Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)
Director: Jeff Fowler
Screenwriters: Patrick Casey, Josh Miller
Starring: Ben Schwartz, Jim Carrey, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter, Lee Majdoub, Adam Pally
In 2019, the evolution of video game to cinema adaptations took a monumental step in quality when Legendary Entertainment and Warner Bros produced the world’s first live-action entry into the Pokemon Cinematic Universe with the surprisingly hearty and entertaining Detective Pikachu. In 2020, Blur Studios’ and Paramount’s take on the iconic super-fast alien hedgehog Sonic, in Sonic the Hedgehog, was tasked with maintaining the pace, SEGA Studios’ feature debut taking the baton and setting a new sector record to well and truly prove that video game adaptations need not be maligned any longer. If Detective Pikachu was the exception that proved the rule that video game to cinema adaptations don’t work, Sonic the Hedgehog just rewrote that rule.
From the opening titles that feature Sonic’s iconic video game rings replacing the stars of the Paramount logo, Sonic the Hedgehog taps into the love and expectation of its hardcore fanbase (or at least the nostalgia former SEGA gamers hold towards the beloved brand mascot), setting the tone for a film filled with winks and nods towards the character’s rich pixelated history that are brought to life in a manner deserving of at least a few exciteable giggles. For fans of the franchise, this opening brings hope that Sonic the Hedgehog will deliver upon expectations, and for those less familiar it offers a glimpse of something vibrant and unique, both fulfilled as the movie flourishes following a prologue that tugs at the heartstrings and offers an early guarantee that this is more than just a throwaway kids movie or another failed video game adaptation attempt.
Sonic is forced to earth as a means of rescuing him from a conflict, travelling by ring (the same ones collected in the video game that are used here as teleportation devices not dissimilar to Doctor Strange’s in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) to a small rural town by the name of Green Hill. There, he adapts to human life from afar, being spoken of as if a myth while living almost uncomfortably close to the town’s residents. In living as an outcast in the shadows, the now adolescent Sonic grows angry, sparking a reaction that grabs the attention of the movie’s comically inept American government.
While commentary on the American government’s ineptitude is limited to only a few scenes, Sonic the Hedgehog as an overall piece does have a lot to say regarding contemporary issues, the film centring itself upon an immigrant person of colour, child of war orphan who is wrongly accused of being a terrorist and becomes hunted by the government’s go-to private headhunter: this universe’s very own Tony Stark/Elon Musk, Jim Carrey’s eccentric, mega-rich and at times terrifying Dr. Robotnik.
Carrey excels as the film’s most standout on-screen presence, elevating every inch of the otherwise generic bad guy material to give his best and most Carrey performance in over a decade, the actor embracing the over-the-top nature of his 90s comedy once again to be nothing short of a hilarious foil for the heroes of the piece; his wackiness emphasising the problematic nature of a society that includes poorly governed multi-billionaires who have little to no societal responsibility.
Robotnik’s eccentric but certainly evil nature and Sonic’s opposing youthful exuberance are of course presented with much more immediate concerns in mind – character development, narrative progression, story interest – and as such it never feels like Sonic is batting you around the head with ideological and/or political concerns, instead grounding itself within them to earn bonus points in terms of its own drive for emotional investment, and flowering into a funny, hearty piece that embraces the playfulness of 90s video games and the somewhat whacky nature of being a story centred around a really fast hedgehog.
The making of Sonic the Hedgehog hit a roadblock of sorts when there was massive public outcry at the particularly poor quality of the film’s original animation for said hedgehog, the studio having to go back and re-animate the famous SEGA character to bring him more in line with his video game counterpart. The result here is beneficial not only to the aesthetic enjoyment of the film, but also to the character – the accentuated features (most notably his eyes) making Sonic seem like the young, vulnerable and ultimately loveable character the film is aiming to present.
This re-do can’t have been cheap, nor would it have been without its stresses for first-time feature director Jeff Fowler, but it works, and it ultimately elevates the material that Fowler and company successfully orchestrated to be a piece of fun, accessible but also self-conscious and emotionally strong cinema that delivered far above admittedly basement-level expectations.
In Sonic the Hedgehog, first-time producers SEGA Studios and debut director Jeff Fowler each gave a great account of themselves, this fun family film sitting alongside the likes of Detective Pikachu and Shazam! as pieces of innocent cinema the likes of which we haven’t seen released all too often since the 90s. Aided by a truly Carreyesque performance from the legendary screen presence himself, and pushed on by its real-world relatability, Sonic the Hedgehog ran the gamut of video game cinema to survive a sag in its 2nd act and offer us a high score worthy account of itself. Sonic the Hedgehog has arrived, and this likely won’t be the last time we see him on the big screen; this loveable alien hedgehog transporting as successfully from the world of video games to movies as his in-universe character did from his home planet to ours.