If the Hollywood mantra for making blockbusters is “faster, faster, faster,” then the creators of “Sonic the Hedgehog” have wisely ignored it.
The little blue alien who can sprint quicker than the speed of light has ironically benefited from slowing it down, taking a pit stop to retool and emerge this month as a total crowd-pleaser.
Respectful of the rich history of the brand and yet welcoming to newcomers, “Sonic the Hedgehog” is a feel-good buddy movie for both adults and their own little aliens. “Nailed it!” screams Sonic at one point and that might be a fitting summary for the film.
Director Jeff Fowler has been entrusted on his feature film debut with bringing to life the ball of super CGI energy, whose origins lie in Sega video games. But things didn’t look too good when a trailer dropped last April that portrayed Sonic as more rat-like with creepy human teeth. An outcry led to the film being delayed for a reset, resulting in a Sonic with a sleeker design, larger eyes and fewer chompers.
While there’s no way to give a side-by-side comparison, the film that emerges portrays Sonic as a cute, naive teenager, prone to saying very 2020 things like “I am living my best life” and “I can’t with that guy.” He has fled his own planet with a warning to “never stop running” and a twist on the “Spider-Man” proverb: “With great power comes great power-hungry bad guys.”
In the script by Pat Casey and Josh Miller, Sonic is naturally attracted to fast things – “Flash” comic books and the movie “Speed” (Keanu Reeves is “a natural treasure,” declares our heroic blue guy, one of many lines that will go over your little ones’ heads.)
Reeves isn’t the only celebrity to get a shout-out: Vin Diesel, Will Smith and Obi-Wan Kenobi are all invoked for laughs. Amazon and Olive Garden also get some love. There’s a weird urban-versus-rural tension throughout, with the scriptwriters clearly putting their fingers on the scale against life in the big city. One great sequence ends with everyone agreeing on a common enemy: hipsters.
The plot isn’t too far from the classic “ET” or the more modern “Bumblebee” – an alien lands on Earth to hide and soon must team up with a kindly human (James Marsden, in a very Marsden groove) to escape the clutches of evil government scientists who want to dissect it.
In this case, Jim Carrey dons a Civil War mustache and a black full-length leather coat to play the baddie Dr. Robotnik as only he can – ultra-arch, absolutely unhinged and dangerously unpredictable. “You know what I love about machines? They do what they’re told,” he snarls. Carrey has his own insane dance sequence that will make you spit out your popcorn.
Sonic, voiced by Ben Schwartz, is sweet and funny and self-aware. He does The Floss. He farts. He wears gloves, socks and sneakers but points out “I’m not even wearing pants.” He discovers what a bucket list is and instantly wants to do all kinds of stuff, including start a bar fight. “You two are so cute,” a woman tells Marsden and Sonic. They protest: They’re loose cannons. (OK, very cute loose cannons).
The non-human one goes fast, to be sure. A radar gun clocks him at 300 mph but later in the film he moves so fast he stops time, zipping around while everyone is as still as a statue. The filmmakers have also added an excellent, propulsive soundtrack, which includes X Ambassadors, Queen and the Wiz Khalifa-led “Speed Me Up.” (Steal it for your workout playlist.)
There are references to the video game throughout, including a sequence in which Dr. Robotnik chases Sonic through Paris, up the Egyptian pyramids, and along the Great Wall of China. Green Hill is where the creature ends up on Earth – echoing a key level in the game – and we learn he hates mushrooms, a frequent Sonic touchstone.
So much thought has been put into the film that at the very beginning the Paramount logo substitutes its regular stars for Sonic’s golden rings.
A potential sequel is set-up during the end credits – as well as the glimpse of a familiar creature that fans are sure to get excited about. The filmmakers might not have rushed making this film, but that’s no reason for you to press the brakes now.