Friday, May 17, 2024

‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ is Fueled by Nostalgia

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Sonic the Hedgehog is one of those movies made less for any kind of audience and more for a rabid fan base who have fond memories playing video games. Depending on who you are, your mileage will vary. For myself, I was entertained but nowhere near as much as the man sitting next to me who was on the literal edge of his seat. 

Jeff Fowler has more than a bit of a hurdle to overcome with Sonic. The video game it’s based on, came out when plots and stories were not as involved as they are now. There is a mythos to Sonic but it is not a particularly deep one to my knowledge. The writers, Pat Casey and Josh Miller opt for a more classical approach to the blue hedgehog’s story.

Sonic’s (Ben Schwartz) powers are a burden the young hedgehog must bear as he hops from world to world hiding from those who might do him harm.  He carries with him a bag of gold rings which act as portals between worlds (or is it time and space?). The movie seems to suggest both. 

It doesn’t matter. Sonic the Hedgehog is a movie for kids and fans. Everyone else can sit back and watch the Olive Garden and Zillow product placements.  While the product placements are crass and sometimes so obvious they borderline on satirical, the movie itself moves at sonic speed, as it were, and rarely pauses to reckon with its own crassness.

Fowler and his writers shrewdly use the talent of their cast while embracing the lunacy of the very notion of a Sonic the Hedgehog movie and overcome shortcomings the film might add. After Sonic accidentally emits an EMP wave that knocks out the power of the entire Pacific Northwest, Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) is brought in to discover the cause. One of the generals upon hearing Robotnik is being brought in screams, “He’s a psychological tire fire!”

A series of events too convoluted and silly to mention in a review Sonic loses his bag of gold rings atop a skyscraper in San Francisco. The town sheriff, Tom, (James Marsden) agrees to help him get the rings and flee Robotnik. Sonic the Hedgehog is, of course, a road trip movie.

Nothing really happens that you don’t expect to happen. Tom and Sonic stop off at a roadside bar, a bar brawl breaks out, hilarity ensues. Sonic the Hedgehog does it’s best to make it seem like a lot is happening when in fact most of it is padding. Entertaining padding at times, but still just padding.

The hedgehog himself is the subject of much internet brouhaha. For those blissfully unaware the original character design the filmmakers had for Sonic was a nightmarish hodgepodge of horrible ideas brought to life by an Executive Producers almighty ignorance. The VFX company involved worked overtime to fix and redesign the character and was rewarded by promptly being laid off before the film’s release and the holidays. 

The result is a Sonic that is pleasant to the eye, much more so than the original design, but who isn’t believable in the slightest. The scenes between Tom and Sonic are edited in such a way as to make sure the two are rarely onscreen at the same time. For when they do share the same scene it becomes glaringly obvious that Sonic is not actually there. Their eye lines don’t match up and Sonic seems to be placed onto the frame as opposed to existing within it. It was hard not to think of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? the bar for which all such moves are measured by. He looks better but I never bought for a second he was anything other than Ben Schwartz’s voice. The design doesn’t give Sonic any character or personality. 

Yes, he resembles his original design but again, his original design was for a game where he didn’t talk or really have much story other than collecting rings and saving the animals of the forest. It’s not bad, just mediocre. The kids won’t notice it and the grown-ups who love Sonic likely won’t care. The rest of us, those who don’t give a fig about the blue furball, are left to notice how just slightly off the character is to the world around him.

Still, I can’t lie and say I didn’t laugh. Jim Carrey has an inspired dance scene midway through the movie that almost makes up for the rest of the film’s mediocrity. Carrey’s boneless body doesn’t seem to have aged much as he bends and contorts himself and at times being more believable cartoony than the actual cartoon character.  

James Marsden has quietly been one of the most likable and charming actors working today and we have been shamefully ignoring him. With his Clark Kent chin and his toothsome smile, he is a perfect foil for Sonic. Part of why Sonic’s lack of dimension isn’t a bigger deal is because while we never really believe Sonic is in the same scene with Tom, Marsden behaves as if he is. A committed performance worthy of Bob Hoskins, Marsden has the unique ability to be equal parts sincere and equal parts zany without going too far one way or the other.

For crying out loud, he delivers and sells the contractually obligated line of “He knows more about being human than you ever will!”… a line so ingrained into our popular consciousness it would have felt downright wrong not to have it in the movie. It’s one of those lines you see coming a mile away and you can’t help but smile like seeing an old friend.

Speaking of old friends, Stephen F. Windon has shot Tokyo DriftDeep Blue Sea, and The Tuxedo. Sadly his usually lively camera and vibrant color palette are toned down to better workaround Sonic the Special Effect. The movie and Windon come alive, though, during the action scenes. In particular, a car chase in which drones, an interdimensional hedgehog, and James Mardsen try to outmaneuver each other and ballistic missiles on a northwestern interstate. 

I could take or leave Sonic the Hedgehog. It didn’t bore me but it also didn’t really do anything for me either. But I can’t help but be a little envious of the guy sitting next to me who seemed to have personally experienced every dramatic high and low poor Sonic faced. 

At one point in the film, the filmmakers attempt something out of Peter Pan in which they all but stop short of turning to the audience and ask us to clap for Sonic so he knows we believe in him. Had they done so the man next to me would have blistered his hands clapping. Honestly seeing him screech with joy when the hero, whom we thought was defeated, stands up, is a magic all its own. Sonic the Hedgehog is most definitely not for me. It might be for you though.

Image courtesy of Paramount Studios

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