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Review: Sonic the Hedgehog (Early Digital Release)

March 31, 2020

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

We are currently in uncharted territory. With the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world, the economy has been brought to its knees, and one of the big casualties of this are movie theatres. Due to medical recommendations to practise social distancing and stay at home, all theatres have been forced to close their doors for the foreseeable future, upending the movie industry as we know it.

This has forced distributors to either delay major blockbusters, and there have already been a lot of casualties of this, or look into different ways to get their films seen, namely making them available to watch at home through various digital channels. This has caused the traditional theatrical window of several months to shrink and, in some cases, disappear completely.

I will admit that this all seems like an odd way to preface a review of Sonic the Hedgehog, an otherwise innocuous family movie, but it’s needed background for why this modest blockbuster from Paramount is being pushed on demand today after only opening in theatres a mere six weeks ago. The flipside to this unfortunate situation is, of course, that many people and families are now stuck at home and looking for things to watch. And from this perspective, Sonic the Hedgehog is a solid choice to watch while in self-isolation.

The film opens with Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) being chased through the streets of San Francisco by the evil Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey). Sonic then offers a rapid rewind back to the beginning to show us how he got there, a somewhat clever narrative device that sets the manic pace for what is to come. After being forced to flee his home planet by way of a portal, the spiky blue alien hedgehog ended up on Earth in the small town of Green Hills, Montana, where he has spent years in hiding watching the locals and living vicariously through them, growing ever more lonely and yearning for real friends.

When Sonic is letting off steam one night by running laps at the baseball diamond, his emotions go wild and he causes an electrical surge that knocks out power across the Pacific Northwest and attracts the attention of the government, who send the reclusive, eccentric Dr. Robotnik to investigate. This causes Sonic to go into hiding at the home of Sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), a local police officer that he watches whom he has named “The Donut Lord.” When the ensuing panic causes Sonic to lose the gold rings he needs to transport between worlds, with them falling through a portal to San Francisco, he guilts Tom into taking him on a road trip in order to get them back. But Robotnik is hot on their trail, seeking to harness Sonic’s power.

Even before COVID-19 sent it to an early digital release, Sonic the Hedgehog already had a storied production history. To recap, when the first trailer for the film was released last April, fans complained about the slightly creepy initial design of the title character, with his eyes being too small and his legs too long and skinny. This prompted the studio to delay the movie from November 2019 to February of this year, and put the animators and visual effects artists to work to completely redesign the character in a tight timeframe. The updated design does look much better, and the Sonic in the final film is actually pretty cute, greatly improving the finished product.

Directed by Jeff Fowler, who previously made the Oscar-nominated animated short film Gopher Broke in 2004 and is making his feature debut here, Sonic the Hedgehog is an appropriately fast-paced film that doesn’t exactly break any new ground in terms of story but is consistently, divertingly entertaining to watch. Similar to the other recent video game adaptation Detective Pikachu, which was also better than it had any right to be, the film strikes a good balance between being winking and self-referential, while still serving as a respectful adaptation of the material.

Aside from the nostalgia bait of seeing the title SEGA character himself, the other big draw for ’90s kids is the opportunity to see Carrey getting back to his manic, rubber-faced antics, with the actor channeling his vintage, over-the-top performances in films like Ace Ventura, The Mask and Liar Liar. Those of us who grew up watching his usual schtick will have fun seeing him back in action in this role. Schwartz delivers an appealing vocal performance as Sonic, and Marsden plays well alongside the animated critter, something that he has practise with from Hop.

The film reaches its high points with a couple of visually inventive sequences where Sonic is moving so fast that everyone else seems to be standing still, reminiscent of the scenes with Quicksilver in the X-Men movies, including a particularly fun set-piece at a western bar. Overall, Sonic the Hedgehog is an amusing, slightly better than expected video game adaptation that makes good use of its title character, providing decent entertainment for families and fans.

Sonic the Hedgehog is now available for early purchase on digital platforms as of today, and will be coming to Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD on May 19th.

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