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Sonic the Hedgehog (Digital Preview)

Paramount // PG // March 31, 2020
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted March 30, 2020 | E-mail the Author

"Okay, okay. Everything is fine. You played some baseball, got a little upset, lightning shot out of your butt, and now they're coming for you."

The Movie

I know! And he had such a good streak going too. You see, back when Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) was but a wee hoglet, all sorts of ninja warrior no-good-niks mounted an assault to seize hold of his boundless energy and hyper-speed. For his protection, Sonic was flung through a portal onto a backwater planet called Earth. Maybe you've heard of it. Anyway, Sonic would be safe there so long as he kept out of sight, and for ten whole years, that's exactly what he did. The good folks of Green Hills, Montana had no clue there was a cerulean speedster among them. (Well, no one but Carl, who'd pay him any mind?) Maybe they didn't know boo about Sonic, but he sure got to know a whole bunch about the couple hundred residents of this sleepy little town, watching 'em from a safe distance as they lived their lives. But Sonic wanted to be where the people are, walking on those – what do you call 'em? – oh, yeah, feet, but as hard as he wished, he could never be part of that world. And as the loneliness and isolation finally seized hold...wham! Sonic went fast enough to knock out the power grid for the entire Pacific Northwest. Oops.

Let's just say that raises a red flag or two. The military dispatches one of their most dastardly brilliant minds to investigate: Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey). And as a platoon of soldiers and the good doctor's legion of mecha-drones close in, Sonic seeks refuge in the only place left in Green Hills that seems safe: the home of Sheriff Tom (James Marsden) and his veterinarian wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter). In the chaos, Sonic's Get Out of Earth Free card winds up plummeting through a portal to San Francisco. This hedgehog may be fast, but he's still gonna need Tom's help to get all the way from Montana to Rice-a-Roni Central. Road trip! But there's no time for roadside pie stands or detours to the Biggest Ball of Something-Or-Another – not with Robotnik hot on their trail. And you know, I'm starting to think that being branded a domestic terrorist might not look too great on Tom's background check to sign on with the SFPD either.

I know it's hacky, but I'm going to say it anyway: Sonic the Hedgehog fires on all cylinders. Not only does this feature film adaptation do a brilliant job conveying Sonic's Mach-I-don't-even-know-what speed, but it screams ahead at a manic pace in its own right. The movie isn't weighed down by reams of unnecessary backstory, nor does it get distracted by an excess of supporting characters or subplots. Lean and exceptionally fast, its runtime clocks in at 98 minutes but feels closer to half that. It's such a welcomed change of pace to come across a comedy/action flick with this sort of focus and such a clear idea of what it sets out to accomplish, shrugging off anything resembling bloat along the way.

There's such a tendency to sneer at adaptations of video games as product, and I'm glad to find one that genuinely feels like a labor of love. I mean, there's a jab at the Mushroom Kingdom, an homage to the Gotta Go Fast meme, and even a loving recreation of the toe-tapping, watch-peeping idle animation from Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Everything I could ever hope to see in a Sonic movie – from chili dogs to a piano rendition of the Green Hill Zone theme – is in here somewhere, with more still lurking midway through the end credits.

While its first stab at CG Sonic may not have been all that well-received, the revised design showcased here absolutely looks like the character I've known and loved for so many decades. And Sonic is surrounded by an onslaught of equally spectacular visual effects, including a world-class recreation of the classic 1991 game's Green Hill Zone. There are a couple of speedster-in-a-world-stood-still sequences that are every bit as inventive, hysterical, and masterfully executed as Quicksilver's in the past few X-Men movies. If there's anything about Sonic himself that didn't quite work for me, it's Ben Schwartz' voice acting. I get that it's pitched high to evoke a child-like quality, but it's taken a bit too far. And maybe it's just the digital screener I'm watching – in plain-jane stereo rather than Atmos or even regular ol' 5.1 – but Sonic's voice almost sounds detached from the actual character. His digital lips are moving in perfect sync, yeah, and yet the words don't always seem to be coming from his mouth. I'm not really sure how to describe it any better than that.

The supporting cast is terrific across the board, including geek cred parts for Arrowverse and Marvel alum Neal McDonough as well as Battlestar Galactica's Michael Hogan. It's a tall order to stand toe to toe with a CGI hedgehog from another planet who can run eight hojillion miles an hour, but James Marsden pulls off that seemingly impossible feat just the same, proving to be every bit as charming and charismatic as he is ageless. While a fair number of the story beats and character arcs look to be pretty familiar stuff on paper, Marsden helps to elevate them into something more involving and special. As terrific as Marsden is and as marvelous as the visual effects may be, Jim Carrey eclipses every last bit of it. Carrey runs away and steals every scene of Sonic the Hedgehog that he's in, careening deliriously over the top as the love-to-hate-him Robotnik. His nefarious doctor doesn't just know he's the smartest guy in the room; Robotnik doesn't get why someone of his towering brilliance is bothering to be in the same room as you in the first place. It's the most infectiously fun performance of Carrey's I've seen on the big screen in...I don't even know how many years. His super-science montage dance number set to The Poppy Family's "Where Evil Grows" in particular is one for the ages.

Its sense of humor at times is clearly aimed at a audience way younger than my forty-something-year-old self, but it kept me cracking up just the same, from a turtle with PTSD all the way to a misunderstanding about a kid in a duffle bag. The emotional core of Sonic the Hedgehog – about community, about family – resonates more deeply than I would've expected. I felt genuinely invested when Sonic, on his way to leap to a planet where fun isn't on the menu, decides to make a bucket list for his last hours on Earth...and ticks off one box after another at breakneck speed. And the big action sequences are, well, big. They're played almost like a boss battle in a vintage video game. Just when you think this enormous confrontation has hit its crescendo, you realize that was just phase 1 of 4. Sonic the Hedgehog is executed with such a dementedly ingenious mind that it finds a way to keep wreaking havoc, whether it's a relentless robo-truck battle on the interstate or Robotnik's war saucer on the streets of San Francisco. Heck, there's a sequence that would've been the climax in any other movie, and it turns out that Sonic the Hedgehog wasn't even a little bit ready for its finalé.

While I do have to admit that I'd give Detective Pikachu the edge in a head-to-head battle, there's clearly quite a bit that I love about Sonic the Hedgehog: a funny, frenetic adrenaline rush of a love letter to the franchise that defined the 16-bit era more for me than any other. And, with Sonic having conquered so many other mediums, the groundwork this movie lays for a sequel has me genuinely excited about what the future may hold. Recommended, and I think I'd bump that up to Highly Recommended if you have a kid in your life to watch it with.

Video / Audio

When Sonic the Hedgehog darts onto Prime Video, FandangoNOW, VUDU, and iTunes on March 31st, it won't look or sound much of anything like the preliminary digital screener that I just watched. So if you were bracing yourself for all sorts of impenetrable technical minutiae about the presentation, that'll have to wait until I get my hands on the Ultra HD Blu-ray release when it comes out in May.

Bonus Features
  • Around the World in 80 Seconds (2 min.): Sketched in (virtual!) pen on a big ol' stack of (virtual!) notebook paper, Sonic races all across the globe from Montana to Australia and back again in – you guessed it! – 80 seconds. I don't know if this is supposed to be a crash course in world landmarks for kids or what, but a fair number of the jokes aren't exactly...jokes? "Ah, Par-ee! The City of Love, I hear. I would love to stay and visit the Louvre, but I have so much more to see." Like, that's it for France! Au revoir!
  • Deleted Scenes (14 min.): Following a brief introduction by director Jeff Fowler, this reel piles on five deleted scenes. Turns out that the opening stretch of Sonic the Hedgehog was pretty different originally. This includes a decidedly more earthbound prologue, with crazy ol' Carl rigging traps to try to catch the Blue Devil of Green Hills, a follow-up with Carl filling Tom in on these shenanigans, and more of a coming-of-age version of Sonic's arrival and early years in Montana. And he didn't make the journey alone this time around. Even though the introduction in the finished film is kinda messy in its own right – the swarm of villains doesn't evoke much menace, and Longclaw (voiced by Donna Jay Fulks) is introduced in a way that makes her seem more critical a character than she winds up being – it's swifter and more effective than what was originally conceived. It's still fascinating to see what could have been, and I'm very glad that these scenes have been included here.

    There's also a heart-to-heart between Tom and Sonic about the crazy lightning spike during the big road chase. The last of these scenes follows up with Tom's sister-in-law Rachel (scene-stealer Natasha Rothwell) and Deputy Wade (Adam Pally), with tales of a trashed SUV and Lasagna Wednesdays.
  • Bloopers (2 min.): A whole lotta mugging for the camera, Jim Carrey relentlessly cracking up James Marsden, and Carrey's Line-o-Ramas with a home address and clam chowder: yup, it's a blooper reel, alright.
  • Music Video (4 min.): Wiz Khalifa is joined by Lil' Yachty, Ty Dolla $ign, and Sueco The Child for the 16-bit-as-hail music video for "Speed Me Up".
  • For the Love of Sonic (4 min.): Actors James Marsden, Ben Schwartz, Jim Carrey, Tika Sumpter, executive producer Tim Miller, producer Toby Ascher, and director Jeff Fowler talk about their relationships to the Sonic the Hedgehog video games as well as the process of adapting that personality and manic speed to the big screen. And I'm trying not to feel my age after hearing Carrey talk about getting schooled in Sonic by his grandson. They also point out some of the Easter eggs that only longtime fans are likely to pick up on.
  • Building Robotnik (4 min.): Carrey, Marsden, Fowler, and Sumpter return for this second featurette, along with producer Neal H. Moritz and none other than Sonic the Hedgehog himself! As you could probably guess from the title, "Building Robotnik" is all about Jim Carrey's approach to realizing one of gaming's most notorious badniks. Along with insight into the Eggman's mental state and Carrey's collaborative, improvisational performance, we also get a peek at Robotnik's moustache peeling off in the middle of a take.
  • The Blue Blur: Origins of Sonic (6 min.): While Sonic the Hedgehog's other extras are focused more on how this feature film adaptation came together, "The Blue Blur" turns the clock back a few decades prior to any of that. Chief Brand Officer Ivo Gerscovich and video game designer Takashi Iizuka delve into how Sega was ready to have their own Mario equivalent take the spotlight. They talk about the search for a new icon among Sega staffers, Sonic's evolution from a blue rabbit, the role St. Nick played in Sonic's red shoes, how the needs of the game helped to inform the character, and what set this feisty blue hedgehog apart from most video game mascots from the early 1990s. Along with oodles of conceptual art and design sheets, there's even trivia lobbed out every couple minutes, such as Sonic's less than marketable original name and how long it took to design the first game's opening levels. Virtually everyone interviewed elsewhere on this disc pops up as well, along with writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller.
  • On the Set (3 min.): Rounding out the extras is Ben Schwartz getting tracking dots peppered all across his face to do the whole mo-cap thing. Schwartz speaks briefly about the vocal end of his performance, such as the childlike voice and energy he brings to Sonic. Far and away the highlight is James Marsden palling around with Schwartz in the makeup trailer, demonstrating how there can be so much chemistry between Tom and Sonic even though the actors bringing 'em to life were hardly ever in the same room.
The Final Word

Everyone keeps droning on and on about how this is the Golden Age of Television, but what about the Golden Age of Video Game Movies we're in right now? Between Detective Pikachu, Sonic the Hedgehog, and...okay, it's not a long list, but it's still a thrill to see two of the mediums that've defined so much my life at long last start to gel together. Whether you came of age with a Sega Genesis controller in your hand, or if you're just a sucker for family-friendly fish-outta-water buddy-cop action/comedy effect spectacles (and hey, who isn't?), Sonic the Hedgehog is a blast. Recommended.

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