I’ve been a Sonic fan for at least 17 years now. Even since buying Sonic Adventure DX at a Blockbuster in 2003 for my GamCube, I’ve been super into the Blue Blur’s games, comics and TV shows in the nearly two decades following.
It’s been a great and terrible franchise, with some of the most fun and charming games I’ve ever played with a distinctive style little else can compare to, but also many of the most illogical, bafflingly constructed or borderline passionless games that somehow got cleared for release. So where does the movie fall along that spectrum?
Honestly, very much in the middle. It’s a charming, enjoyable family movie that does well with its adapted characters, but that very much comes with an asterisk.
That asterisk is the movie’s biggest problem with the movie, and one that was apparent from the very first trailer: the derivative plot structure. The main issue I take with the plot is that with there being nearly 30 years of Sonic material to pull from, the basic plot is a MadLib for any a fantasy character that doesn’t scream “Sonic” in any way. Beyond simply the idea of putting a cartoon character in real life instead of setting the movie in their own world, the base template of “Cartoon Character A uses a magic portal to escape into the real world, and makes friends with Human B, who takes focus away with their own plotline, only for the Villain of Character A comes along to create the climax, start a battle and reaffirm Character A’s connection to Human B” is played out almost beat for beat in 2020. This plotline type arguably started in 1987’s “Masters of the Universe,” was carried further with “Fat Albert,” then proved it could be critically successful with Disney’s “Enchanted,” but was cemented in shoddy pandering with movies like “The Smurfs.”
Sonic the Hedgehog does have a few light differences from this, such as focusing less on the fish out of water aspect for Sonic and more on the loneliness he shares with Human B (played by James Marsden), and the film acting more as an origin story for Jim Carey’s Dr. Robotnik than him being a carried over enemy. The human plot isn’t even super prominent compared to the movie being about Sonic, yet because the movie goes so fast with its brief 1 hour 40 minute runtime, Marsden’s plot about the intimacy of a small town community compared to moving onto bigger and better things in a large city doesn’t have enough time to land the way the film wants it too. There’s little surprises in the script except for the beginning and ending of the movie, especially with how much the first two trailers showed. To quote Sonic himself from Sonic Adventure 2, “what you see is what you get, just a guy that loves adventure.”
Despite the been-there-done-that plot structure, the character aspect is where the movie shines as an enjoyable family movie. The redesigned Sonic did wonders for the titular character’s appeal on the big screen. Throughout the movie, his wide eyed energy and joyful enthusiasm is endearing, but he still has shades of the mascot with attitude he was created as in the 90. The character animation excellently matches Ben Schwartz’s line delivery almost beat for beat, with enough expression to make the cartoon hedgehog’s first appearance on screen feel alive, but still conveying his emotions of loneliness when the plot pokes at it. It forms an alright dynamic with James Marsten’s character, who has that similar longing for something more out of life. In many ways, Sonic feels more like his inception as an actual character, than he’s been in the video games for the past decade. It’s the type of personality that would never come across with the original, horrifyingly ugly Sonic.
Similarly, Jim Carey as Dr. Robotnik, in a throwback to 90s roles like The Mask, Ace Ventura and Liar Liar, makes a perfect fit for the egotistical, condensing, super genius man-child he’s meant to be. His jokes don’t always land, but Carey really puts the work in to chew as much of the scenery as possible and prove he would still be the perfect fit for the character if ever there would be a sequel. I can’t think of another actor who could pull off the spirit of the character in a similar way.
It’s down to these two characters to carry the movie through the tepid plot beats and uninteresting human characters. As a Sonic fan, I enjoyed their portrayals, but wish there were more elaborate action scenes and more references to the game universe to make the Sonic feeling stronger. Despite their very obvious influence, the scenes where Sonic uses his powers were fun bits of excitement fit for the Blue Blur.
This movie feels like a enjoyably decent if bland foundation for future Sonic films to expand from, similar to what the original Sonic game and Sonic Adventure 1 represented for the video game series. The film suffers for its boring and predictable plot structure, but I can understand why it was made the way it was as a proving ground, and I’m glad the character and heart mostly shine through. I can only hope the movie’s success will lead to more creative freedom in what will follow it. More Sonic characters, more references to the games and more creative freedom would hold fans’ enthusiasm for Sonic as a film franchise.