February 15, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Jeff Fowler
Culture Representation: Set primarily in Montana and in San Francisco, the predominantly white cast of human characters in “Sonic the Hedgehog” (based on the Sega video game) mostly represent people who work in law enforcement or work for the government.
Culture Clash: An alien blue male hedgehog named Sonic that can travel at the freakishly fast pace of the speed of light tries to evade capture by the U.S. government, which wants to do experiments on him to find out why he has this special power.
Culture Audience: “Sonic the Hedgehog” will appeal primarily to fans of the video-game franchise and people who like children-oriented entertainment that has a formulaic and predictable story.
“Sonic the Hedgehog” is exactly the mediocre movie for kids that you would expect it to be. Based on the Sega video-game franchise whose popularity peaked in the 1990s, this is the first movie about Sonic the Hedgehog, a wisecracking blue hedgehog that comes from another planet and has the power to travel at the speed of light. In the movie (which combines live-action with animation), Sonic is an animated character voiced by Ben Schwartz, the comedian/actor who’s best known for playing Jean-Ralphio Saperstein on the NBC 2009-2015 sitcom “Parks and Recreation.”
Movies that are based on video games tend to be average-to-bad. Your brain will thank you if you never see “Super Mario Bros.,” “Assassin’s Creed,” “Warcraft” or most of the “Resident Evil” movies. And with the bar set very, very low for quality, “Sonic the Hedgehog” does little to raise that bar and instead rushes right under that bar with a flimsy story that’s predictable from beginning to end.
“Sonic the Hedgehog” is the first feature film for director Jeff Fowler, whose only previous movie-directing experience is a short film. The “Sonic the Hedgehog” screenplay was written by Patrick Casey and Josh Miller, whose previous writing experience has been in mostly TV and short films. That lack of feature-film experience shows, because the entire movie looks like it could’ve been a half-hour cartoon episode, but it’s instead stretched into a feature-length film with a thin plot and the budget of a major movie studio.
The beginning of the movie shows Sonic’s childhood in another dimension, where he was raised by a female guardian owl called Longclaw (voiced by Donna Jay Fulks). An apocalyptic disaster strikes their world, and Longclaw saves Sonic by opening up a portal to Earth. Longclaw gives Sonic a bag of magical gold rings, and tells Sonic that he has to live on Earth from now on, and the only way to stay safe is to stay hidden.
The gold rings will open an emergency portal to a deserted planet that has nothing but a terrain of planted mushrooms. Longclaw tells Sonic that he should go to this planet only as a last resort if things on Earth get too dangerous. For now, Earth is a better alternative, since at least Sonic won’t be alone on Earth.
Sonic ends up secretly living in a cave in the fictional small town of Green Hills, Montana. His presence is undetected except for an eccentric old man named Crazy Carl (played by Frank C. Turner), who’s seen Sonic and has been telling the townspeople that there’s a “blue devil” that lives in the town. He’s even drawn a picture of the “blue devil” and it looks a lot like Sonic. Naturally, the townspeople think Crazy Carl has fabricated the whole story, and they don’t take him seriously.
Meanwhile, Sonic (who tends to only come out at night) has been secretly spying on a married couple in town—police officer Tom Wachowski (played by James Marsden) and his veterinarian wife Maddie Wachowski (played by Tika Sumpter)—who have no kids and live a comfortable and happy life with their Golden Retriever dog. Sonic yearns to be a part of their family, but he can’t risk exposing himself because he knows that he will be captured and put into some kind of custody.
Tom is feeling restless and bored in Green Hills—his job consists primarily of monitoring a deserted road to try and catch speeding drivers—so he’s applied for and gotten a job at the San Francisco Police Department. An exciting day for him as a Green Hills Police Officer is when he sees a turtle on the road. One of Tom’s co-workers is a dim-witted cop named Wade (played by Adam Pally), whose only purpose in this movie is to both annoy Tom and alleviate some of Tom’s boredom.
One day, as Tom is watching the speed monitor in his police car, he notices a blue blur go by in a lightning flash, and the speed monitor has lit up to show that something passed by that was traveling at hundreds of miles per hour. However, Tom can’t see anything that he could investigate, so he assumes it was a malfunction of the speed monitor.
Sonic has the personality and energy of a mischievous teenager, so it isn’t long before the inevitable happens: Sonic makes his presence known. One night, while speeding, he causes an electrical light storm that results in a massive power outage in several states. The power is eventually restored, but the U.S. government gets involved to investigate what caused the blackout.
Meanwhile, Sonic realizes the disaster he has caused and fears that the authorities will catch him, so he leaves his home cave and is hiding in a shed in Tom’s backyard. Sonic has taken the bag of rings and opened the portal to try and hide out on the mushroom planet, when Tom sees Sonic and shoots him with a tranquilizer gun. In a panic, Sonic drops the bag of rings in the portal, but one ring is left behind.
Tom is also frightened by this strange creature, so he takes Sonic into his house, the tranquilizer wears off, and he’s shocked to see that it’s a talking hedgehog. Sonic tells Tom that he caused the power outage and begs Tom not turn him over to the authorities. Tom’s wife Maddie isn’t at home because she’s gone ahead to San Francisco to look for their new home and is temporarily staying with her sister Rachel (played by Natasha Rothwell), who’s a single mother to an elementary-school-aged daughter.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government has reluctantly enlisted the help of a genius scientist named Dr. Robotnik (played by Jim Carrey), who’s apparently the only person they know who they think can solve the mystery of the power outage. Dr. Robotnik has a history of being a mentally unstable egomaniac, so some of the government officials don’t like the idea that Robotnik has been brought on board to help them.
But they’re overruled, and Robotnik proceeds to take over the investigation, with a loyal and long-suffering henchman named Agent Stone (played by Lee Majdoub) as Robotnik’s right-hand man. Robotnik clashes with U.S. Army Major Bennington (played by Neal McDonough), who also wants to be the hero who gets credit for this mission. But, of course, Robotnik isn’t really a hero, since he has an ulterior motive to find the source of the problem, use it to gain more power, and then take over the world.
Through some of his high-tech inventions, Robotnik is able to track the energy source of the power outage to Tom’s home, where Robotnik immediately goes to investigate further. Tom reluctantly lets Robotnik into his home while Sonic tries to hide. Of course, Robotnik sees Sonic, and then tries and fails to capture him. Tom and Sonic escape, and they become fugitives of the law, with not only Robotnik after them but also various branches of the U.S. military. Robotnik also uses an army of flying drones to help track down the fugitives.
The rest of the movie is basically one long chase, as Tom and Sonic take a road trip to San Francisco, where Sonic figures that he can use the Transamerica Pyramid as a signal to open the portal again and retrieve his bag of magical rings. Even with this cartoonish and silly plot, the visual effects in “Sonic the Hedgehog” don’t make up for it, because the visuals aren’t very impressive, by today’s movie standards. This is the type of movie that would look dazzling back in the 1990s, but not now. And it’s not the kind of movie that someone needs to see in a movie theater.
As the chief villain, Carrey is clearly having a lot of fun in his campy Dr. Robotnik role, but the rest of the human characters are so basic and by-the-numbers that there really isn’t much to the movie except to see the inevitable showdown between Dr. Robotnik and the duo of Sonic and Tom. Children younger than the age of 10 will probably enjoy “Sonic the Hedgehog” the most, but everyone else will have to sit through the same recycled tropes that have been seen many times before in TV cartoons over the years.
Paramount Pictures released “Sonic the Hedgehog” in U.S. cinemas on February 14, 2020.