"Sonic the Hedgehog" infamously had to go through a complete redesign of its main character after fan backlash, and now it's racing into theaters. Did the redesign of the movie (and the elimination of those terrifying teeth) save it or is "Sonic the Hedgehog" still a slog? Here's what the reviews say.
The Movie Begins With Sonic Landing On Earth And The Troubles That Follow Him After He Is Discovered
Sonic the Hedgehog opens with a young Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) landing on Earth, and hiding from those who wish to use his powers for themselves. After spending almost a decade on our planet, Sonic has fully acclimated to the small town of Green Hills, Montana. However, he conceals himself from humans out of fear of how they'll respond to him.
But when Sonic accidentally unleashes his full power in a moment of self-doubt, he attracts the attention of the US government. They send in Doctor Robotnik (Carrey) to investigate, forcing Sonic to team up with a reluctant local police officer Tom Wachowski (James Mardsen) to try and recover his time and space-traveling rings, which were lost in San Francisco.
[W]hat we have here is a buddy road comedy with Marsden playing the straight man to a fast-talking alien rodent, and when you meet the movie on those terms, it's a pretty good time.
The Visual Redesign Of Sonic Was Definitely Worth It
Not only did the animators go above and beyond in fixing Sonic to look more like his video game origins, but they might've saved the movie.
The new Sonic is so adorable that it almost makes up for a pretty generic plot and a human cast that play the roles of "heroic" and "bad" so straight, they could be extras in The Good Place.
At least seven times during my screening of Sonic the Hedgehog, the first live-action film based on the classic Sega gaming franchise, I blurted to myself: "I can't believe they nearly kept the old design." The nicest thing I can say about this week's new movie is that Sega and Paramount dodged a monumental disaster. Now, audience members can rest assured that this serviceable, acceptable, not-amazing-but-not-terrible family film wasn't tanked by toothy, limber, squinty-eyed Sonic […] With that crucial detail out of the way, the rest of the attached film isn't as sensational or headline-worthy.
Perhaps It Wasn't The Only Thing That Should Have Been Redesigned
For all the kerfuffle that erupted in the spring of 2019 over the visual design of Sonic the Hedgehog, the blue-furred speed-demon mascot of the Sega video game-turned-live-action kiddie adventure, you wish that the creators of "Sonic the Hedgehog," who went back and redesigned the character after being pressured (I almost wrote bullied) by his fans, had been inspired to redo the character's voice […] [H]e talks like the ultimate gratingly overfamiliar cartoon smart aleck — a little snide, a little nerdy, with a mild whine of attitude, though essentially he's voiced (by Ben Schwartz of "Parks and Recreation") to sound like your pal, as if the film had concocted some sort of vocal smoothie out of Garfield and Fritz the Cat and Owen Wilson and Patton Oswalt. Whatever Sonic now looks like, his soul is innocuous.
His eyes are bigger, his fur is smoother, and thank god his teeth are no longer so disturbingly... human. Yes, the version of Sonic The Hedgehog zipping into theaters a few hours from now is much less unpleasant to look at than the one unveiled to widespread ridicule last year, when the first trailer for his first big-screen adventure dropped. Post- the redesign all but commissioned by Twitter, you might even call the little blue guy cute, in a plush-doll kind of way. Then he opens his mouth, and you maybe wish those ghastly teeth were still there, if only to distract from the lazy wisecracks, pop culture references, and earnest clichés that come flooding out.
The Movie Works Better As A Kids Movie
Sonic the Hedgehog manages enough genuine humor, likable characters, and well-built action to be a fun ride, even though it is definitely intended more for a younger crowd than the aging fans of the game franchise.
The film is fine, familiar fare for gamers and children: Sonic sprints, Carrey mugs, but the creative juices run out quickly.
And Jim Carrey's Larger-Than-Life Performance As The Villain Is The Standout Element
[T]he writing and directing crew appear to have given Carrey full rein to play up the "egocentric, genius megalomaniac" archetype however he saw fit. Based on how far his character flies off the rails, with speeches perfectly synced to Carrey's physicality and timing, I get the impression the actor ad-libbed what we get on-screen. Yet even if I'm incorrect, his rhythms and intensity fall into an incredible groove, as if he were teaching a masterclass on '60s B-movie villainy.
The best thing that "Sonic" has going for it, by leaps and bounds, is the infusion of manic energy that it receives from an unleashed Jim Carrey as the villain, Dr. Robotnik, basically a mad scientist out to capture or kill the little alien.
For All Its Comedic Talent, 'Sonic' Is Never Really Funny
Fans of Ben Schwartz's performance as Jean-Ralphio on Parks and Recreation, or his many appearances on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast, may have high hopes that are quickly dashed. His Sonic talks a mile a minute, narrating his story with a snarky, hip, been-there-done-that vibe that reflects what happens when a punch-up room full of comedy writers try their hardest to get at least one of their one-liners in the script […] Here is a film that refuses to stop making quips, somehow pulling off the unique feat of never making any of those quips funny.
Unfortunately, the gags seem a few years too late, immediately dating themselves: there are multiple jokes about Olive Garden's unlimited pasta. Sonic does the floss dance not once, but twice. They make jokes about Vin Diesel in The Fast and the Furious. (Actually, this one will probably stay relevant for as long as they keep making FF movies, which is forever.)
If You're Considering Whether The Movie Is On The Same Level As 'Detective Pikachu,' It's Not
Pikachu at least had Ryan Reynolds, whose snappy voiceover kept the energy levels up. Schwartz (best known as Jean-Ralphio in the sitcom Parks and Recreation) is decidedly sub-Reynolds.
The film rises not even above the low bar of your average video game adaptation: Last summer's Detective Pikachu was lousy, too, but it at least offered some gimcrack spectacle in the spirit of its source material. By contrast, this creatively bankrupt project divorces its title character from both the speed and tropical eye-candy, loop-de-loop backdrops of the Sonic games, dropping him instead into drab roadhouses, suburban kitchens, and the passenger seat of a car chugging down a nondescript highway.
But Fans Of The Sonic Game Might Enjoy The Movie's Many Easter Eggs
Sonic the Hedgehog is more successful when it comes to nailing references to the source material. Director Jeff Fowler does an exceptional job stuffing in as many Easter eggs from the Sonic games as possible, to the point where hardcore Sonic fans may have to watch more than once just to catch them all. The nods to the gameplay mechanics - such as how Sonic loses his rings upon being hit by an enemy or the way he curls up into a ball and dashes to defeat them - land well and with believability here.
Sonic also famously boasts one of the largest and strangest online fandoms, and the movie makes nods to several memes, none of which distract from the plot. The film is in on the joke. It feels like a friend made it.
I'm glad Sonic had enough of its parts in place to get me through a viewing feeling entertained. But the only thing that would get me to recommend this film over other family-friendly options is, honestly, Jim Carrey's performance. Nothing else in Sonic the Hedgehog feels particularly exciting, even within its specific niche of a clear "PG, not PG-13" rating.
Watch The Trailer Here
And here's the old trailer of "Sonic The Hedgehog," which shows the prior design of the main character, for (horrifying) reference: