When Paramount Pictures dropped the first trailer for Sonic the movie, all hell broke loose. People going bananas after seeing something they don’t like is a common occurrence. Twitter likes to throw a paddy when so much as a logo font doesn’t match something they cherished from their childhoods. Nevertheless the fallout from this particular marketing material was something else entirely. Viewers were surprised to discover upon its release that finished design for Sega’s beloved blue hedgehog looked like a cross between some badly drawn fan art and the sketches of someone attempting to depict a recurring nightmare. It was surreal, creepy and completely off. It was as if someone had force ET and a discontinued Sesame Street costume into the telepods from David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986). Whatever happened that cute, cool, cheeky lil’ critter we all adored from the good old days? Wherever he was, he sure as heck wasn’t starring in this upcoming feature. Surely this was some sort of daft joke played by the Paramount execs. Apparently not. Someone had made clanger right good and proper. Before long the producers started to panic; opting instead to delay the film’s release and pledge to redesign their computer generated lead before he had chance to grace the silver screen.
A revision this late into the game was relatively unheard of back in the dear old days of 2018 (the Justice League Snyder cut was still a pipe dream at this point in time). Hearing of a studio slamming the breaks and scampering back to the drawing board right before race day was a novel move at that; one I was convinced would result in this feature full on tanking upon its release. Surely this wasn’t going to make its money back. Not only had the design been a PR disaster hated by so many, it would no doubt cost Paramount millions to rectify this mess!
To the surprise of many, however, Sonic the Movie turned out to be a success. Not only did the redesigns manage to calm the masses, the film also made its way into theatres before Covid-19 became a global catastrophe. Sonic won over the hearts of the Twitter mobs, successfully planting bums on seats before the tirade of lockdowns fell across the planet’s nations.
Upon watching Sonic the Movie, it’s difficult to really fault it. It’s in no way a brilliant piece of work. I wouldn’t even go as far to say it’s a movie I’d want to watch more than once. Be that as it may, this really is a solid and fun flick that never really slips up throughout. The plot never becomes too convoluted for its own good, the 98-minute runtime never out welcomes its stay, the humour is average-yet-fine, its tonally consistent from start to finish, the action sequences are fun to look at, the visuals good, and the redesign is certainly easy on the eye. This is a film that works really well. So much so, it’s no wonder the finished product didn’t receive the same sort of kicking its debut trailer received.
One of the reasons this film works so well is its overall simplicity. The filmmakers are aware they are making a family film for kids based on a video game that’s uncomplicated in design. The 1991 Sega Genesis game had a straightforward story with a handful of basic stages the player had to navigate their way through. While future instalments attempt to add additional layers to the Sonic lore, it was the early Genesis additions which remained the most successful of the bunch. Sonic the Movie attempts to follow in early Sega’s footsteps, choosing not to mingle or delve too deep into the mythos or universe of Sonic. Instead, what we get is a sort of loosely based semi-origin story which kind of gives us a handful of the characters without really changing or challenging what we already know about the lore. Sonic (Ben Schwartz) use to live in a world resembling Green Hill Zone from the first game, but now he’s been banished to earth, avoiding the need to excessively world build. Doctor Robotnik (Jim Carrey) is a crazed genius with a love for gadgets and a loathing for Sonic, but he’s yet to become the critter capturing loon we’ll one day recognise him as. Oversized magic rings can transport our main characters to different “zones” (or planets), only we’re not going to venture to those areas just yet. The worlds from the Genesis collection very much exist in this version of Sonic, except their main function at this point is to serve as bitesized easter eggs for the fans of the series to munch on.
Sonic the Movie attempts to show off an understanding of the larger universe’s source material, without getting too caught up or bogged down in it. This is a trick that works in the film’s favour. It takes a limited number of characteristics from lore and uses them sparingly. As a result, we get something that feels as light as the original games, without properly trying to recreate or step on its toes; offering enough to please fans without it all collapsing in on itself. This decision to take it easy encompasses the film’s entirety. The story is as complex as an instruction manual for blowing your nose; the humour is as easy going as a knock knock joke, and the characters are all plucked from your standard guidebook on how to draft a stock cartoon character. None of this is meant as a criticism. As mentioned above, this is what makes Sonic the Movie work. There’s enough here to digest and enjoy, without there really being anything to get mad about. Some may find this approach dull, whereas others will accept it for what it is. Either way, there’s not really anything to get hacked off about.
The frothiness and ease is made more compatible due to its lack of earnestness. None of this is taking itself too seriously. There’s no doubt the people working behind the scenes are fully aware of what they’re making. Even when they are lobbing in a few easter eggs and references. It’s all done with a winking nod more than an attempt to properly service an overly hungry fanbase. All of this is goofy, daft and a little bit weird; but everyone involved is completely in the know on this front. Every joke, plot point and action set piece is designed to please the kids whilst keeping the parents preoccupied without ever feeling as if it’s being too earnest. There’s little doubt they filmmakers went into this with the intention of making anything of than a bubbly romp.
Character wise, the main cast go about their duties on this film without really doing anything that’s worth writing home about. It’s all fine of course, though you sure aren’t going to get an Oscar worthy performance (though if anyone went into this film expecting that, they probably shouldn’t bother watching films in the first place). Their cartoon-like personas work well for the film, but that’s about as far as they go. With regards to Jim Carrey, I must say he’s clearly having an absolute blast playing as arch nemasis Doctor Robotnik. He chews the scenery every time he’s on screen, which is often his default mode when playing roles like this. Carrey has always been good at the comical villain. He’s great at balancing the funny with the psychotic, something that isn’t lost on him here. I’m not going to say he’s amazing in the role – as some have been claiming – although I think his performance is decent and certainly fun to watch for the most part. I didn’t really laugh out loud at anything he did, although I did catch myself smiling whenever he was on screen. He’s goofy and energetic in a way that suits this film down to the bone. I’ve never really been one to get nostalgic for that 90s comedic Carry – personally I much prefer his more serious roles – however seeing him return to this type of character did evoke a feeling of warmth I didn’t expect to have when sitting down to watch this. His casting here makes sense, and I’m hoping he returns for the inevitable sequel they’re putting together.
Sonic the Movie is a run of the mill feature that strikes a perfect balance between frothy, sweet, amusing and accessible to audiences. It knows exactly what it is and is completely aware of how to go about executing itself. While I can’t call it brilliant, hilarious or game changing, the consistency and balance it strikes in terms of what it’s doing is impressive to say the least. Normally video game adaptations trip over themselves the moment they exit the race pen. In similar fashion to Detective Pikachu (2019) to see Sonic the Movie glide from the start to finish line with seemingly little effort is a welcoming change from the usual.
I enjoyed this feature and can see why it turned out to be a success. Tonally solid, perfect for family viewing, and easy to digest. I strongly recommend to those with young kids and anyone who’s ever held a soft spot for this franchise at some stage in their lives.