I did not go into the new Sonic the Hedgehog movie with high hopes.
Back in February, I walked into the cinema on release day fully expecting to have to comfort my partner – a lifelong Sonic fan – on the way out. The theatre was packed and there was a palpable buzz in the air. We were surprised by the number of young kids in the audience, many of them wearing Sonic clothing and hats, or clutching bright blue toys. What a way to spend Valentine’s Day 2020, right?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. If we’re going to talk about this movie, we better start a little earlier, as a lot went down behind the scenes before Sonic made its way to the big screen.
Our first peek at the new Sonic movie was back at the end of 2018, when test footage was screened at the Comic Con Experience in Brazil, shortly followed by a teaser poster. The immediate reaction from fans and critics was poor, to say the least. Things only got worse as more promotional material was leaked and the first official trailer dropped.
Just to give you a taste of what I’m talking about: Andy Chalk at PC Gamer called the first movie poster “creepy as hell”. Stephen Lambrechts at Tech Radar ranted about “the film’s grotesque Sonic design”, while Kotaku reported that even Sonic’s co-creator Yuji Naka had raised concerns. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
In response to this criticism, the team behind Sonic did something drastic – they delayed the movie’s release in order to allow a full character redesign. This was pretty huge, especially as it’s reported to have cost Paramount millions of dollars, but the redesign proved far more popular when an updated trailer appeared in November 2019.
Was it worth it? Well, you be the judge.
So, with that background context out of the way, let’s return to the evening of Valentine’s Day 2020. Not only did I not have to comfort my partner on the way out of the cinema, but we actually emerged looking confusedly at each other and asking… was that actually… pretty good?
And the answer is yes. Sonic the Hedgehog is a pretty good movie.
It’s a lot of fun with some laugh out loud moments, though it doesn’t do anything revolutionary with the plot or characters. Voiced by Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation), the redesigned Sonic is an adorable alien creature, full of childlike curiosity, boundless energy, and fierce loyalty to his friends. It’s genuinely hard not to like him.
Sonic is particularly cute as a child in the film’s brief prologue, which sets up his backstory and gives us a brief glimpse into his home world. Hunted due to his super-speed, the young Sonic escapes by travelling to our world, settling in Green Hills, Montana.
Sonic survives by staying hidden, making himself at home, and considering himself a part of the community, even though he can never show himself or interact. Although this set-up is sweet and light-hearted, we also get a sense of Sonic’s fierce loneliness and isolation. He just wants a friend.
That’s where local sheriff Tom Wachowski comes in, played with charm by James Marsden. After a mishap causes Sonic to draw the attention of the government, alerting Tom to his existence, and getting his human friend in big trouble all at the same time, the pair form an unlikely duo in an attempt to solve their problems. Pretty generic stuff, but an enjoyable ride, nonetheless.
What makes Sonic stand out from the crowd is the dynamic and often baffling presence of Jim Carrey’s Doctor Robotnik, a full-on, moustache-twirling cartoon villain. Carrey steals the screen in every appearance – he’s absolutely ridiculous, but that’s kind of the point.
There are plenty of nods to the original games throughout the movie for fans to spot and enjoy – Sonic uses golden rings to travel between worlds, the name of the town in Montana is a reference to the iconic Sonic setting of Green Hill Zone, and a post-credits scene reveals another major character who may feature more prominently in any sequels.
Even after the character redesign, Sonic the Hedgehog was a financial success – it broke records for the biggest opening weekend in the United States and Canada for a video game film and is the second highest-grossing film of 2020 so far. Director Jeff Fowler has hinted at plans for an ongoing story, while Schwartz, Marsden, and Carrey have all shown interest in reprising their roles.
Fast-paced, family-friendly, and full of fun, Sonic is an enjoyable take on the classic video game character. Though the original trailer suffered from comparisons with last year’s Detective Pikachu, in the end both movies offer a similar viewing experience that will evoke nostalgia for older generations and joy for kids and adults alike.
Sonic the Hedgehog is out now in digital formats and will be released on Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD and DVD on 19th May.