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Sonic the Hedgehog (Digital HD) Review

March 31, 2020 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
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Sonic the Hedgehog (Digital HD) Review  

Directed by: Jeff Fowler
Written by: Pat Casey & Josh Miller

Ben Schwartz – Sonic (voice)
James Marsden – Tom
Jim Carrey – Dr. Robotnik
Tika Sumpter – Maddie
Natasha Rothwell – Rachel
Adam Pally – Wade
Lee Majdoub – Agent Stone
Neal McDonough – Major Bennington
Tom Butler – Vice Chairman Walters
Frank C. Turner – Crazy Carl
Melody Nosipho Niemann – Jojo (as Melody Niemann)
Shannon Chan-Kent – Roadhouse Waitress
Brad Kelly – Roadhouse Thug
Elfina Luk – Secretary of Homeland Security
Garry Chalk – Navy Chief of Staff

Domestic Gross: $146,066,470
Worldwide Gross: $306,352,464

Digital HD Release Date: March 31st, 2020
Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date: May 19th, 2020
Running Time: 99 minutes

Rated PG for action, some violence, rude humor and brief mild language.

All things considered, it’s perhaps a bit of an understatement to say that Sonic the Hedgehog was the underdog hit of 2020 thus far. There has long been fan demand for a feature film take on the famous SEGA Genesis video game character, but his red-shoed road to the big screen was a fraught one. After over 20 years in development hell, Sony Pictures finally announced the film was being made in 2014. And even then, it wasn’t easy. First, a planned 2018 date was pushed out two years. And when the first trailer hit, the internet more or less imploded over the reaction to Sonic’s character design to the point that Sony and director Jeff Fowler promised a re-design that added millions to the already-hefty budget.

Normally, that kind of negative buzz would kill a film deader than a doornail. But Sonic is nothing if not resilient, and when it released earlier this year it became a surprise success to the tune of $300 million-plus worldwide. Now Sony has released the family action-adventure film on Digital HD, with a physical release coming in May, hoping to capture the same sort of magic at home. And the results are, if not exactly thrilling, at least surprisingly satisfactory.

The Movie

The film stars Ben Schwartz as the voice of Sonic, a blue hedgehog from another world who can run at supersonic speeds. After being forced to travel to Earth as a child in order to escape creatures seeking his power, Sonic ends up living in secret outside the town of Green Hills, Montana. The local townspeople know nothing about him, except for stories by the local town crackpot about a “Blue Devil” in the woods.

Sonic gets to know the people of the town and feels attached to them, even if they don’t know about him. That goes especially for the sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter). However, Sonic isn’t aware that Tom and Maddie are planning to move to San Francisco, as Tom wants more than the life of a small-town sheriff.

That life, and Sonic’s, become complicated when Sonic draws the attention of the Department of Defense, who enlist the megalomaniacal roboticist Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to investigate. Sonic and Tom soon cross paths and must flee Robotnik, who wants to study Sonic for the source of his power. That leads them on a cross-country journey where Tom and Sonic start to bond, with some lessons perhaps for the both of them about laying down roots.

Sonic is an undeniably iconic character in the video game industry, albeit one without a particularly well-known storyline. That makes him perfect for Hollywood to adapt. The film industry has often had a problem trying to twist the stories in games to the big screen. Working from a fairly free slate gives screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller the chance to plot a film without needing to meet particular plot points that may not translate so well onto the big screen. That’s not to say that they go wildly off-course; there are enough elements here that are recognizably Sonic to work, and the lead character is one of the best aspects of the story.

Of course, that bar isn’t the highest in history. The plot more or less boils down to your basic road film buddy comedy with the added wrinkle of Robotnik on the chase for some action scenes, and the characters are rather thin on the page. Tom, Sonic and Robotnik are really the only characters with any sense of depth to them, and even those are somewhat scarce on being three-dimensional. The journey to San Francisco features a lot of gags that probably play best to a younger crowd, punctuated with action scenes and just enough heart. It follows a tried-and-true Hollywood script formula, to the point that you can largely predict every moment that happens in the movie.

And yet while all of that sounds rather blah, there’s definitely something here. It’s a credit to the cast that Sonic is as much fun as it is. Schwartz and Marsden have a definite charm to the way Sonic and Tom interact, and Jim Carrey is clearly having more fun in a film than he has in some time. With the exception of Dumb & Dumber To, it’s been a long time since Carrey has leaned into the wacky, over-the-top characterizations that made him famous. Seeing him slide into the role of Robotnik and make it his own is undeniably enjoyable, and he makes some of the humor work better than most actors would.

It’s hard to talk about this film without discussing the troubled road that it had to its release. The initial trailer was instantly infamous for the somewhat horrifying visual effects design of Sonic. The reworked design is vastly improved, and while I wouldn’t say it’s a dazzling feat of CGI it is at least pleasing on the eyes. It’s fair to say that, in an odd way, it worked out in the final product’s favor that we saw the initial trailer because the comparison makes this look much better.

Jeff Fowler is in the director’s chair for Sonic and he does a pretty solid job here. He keeps the film fairly balanced between appealing to kids and not driving adults who might see it to annoyance. Sure, there’s plenty of 13-year-old humor in here, but it moves along at a rapid enough pace for its hour and 39-minute length that it never grates on the nerves. By the time that the action-heavy third act comes around, most people will be ready to be done and Fowler nicely obliges. It’s certainly by no means an amazing film experience, but there’s nothing wrong with a mildly entertaining adventure for families to enjoy. And that’s exactly what Sonic provides.

Film Rating: 6.0

Special Features

* Around the World in 80 Seconds (1:48): This quick featurette features Sonic in a hand-sketched animation style in the fashion of drawing on ruled paper taking a trip around the world to places like Los Angeles, Arches National Park in Utah, London and more. It’s not too bad, with Ben Schwartz providing a couple quips along the short running time.

* Deleted Scenes (13:39): The deleted scenes start off with a quick introduction by director Jeff Fowler before jumping right into what was cut. We get an alternate opening in which Crazy Carl tries to capture the Blue Devil out in the woods, a follow-up scene where Carl explains his theory about the Blue Devil to Tom and a couple others in the bar, an alternate take on Sonic’s origin story with more Longclaw, a conversation between Tom and Sonic about Sonic’s lightning powers, a brief scene with Rachel and Wade, .

* Bloopers (2:18): This is the usual sort of gag reel featuring James Marsden, Jim Carrey, and Tika Sumpter as they flub lines, goof off and have a few mild mishaps on set. It’s pretty solid for what it is.

* “Speed Me Up” Music Video (3:48) Wiz Khalifa, Ty Dolla $ign, Lil Yachty, and Sueco the Child’s pop-heavy rap single for the film gets a music video featuring some Sonic video game-style graphics and clips from the film. I’m not a big fan of the song, but the video’s okay.

* For the Love of Sonic (4:01): This featurette has James Marsden, Ben Schwartz, Jim Carrey, Jeff Fowler, executive producer Tim Miller and more talking about their experiences playing the game and their intent in bringing Sonic to the big screen. There are a few VFX visualization to final cut moments and some discussion of the Easter eggs in the film, as well some discussion about Jim Carrey’s involvement in creating his portrayal of Robotnik. It has the typical EPK behind-the-scenes sheen and doesn’t get too in-depth but is worth at least a single watch.

* Building Robotnik with Jim Carrey (4:03): As the title implies, this is a more in-depth exploration of how Carrey brought the villainous Robotnik to life. Carrey talks about how he wasn’t too familiar with Sonic when he first got contacted, and how much he enjoyed the idea of Robotnik as a character. Producer Neal Moritz, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter and others discuss how much they enjoyed working with him, and Jeff Fowler talks about Carrey’s involvement in creating the role. It also features a few clips from the bloopers. It’s a little over-congratulatory in a couple of parts but makes for a fun viewing.

* The Blue Blur: Origins of Sonic (6:22): This one looks at the origins of Sonic as a video game franchise, with the cast and crew talking about the game’s impact on them and on the gaming industry. Sonic Chief Brand Officer Ivo Gerscovich and Sonic developer Takashi Iizuka get into how much impact Sonic had at the time in providing a SEGA counterpart to Nintendo’s Mario as a recognizable brand character, as well as how the character and game was first designed. There are interesting tidbits about the visual and game design elements of the character here. It’s easily the best and most interesting bonus feature.

* Sonic On Set (3:27): This set visit focuses on Ben Schwartz doing his performance capture work and recording voice lines as Sonic. It’s always nice to see the voice actors get some attention and considering Sonic’s the star, this is a much-needed piece.

Special Features Rating: 7.0

The final score: review Average
The 411
It would be overly charitable to say that Sonic the Hedgehog sets a new bar for video game adaptations. However, it's a perfectly family film that doesn't disgrace its titular character's legacy. The cast is brings a lot of fun here and the action scenes and gags range from solid at best to inoffensive at worst. It may not be the most memorable film of the year so far, but it's an okay watch that would make for a good family night viewing.

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Sonic the Hedgehog, Jeremy Thomas