Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)Paramount Pictures
Directed by Jeff Fowler
Written by Pat Casey, Josh Miller
Starring: James Marsden, Ben Schwartz, Tika Sumpter, and Jim Carrey
When you see a bad film, it’s not often that you can pinpoint the exact moment when it loses you. Sonic the Hedgehog makes this an easy task. During a conversation between James Marsden’s Tom and Jim Carrey’s Robotnik, Robotnik boasts, “I was spitting out formulas while you… were spitting up formula.” There is a beat, after which Tom responds, “Actually, I was breastfed.” If you enjoyed that exchange, I’m sorry to have spoiled it for you.
The fact of the matter is that there is very little worth spoiling in Sonic the Hedgehog. It takes the same tired fish out of water story we have seen in countless other lousy kids movies: [Character from popular IP]’s latest, craziest adventure is in a new world: ours! This was already stale in the year 2000 with The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle. There surely must be other creative avenues for exploring Sonic, who remains one of the most popular video game characters ever.
This Sonic (Ben Schwartz), by the way, is very annoying. Schwartz’s take on the character (who he also did motion capture for) is endearingly energetic at first, but his puns and nonstop chattiness quickly become tiresome. He’s a character who often speaks exactly what he is feeling. The most egregious instance of this is early on, after Sonic arrives in our world and sneaks into a psychiatrist’s office. There, he performs an analysis on himself where he informs the audience that he feels alone, something he repeats again and again. Sonic was silent in the Sega Genesis entries of the series. Hearing this take on Sonic is to realize how lucky those early fans truly were.
Others don’t fare much better. Tom, the human character we follow the most, is incredibly boring. His motivation for helping Sonic boils down to little else but “the right thing to do,” and is otherwise given little agency beyond acting as straight man to both the blue hedgehog and to Carrey’s Robotnik. Carrey, to his credit, is committed in this performance. He yells, screams, and uses his physicality to a surprising degree. He rarely interacts with Tom, and almost never with Sonic, but we can see why. With all the scenery he devours, it’s quite likely he may have accidentally eaten Marsden or Schwartz. There are other human characters, but they do little else besides occupy space.
To be fair, there are a few sequences where director Jeff Fowler has fun playing with Sonic’s speed. The climactic action sequence in particular gives a few promising hints to a more exciting film. Alas, those merits are all too few here, which otherwise evokes the blandest of ‘90s-era children’s movies.
The film’s original design for Sonic was roundly mocked for how disturbingly humanoid it looked. It remained a punchline until the trailer for Cats dropped, whereby folks saw the true depths of the uncanny valley. The original design, while awful, is still something I can remember. I’m hard pressed to find anything else to remember here.