop culture and looking for new friends. After leaving his original world at a young age due to its inhabitants seeking out his natural talent of speed, he finds himself in a world inhabited by humans while living a life of solitude. As he grows up he becomes immersed in comics, TV shows and witnessing the day-to-day lives of the people living in the small town of Green Hills that help shape his interests. It’s an attempt to explain Sonic’s attitude, his snark and his curiosity while showing a more vulnerable side of him you don’t get to see very often in any Sonic story.
Being that this is a film set in the real world with a cartoonish-looking character, you can expect the same points you would see in any kids/family property turned into a modern live action movie heavily inspired by current events; news beats and the US government getting involved to help contain the unknown into something known while making sure everything is grounded into reality. Which then lies the origins of Movie Dr. Robotnik, one of the original human-elements of the Sonic franchise. Played by Jim Carrey, Robotnik sees himself as a man with superior intelligence and obnoxiously asserts his way of thinking towards other people making him a reliable, yet difficult government asset to work with. He is a self-centered overachiever, obsessed and fascinated by machinery, backed by his belief of technology as the absolute solution to the imperfect human psyche. Couple that with the animated actions and whimsy Jim Carrey brings to the film, these all combine very well to describe Robotnik’s character. While Sonic brings his own brand of quirkiness, Dr. Robotnik is essentially Jim Carrey doing what you would expect Jim Carrey to do. I do have a difficult time removing the fact that this is Jim Carrey playing the character after his performances in Ace Ventura and The Mask. But in the case of him playing as Robotnik, his mannerisms do fit the character well.
The movie is fun, that’s the real takeaway for me as I come to not expect any grandiose battles or any kind of continuation of a story from classic Sonic, modern Sonic or heck even Boom Sonic. While I don’t think the movie is special, it does provide an interesting story that was based on lore that didn’t have much to build off of anyway. The film has a nice message to it with plenty of reasons to hunt down the easter eggs put in there for any fan who has a careful eye and if you’re a parent going to see the movie and have zero interest in Sonic, it does have Jim Carrey in it. As much as I would like to see something like a fully animated feature from Marza, introducing the hedgehog to a movie going audience probably would not have worked better than what Paramount released into theaters.
It was on its way, the movie we’d been waiting for what seems like most of our lives. It felt like Sonic’s one shot at a feature film, and it had to be good…but what if it wasn’t? Even I fell prey to a feeling of ever-increasing dread, sweating over each piece of news and every snapped set photo. Let’s be honest, the first trailer didn’t instill much confidence that we’d be getting what we were all hoping for. It all seemed to be spiralling out of control!
Not able to endure this form of self-torture for long, I gave in. Let go. A calm descended over me and I began tuning into my childhood self. I could feel how 10-year-old me would be eagerly, excitedly, and toe-tapping impatiently looking forward to seeing Sonic on the big screen. My younger self still understood what I had forgotten, that it’s a good thing to look forward to the new and the unknown. I realized there was no harm in hoping for the best, and I was even starting to enjoy thoughts of what the movie would be like.
As a fan of the various interpretations of Sonic that branched off and away from the original 1991 concept, I’ve happily welcomed into my heart and enjoyed the cartoons, comics, and spin-offs. These more Western versions never felt to me like they were stepping on the source material, but instead served to enhance the whole. Variety is the spice of life and when it comes to Sonic, I like having a full cupboard.
On the eve of Valentine’s Day 2020, Sonic the Hedgehog joined the Hollywood pantheon. The movie brought not just a fresh spin on the lore and world that surrounds Sonic, but gave greater life to the character itself. It doesn’t skimp on the elements that are crucial to any version of Sonic: self-confidence, attitude, and a sense of adventure. The blue hedgehog has all of these traits in excess, but the movie explores another side of Sonic. One where he feels an unimaginable loneliness, yearning to have a home and friends to call his own.
Having been discovered, Sonic feels he must now flee Earth to another world to protect his power from being used to harm others. The simple framework of the movie more than serves its purpose; the human companions whom Sonic befriends help him realize more than his own solitary introspection had allowed. We see Sonic grapple with the emotional raw spot of loneliness and leaving behind loved ones as he tries to understand Tom’s choice to leave Green Hills. Later, he comes to acknowledge how hard a decision like that must be. In helping Sonic, Tom himself realizes how his desire to feel needed kept him from truly seeing how important he was right where he stood. In the end, they both find what they’re looking for.
We sympathize with Sonic in ways far more powerful than past stories have evoked, adding an entirely new dimension of depth to who he is and how we relate to him. This seems in direct contrast to the Japanese source material, wherein Sonic is fairly indifferent to a sense of belonging and goes wherever the wind takes him. Despite the shouts of those who rail against the so-called adulterated Sonic that spawned from his journey westward, I was ready to wholeheartedly embrace this version of the blue hedgehog who suddenly felt so very alive.
With the movie now in the rearview mirror, I find myself filled with many burning questions about this new world that’s just beginning to coalesce around Sonic, all while feeling more and more like my 10-year-old self. In the end, I’m glad that I relaxed; I certainly saved myself from any further self-inflicted doom and gloom. The movie we got wasn’t a one-to-one retelling of anything we already knew, nor was it the trainwreck I had once worried about. Instead, it has breathed new life into the next chapter of Sonic the Hedgehog and I am happy to be here for it.
David The Lurker
If you had asked me back when I was a kid how long it would take for Sonic the Hedgehog to finally become a major motion picture, I would have said, “I dunno, but Archie said soon.” And at the time, that was true. There was a pitch in the 90’s that didn’t end up getting made, the first of many, as we’d later find out. But after 24 years of rumors, false stops, and unexpected twists, we finally have it. Sonic the Hedgehog. The Movie.
Would I be lying if I said I didn’t have any apprehension before it came out? Of course, who here didn’t? But after the redesign, with each new clip, each new interview, I had to ask myself: could this be good? Could I actually be getting excited over this movie? It seemed hard to believe, since the very idea of a live action/animation hybrid featuring Sonic conjures up some painful movie memories.
But there I was, sitting in the theater, not knowing what to expect. And when it was all said and done, I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, not every moment was for me, but I was startled to find that some of the tropes I was expecting to happen did not. The movie, at the end of the day, was a Sonic the Hedgehog film. Sure, the main character isn’t exactly like he is in the games, but he is still Sonic. Cool, blue, fast, and ready to tackle anything that threatens his friends. What surprised me even more? That Sonic was the main character. It’s not just a Sonic film, it’s his film.
The sequences in which Sonic showcases his speed I definitely enjoyed. There may be echoes of what Quicksilver did in X-Men: Days of Future Past, but let’s be honest, even that movie wasn’t the first to depict speedsters by slowing everything down around them. The fact we got some degrees of emotion from Sonic, especially when he was alone, were unexpected but welcomed. And Dr. Robotnik? There’s one sequence in the middle of the movie, in which he is playing around by himself, that reminded me of the game version of Eggman. Just one shade to the overall character that Carrey was able to pull off.
There were moments in the film that made me groan, but to focus on them would be a disservice. The fact that this crew was able to pull off what they did under the constraints of the Hollywood system is an achievement. And those final moments of the film (which I won’t spoil here) made me excited to see the sequel. Who knows how long we’ll have to wait, but with the film being number one in the box office for its first two weeks? I think it’s safe to say we’ll be getting one sooner rather than later.
I do want to keep this brief, but if you are interested in hearing more of my thoughts (and MykonosFan’s), we do a deep dive over at the FTCR YouTube channel. Warning: spoilers come quick and fast there, so be doubly careful if you head on over.
Overall, I give this film a cool spindash.