When the first trailer for Sonic the Hedgehog hit the web, the entire world cried out in horror at the terrible design, and it was relieving to see the studio listen to the outcry and redesign the character. The new design gave fans of the franchise high hopes that the studio will do a good job with the property. Detective Pikachu (2019) is widely acknowledged as the first good video game movie. So, the question stands: is Sonic the Hedgehog the second video game movie to be considered good?
Sonic the Hedgehog starts off with Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) telling us how he made his way into our world and how he’s been hiding out on Earth in Green Hills, Montana for 10 years. The main story of this film revolves around Sonic’s loneliness in this foreign world. Due to a power surge created by Sonic’s speed, Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik arrives in Green Hills to investigate and comes across Sonic and cop Tom Wachowski (played by James Marsden) who Sonic has secretly been living a normal life vicariously through. Through these events, Sonic loses his warp rings through a portal to San Francisco and he and Tom must set out to retrieve them all while on the run from Robotnik.
First things first, this is 100% a kids’ movie. The way to describe it is a Spy Kids (2001) for this generation of kids. What I mean by that is if you were to ask just about anyone who was a child when Spy Kids released, they will tell you that they love those movies (except the third one—yikes) and the adults will tell you that the films were harmless enough. The jokes often fell flat as they were geared towards kids, but that said Jim Carrey and James Marsden brought a few laughs for the adults as well. Jim Carrey absolutely steals the show as his portrayal of Eggman in vintage Carrey and it often reminded me of The Mask (1994) and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994).
There is also a lot there for fans of the franchise with music cues, environments, line deliveries, and other fun Easter eggs. The music is incredible and every part of the score has allusions to various Sonic media from the Sonic Mania (2017) video game to the ‘90s Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon. The opening Paramount and Sega animations are enough to bring long-time fans on a joyous nostalgia trip. That said, fans of the series will have the most fun at the first and third acts of the film.
There are three major issues with this film however: the pacing of the second act and the compositing of the film’s visual effects. After Robotnik is introduced, the second act begins and the movie becomes a road trip film. Once this section begins, the pacing of the story goes all over the place with one second the film running into a wall and coming to a full stop and the next it is hitting a dash pad and is full throttle. While this section of the film brings a lot of the character moments and builds on the emotional aspects to the film, it overall becomes a major weight on the story.
By far the worst part of the film is the compositing. Quick vfx lesson for everyone: compositing is the layering of visual effects and practical filming. So for example, the first layer would be the green screen background, the second layer would be the actual actors and practical set, the third layer would be any effect that the actors interact with or alters their appearance, and a fourth layer would be artificial lighting affecting all the layers it is on top of. Compositing is melding all of these layers together so that everything looks realistic and natural. A few great examples are the portals scene for Avengers Endgame (2019) and The Jungle Book (2016). This film does not meld their layers well. Everything that Sonic interacts with looks like an object from a PS3 game cutscene and, in many parts, it is so bad that you are ripped completely out of the film. While Sonic and Robotnik’s machines all have great designs, they often look like stickers that the vfx artists just slapped onto the lower layer and they all have a noticeable black outline in many scenes.
Poor visual effects and story pacing aside, Sonic the Hedgehog is a harmless video game movie that will please their target audience: children and fans of the Sonic brand. So, I would say Sonic is the second good video game movie—nowhere near as good as Detective Pikachu but decent nonetheless. If you have children or grew up playing Sonic games or watching the Sonic cartoons, go see the film. Also, if you are craving to watch Carrey playing out his schtick that popularized him in the ‘90s, this is a return to form and he and Ben Schwartz as Sonic steal the show.
Also, there is a mid-credit scene that stole my heart for obvious reasons. If you are a Sonic fan, stick around for it.
Sonic the Hedgehog is rated PG for action, some violence, rude humor and brief mild language.