Mild spoilers included.
Sonic the Hedgehog has been a driving force in the video game industry since Sega launched him in 1991. My dad and little brother played for hours, and as a petulant teenager I watched them speed through courses and mazes seeking golden rings. My nine-year-old son is now a huge fan, not only of the games but the franchise, and he and his friend were stoked to go to Friday’s premiere of the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie.
Starring a little blue furball CGI speed demon voiced by Ben Schwartz and Jim Carrey as the evil Dr. Robotnic, the film was not that bad. I even kind of enjoyed it, even though I put way too much butter-flavored goo on my popcorn and burned my tongue with more sour candy than a person should eat in 90 minutes. My son loved it, and his friend, who is way more critical, had to admit that “the CGI was better [he] thought it would be.”
There have been so many iterations of Sonic. From all the different games across a variety of platforms, to the 1993 dystopic cartoon “The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog,” Sonic has continued to capture children’s imaginations. The film character is quirky and entertaining. In one bar-fight sequence, Sonic and Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) go to town on a bunch of motorcycle gang hillbilly types and Sonic definitely had a Bugs Bunny vibe.
A film-length Sonic origin story was long overdue, and the best part of the movie was Carrey. Carrey is legend, of course, although recent years have been confusing for Carrey fans. His appearance on Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” presented a Carrey who was so Zen-ed out as to be worrisome.
He’d lost his way with fame and couldn’t seem to find the plot or meaning. As Dr. Robotnic, he is able to embrace a kind of outright evil that leaves no room for doubt. It’s reassuring to know that not every bad guy has a sympathetic backstory. Sometimes you can just hate a guy.
The story of Sonic, of course, is that of a hedgehog on the run. He’s got tons of power, so he could bring endless and infinite sustainable energy to any electric grid. It’s this power that the bad guys want, and why they’ve been chasing him through worlds. “Turns out,” he says, “with great power comes great power-hungry bad guys.”
Ten years after abandoning his home world, Sonic has landed in Montana. While no one knows him, he knows everyone, and has made a life for himself as something of an empathetic voyeur. Sonic is isolated and alone, but pretends the people who don’t know he exists are his friends. They are very much in his life, although he is not in theirs.
It’s this loneliness and isolation that expose him. After watching a Little League game, and seeing all the kids rejoice at their win, Sonic takes to the field once the kids have done. He plays all the positions, and scores a home run, but when there’s no one to high five at the end, his loneliness gets the better of him. He runs and runs around the diamond until his innate power zaps the floodlights and the entire electrical grid goes dark. The power surge gets Dr. Robotnic on his case.
Carrey plays Robotnic with his classic blend of creepy comedy. When he shows up in the little Montana town, he instantly takes charge, using a fleet of flying surveillance eggs, and criticizing everyone who stands even remotely in his way. It’s almost like he’s channeling my grandmother. He tells one government agent “stand over there in the edge of your own personal abyss and watch my machines do your job.”
Some of the effects are really fun. There are several sequences where Sonic runs so fast that the rest of the world appears to stand still, and he can dash between the seconds. At one point, he leaps onto one of Robotnic’s flying eggs and shouts, “Can you believe Amazon was going to deliver packages with these things?” Of course, these drones are weaponized, because Robotnic relishes evil, and Carrey looks good unambiguously doing it.
There are lots of little jokes that reference Sonic the video game hero, like he gets knocked out and Wachowski thinks he’s dead, only to have Sonic bounce back up and say, “I guess I had a bonus life.” Of course Sonic’s gold rings, and his energy boosts, play a huge role in the story. “This is my power,” Sonic tells Wachowski, “and I’m not using it to run away anymore. I’m using it to protect my friends.”
Sonic the Hedgehog does indeed have a bonus life. It’s got a new audience that has consumed everything in the franchise to date. The original games have been rebooted and are available on gaming platforms, new games are coming out, and the past narrative iterations are viewable on streaming services. The kids know all of it, and they love it.
The movie is a big power up for the franchise. The hidden surprise that dropped beloved character Tails through an interdimensional gold ring after the credits made the kids in the crowd swoon as she blazed away. It was something of a promise of a Sonic 2. From the reaction of the kids in the crowd, it would be welcomed with joy.