‘Sonic’ doesn’t reinvent hamster wheel
Those who follow film may recall a certain film’s trailer release late last year that horrified fans, causing the filmmakers to release a statement that the digital effects were not finished and that they were going to rework them before the ultimate release.
That film, of course, was “Cats.” And I think it all worked out rather well, right?
There was similar backlash when the trailer for “Sonic: The Hedgehog” dropped in April, with many stating that the beloved video-game creation’s new makeover had reached an “uncanny valley” in observers and caused filmmakers to state they were taking him back to the literal drawing board.
This would suggest that there was a rabid fan base of Sonic fans clamoring for a cinematic take on the animated blue shrew. While this may have been true in the late 1990s to early 2000s, Sonic's popularity has waned in the glut of more sophisticated mascots in years since. Pikachu, from the popular Pokemon series, has gone on to become a detective, for crying out loud.
But give first-time director Jeff Fowler credit, as he got the studio to push back the film’s release date for three months to give them time for Sonic’s makeover. It’s not always a smart move to give in to internet trolls, as evidenced by the latest “Star Wars” film. But somehow, with “Sonic,” it works.
Changing the character from his more-human appearance of the first trailer to that of his old, wide-eyed self for the film’s final release adds to an overall cornball, comedic appeal. The film never once decides to climb higher than what it is, but it also never feels like a convenient marketing arm for the game franchise, either.
We meet Sonic (here voiced by Ben Schwartz) as an extraterrestrial hedgehog transported to Earth after his ability for speed becomes a source of conflict on his own planet. He spends his first decade in hiding, merely observing human behavior, but soon grows lonely and yearns for contact. Unfortunately, his boredom has caused a power outage across the Pacific Northwest, and that brings the attention of one evil Dr. Robotnik (played by Jim Carrey).
Sonic befriends a kindly small-town sheriff (James Marsden) and his veterinarian wife (Tika Sumpter) who vow to help the little fella, for if discovered, he must jettison to another universe, never to return, and gosh darn it, he kind of likes it here.
The steel-jawed Marsden, whose on-screen resume seems relegated to starring with talking CGI creatures every few years (“Enchanted,” “Hop”), is an airy-enough sidekick and Sumpter is more than just a doting wife; she gets to step in and help matters at just the right time.
But it’s the return of ‘90s-era Carrey as Dr. Robotnik that adds coherence to the comedy of the real world and the animated characters. Displaying a physicality and enthusiasm that catapulted him into the spotlight decades ago, Carrey is energized in ways that fit the manic intensity of the film perfectly.
Paramount has been cranking up the nostalgia machine recently with solid results, producing films like “Bumblebee,” and “Dora and the Lost City of Gold.” And it can now add “Sonic” to its string of strong, goofy, kid-themed films that parents will not feel are utter time-wasters.
“Sonic” does not reinvent the hamster wheel, but it moves along with enough speed and agility to do its titular character proud.