To start this Sonic the Hedgehog movie review I’ll restate what I said in my opinion piece. I do not see films when they’re in theaters often. The last one I sat all the way through was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I also tried to go see Inception in 2010 and I walked out because it was boring. I have not read any reviews, watched any youtube videos, or heard any spoilers about this movie leading up to writing. So this Sonic the Hedgehog movie review is coming from the perspective of a Sonic fan, more so than a die hard movie goer.
The Sonic Set Up
Sonic The Hedgehog opens with Sonic giving some narration that interrupts the climactic scene of the movie. It’s quite an easy tactic to grab the attention of the viewer and is quite common these days. However, it then flashes back to when Sonic was a small child and gives a framing story that is never explained and never revisited except in how it motivates Sonic, for the rest of the film. It’s a little strange and not part of the canon of the games’ storyline at all.
An owl named Longclaw raised Sonic on an unnamed planet and a tribe of creatures which carried bows and arrows decided to capture him due to his super powered speed. Longclaw is shot down trying to escape with him. She gifts him a bag of magic rings which can teleport him to anywhere he thinks of and a piece of paper with various planets he is to teleport to, whenever he needs to leave the planet he has come to.
The story then begins properly. Sonic, now a teenager, tells us that he has currently taken up residence in a small town on Earth (Green Hills, Montana, and I get it). A point is made that he is careful not to reveal himself to anyone. He is so careful that his isolation is starting to wear on him. The humanity of his loneliness is actually quite emotionally well done. It was at this point that the film began to prick up my writers senses a bit. James Marsden’s character, Tom, the Sheriff of Green Hills, is introduced. He is looking at moving to San Francisco to become, in his view, a “real police officer” out of a desire to help people and save lives.
Sonic’s emotions get the better of him and while playing an entire game of baseball by himself at a Little League baseball diamond, he runs around the bases so fast that he triggers a massive wave of energy, wiping out all electrical power for nearly the entire West Coast. In short, he blows his cover, and the government begins investigating.
I have to say that this is the most ridiculous treatment of the upper echelons of the US Military and US Intelligence Community I’ve seen since Burn After Reading. It was mildly amusing, but luckily, not much time was wasted on it. They contract Dr. Ivo Robotnik (played as a total jerklord, straight to the hilt, by the unparalleled Jim Carrey) to conduct the investigation. Robotnik tracks him to Sherriff Tom’s house, where Sonic is hiding in the attic trying to convince himself to leave Earth.
Sheriff Tom walks in on Sonic just as he is about to use his magic ring to teleport to a “Mushroom Planet” that is uninhabited. Sonic thinks this place is unbelievably boring (wink, wink, Mario). Tom then shoots Sonic in shock with a tranquilizer dart (his wife is a veterinarian, seemingly out of plot convenience), and Sonic reads the words “San Francisco” off his t-shirt as he begins blacking out. This causes his magic ring to open a portal to San Fran. As he falls unconscious, he drops the bag of magic rings onto the roof of the tallest building.
Now, does that seem like an obscenely complicated setup for a PG-rated kids movie? It did to me, but I also didn’t mind it one bit, because it frankly works. It’s good storytelling, and easy to convey visually without needing a lot explained in words.
Sonic at Centre Stage
The rest of the film plays out as a game of cat-and-mouse. It balances enough adult-ish edginess, such as bar fights, Tom being labelled a terrorist by the news, and Tom’s wife’s sister’s disapproval of their relationship, with stereotypical “kid’s movie” touchstones. Toilet jokes here or there, Sonic wisecracking, action scenes that don’t involve anyone being seriously hurt. It keeps it from ever seeming too “adult” or too “kiddie.” It’s actually not a bad balancing act, and there are a lot of great laughs in it. I particularly cracked up at Sonic having the entry “start a bar fight” on his bucket list. Also at Dr. Robotnik having a circuit breaker box labelled “Evil Lab.” That’s straight out of Maniac Mansion.
Through it all, though, there’s a very clear thematic line of Sonic’s character taking the center stage. Sonic is extremely lonely from having run and escaped from lots of inhabited planets as he grew up. He is learning about social interaction with people for the first time hanging around with Sherriff Tom. This theme of overcoming the awkwardness of coming out of isolation, and the underlying theme of abandonment issues making socializing difficult, is actually fairly coherent as a storytelling device. It makes for some kind of heartwarming moments, too.
Sonic also comes off as an annoying teenager, as he should. For an adult Sonic fan watching this film (guilty), it seems quite authentic. He’s impatient, impuslive, and overconfident, as he was originally described in the articles leading up to the release of Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis. The adults in the film find his constant chatter and hyperactiveness at times irritating and at other times endearing. There’s some three-dimensionality to the way it’s all handled that made my writers’ senses tingle a little more.
Can I Bring the Kids?
If you can’t tell by now, I did in fact really enjoy this film. I would take this over Sonic Adventure or the monstrosities which followed any day of any week, forever.
It really comes down to it being a very well crafted story. It’s pacing starts mildly slow, to establish the theme I mentioned, and then it takes off and never lets up. It’s fitting that a Sonic movie would run at a breakneck pace.
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But as I was walking back from the theater, three things occurred to me. Firstly, there were some very young kids being brought to this film by their folks and they were into it. When Sonic would crack wise, they'd immediately quote him. When Sonic went nuts, they wanted to go nuts. Most toddlers can't pay attention to a story about toys and chocolate. These kids dug this movie. That didn't escape my attention.
Ying and Yang of Sonic and Robotnik
Secondly, Sonic and Robotnik, in a way, are played as two sides of the same coin. Robotnik states that he was orphaned at an early age; this makes both him and Sonic loners and outcasts. The way they handle it, however, is contrasted sharply. Sonic tries to run away because he is driven by the memory of Longclaw (the random owl who raised him), yet finally settles in Green Hills and attempts to make some kind of life among its people, whom he admires from afar.
Robotnik decides that he is superior to other people because of his intellect. He constructs machines that will make him as powerful as his hatred of those he considers 'less' than him desires. But they are really reacting to the same situation; abandonment and isolation. In particular, when Robotnik is playing with his 'toys' to try to analyze Sonic's quill, he comes off as an overgrown child, reveling in all the gadgetry he now has. This is some seriously good and deep character work, aside from being a fun kids' movie.
Is It Well Written?
Thirdly, and this was really the clincher for me, and goes all the way back to my original opinion piece. I asked myself "would I still like this story if it was not about a computer generated blue hedgehog but say the Flash or Quicksilver?" And the answer was yes. I guess I have to say it. The CGI work was rightly redone. I never once was bounced out of the suspension of disbelief by the modeling work. If it was a marketing ploy to drum up controversy, well, I guess it worked. If not, then I give an A+ to the CGI team. Sonic seems alive and real, while also seeming like Sonic.
There are a couple of things I needed to add. As I said, Tom's wife is really only in the story as an accessory. She doesn't do much or say much. This isn't a film meant to be taken seriously, and it does give off the vibe that the easy way out was taken in a lot of departments. If you're expecting fine art, it's not going to be that. It can be a bit "tryhardish" with Sonic's sense of humor at times, though not often enough that it becomes jarring. However, if we're going to go there, it definitely stomps a mudhole in the Super Mario Brothers movie. That's without question.
Should You Watch It?
When travelling to the movie theater to do this Sonic the Hedgehog movie review, I was in the bus station downtown. A middle aged gentleman and a lady were having some kind of argument with each other. It was very unpleasant involving some bad words. A third person chimed in with some more bad words and I, having just walked to the bus station became disgusted. I released a flurry of bad words of my own, following up with "Sure, let's all swear, it makes us sound so mature. Grow up."
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Anyhow, I finally arrived at the theater, and got my ticket for the show. To my shock, movie ticket prices are the same as when I went to see Benjamin Button. I also got some Reese's Pieces (as promised in my previous article).
After the movie, the moment I got back on the bus, someone was talking on the phone. It involved more swearing like a sailor, and it occurred to me that I had completely forgotten about the unpleasantness of the morning. This movie took me out of my everyday unpleasantness for its runtime. It held my attention and the attention of the toddlers. I call that a good movie.
I really can't recommend this enough. The water's fine, Sega Fans. Jump in. It's a winner, and Sonic has passed Act 1.
Enjoy this Sonic the Hedgehog Movie review? Click to read our opinion piece about Why We Wanted This Movie!