There’s something truly fascinating about the weird and perplexing history of this film; its like reading a bizarre Wikipedia entry on a celebrity that you didn’t realize had such a strange and tragic life. This film’s history has it all; the first reveal of Sonic the Hedgehog sent shock waves throughout the fan-base, with many criticizing Sonic’s disarmingly uncanny visual design. Then came a revelation, as Paramount Pictures made the call to redesign this character into one more inspired by the games visual aesthetic. The result? Success.
Directed by Jeff Fowler and based on the video game character by Sega, Sonic the Hedgehog follows the story of Sonic (Ben Schwartz) and his friend Tom (James Marsden), as they team up against the villainous Doctor Robotnik (Jim Carrey). Sonic the Hedgehog avoids falling into the trap of forgettable stock-standard family thoroughfare, by a hair. Director Jeff Fowler and Paramount took the initiative to do the redesign but it was ultimately the wildcard inclusion of Jim Carrey as the titular villain Doctor Robotnik that made this film feel like a wild ride. Adapting such a cartoonishly grandiose villain in live-action requires an extraordinarily cartoonish screen presence – who else, but Jim Carrey.
The runtime of this film is kept minimal; much like Sonic himself, the film whizzes by in no time – introducing you to Sonic as a character for long enough so that you become familiar with him, but not so long that you realize his personality is constructed mostly from papier-mâché and PVA glue. Of course, Doctor Robotnik is an exception, as well as his personal Agent/assistant (Lee Majdoub) – they both share a completely off-kilter and amusing character chemistry. This further cements that lead writers Patrick Casey and Josh Miller know full well how to write oddly interesting character relationships.
Yet when it comes to both Sonic and the supporting character Tom, the writers pens are kept at their hip. The character duo of Sonic and Tom holds no candle to the wild interactions you see between Robotnic and his Agent. This reluctance in making Sonic “interesting” as a character perhaps has some grounding; last year’s kids film by Paramount Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019) took huge strides to make its story as self-aware and interesting as it could and yet only came back with an adequate box-office turnover. Perhaps Paramount is fishing for the right balance here.
The CGI isn’t incredibly detailed but it’s impressive in its consistency throughout the flow of the whole film. I must commend the animators as they were forced into ‘panic mode’ as they attempt to recreate the character in the four months of its delay and do a good job of it. Sonic the Hedgehog primarily spends its screen-time in day-lit environments, leading to an overall elated tone throughout the film that draws our eyes to Sonic’s CG character-model in all his blue and fuzzy glory – which is not necessarily a bad thing. Colour-grading throughout appears mostly natural and heightens to a punchier palette when Sonic is speeding through the frame surrounded by particle effects and others digital atmospherics. This film would lend itself well to an HDR format mostly due to the sparky colours that pop off screen during battle sequences.
The direction of its production design is unknown as it mostly consists of generic sets whilst failing to truly explore its universe – a strange world that I wish I could’ve spent at least 10 minutes in. An impressive element was the exploration of the lore behind the gold rings and adapting that to function inside a film. This film is an example of the recent surge of films using overplayed 80s songs and even its original tracks don’t add much to the overall experience.
Sonic the Hedgehog tells an entirely unremarkable story in a fun way, making great use of Jim Carrey’s “Carrey-ness” to bleed on-screen with full embrace. With all that being said, it does fall victim to tropey character relationships, struggling to find a definitive personality for its protagonist. While it doesn’t hit a high score; Sonic the Hedgehog succeeds in being an amusing video-game adaptation – a feat which has proven to be quite a challenging one to execute.