I would love to know how the creators of Sonic the Hedgehog arrived at a story structure where Sonic spends the middle 30 minutes of a 90 minute movie in the passenger seat of a truck.
Here you have a character whose whole schtick is running, on a mission where’s he’s supposed to travel from one place to the next —something he theoretically could do by himself without technological assistance in the blink of an eye — and instead he hangs out in James Marsden’s Toyota.
This isn’t even a bad decision, so much as it is a baffling one. How does one imagine such an illogical scenario? Then again, if you’ve seen Sonic’s original look in this movie, which was less like the cuddly critter of the Sega video games and more like a hell beast from the darkest corner of H.P. Lovecraft’s imagination, you know that this film was built on a foundation of strange choices.
Sonic’s face got sorted out in post-production; after an understandably traumatized reaction to the film’s trailer, Paramount delayed the movie by several months and redesigned the title character so he didn’t look like something that just crawled out James Woods’ TV in Videodrome. But the inexplicable shifts of story and character remain untouched.
The film begins with Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) off on some distant planet. Exactly where this magically fast hedgehog came from is not explained, but however he got here, he now lives with an owl who warns him he must always hide his speed powers, lest someone try to take them. Conceal, don’t feel Sonic! He’s like Elsa from Frozen, but pointier and with no pants. (Sonic even jokes about that at one point.)
Sonic also has a bag full of gold rings which can generate portals to anywhere in the universe. He rides one to Earth and then lives in the woods outside a small town in Montana for years, until the day his powers once again attract unwanted attention. Here are some of the more curious creative decisions that follow:
- When James Marsden’s character, a local sheriff named Tom Wachowski, meets Sonic, he decides the best course of action upon learning of the existence of extraterrestrial life in the universe is to immediately change his shirt.
- Sonic possesses both a deep knowledge of American popular culture — he cracks jokes about The Rock and Amazon drones — and also a total lack of awareness of Earth customs. He’s dazzled by guacamole and totally befuddled by the concept of a dog, even though he himself is a furry animal. It’s like there are two totally different concepts of the character and they alternate from one scene to the next. (Technically there were literally two different concepts of this character, the one in the first trailer and the one in the final film, which could explain some of this.)
- The aforementioned road trip which takes up the entire second act of the movie includes Tom and Sonic pausing their life-or-death journey across the United States to line dance and throw darts in a country bar. Isn’t this character’s catchphrase “Gotta go fast!”?
- There are multiple jokes, spanning the full length of this motion picture, about the casual dining restaurant chain Olive Garden. Yes, Sonic the Hedgehog contains an Olive Garden runner.
Fortunately for Sonic, the film has an ace in the hole: Ace Ventura. Jim Carrey plays Sonic’s arch-nemesis Dr. Robotnik, imagined here as an eccentric military contractor and scientific genius. Carrey’s goes as big or bigger than anything he’s done in decades; if you’re a fan of the elastic-faced, motor-mouthed Jim Carrey from the 1990s, there is no way you will not be tickled by his deranged line readings, bouncy movements, and contemptuous hatred of being a best man in someone’s out-of-town wedding. (Seriously.)
A little over-the-top Carrey goes a long way, which is good because he’s not in Sonic the Hedgehog very much. Director Jeff Fowler is much more focused on Sonic and Tom and their mismatched buddy road trip comedy, which is all writers’ room gags (“What if Sonic did that funny floss dance?”) and focus-grouped schmaltz. (“What if Sonic was a totally rude dude with attitude, and he also sincerely wanted a friend?”)
Given where this movie started, it’s kind a miracle it’s as watchable as it is. It might be more memorable if it wasn’t, though. What’s left is narratively bizarre, but only in ways that produced an inoffensive kid-friendly adventure film about a wisecracking cartoon, his handsome cop friend, and their extremely slow drive across the American West. At least Sonic’s cute now, and not a deleted character from the Resident Evil franchise.