“Sonic the Hedgehog” Is a Strange Take


“Sonic the Hedgehog” features the beloved cartoon sonic and tries to explore mature topics such as war and terrorism. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Things have been hard for Sonic the Hedgehog, the iconic superfast jokester. Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s Mario rushed onto the scene in the ’90s, and the blue hedgehog starred in a series of popular video games. However, that didn’t work out in the long run, as Sonic’s multimedia empire crumbled away over the years. These days, it’s a struggle to get halfway decent Sonic media.

Even so, goodwill for Sonic hasn’t completely dried up. He still has a concerningly dedicated fanbase and some mainstream influence. Unfortunately, it seemed like the deathblow had finally arrived when the live action movie “Sonic the Hedgehog” was announced.

The first trailer featured a Sonic design so horrific it garnered almost universal mockery if not outright disgust. The film was delayed to give animators time to “fix” it, and now the end product has arrived.

As embarrassing as the initial design might have been, it might have worked in the film’s favor. The uncanny-looking creature brought a lot of attention to a standard fare kids movie.

At my showing, teenagers and 20-year-olds outnumbered the target audience by at least 3 to 1. They were probably expecting a computer-generated, high speed disaster, like I was. I imagine they were also embarrassed they got so worked up over such a forgettable, mediocre film.

“Sonic the Hedgehog” is not good, by any means. But it’s not “Cats” either. The film makes the bizarre decision to drop Sonic in the real world, away from his traditional supporting cast and the franchise’s more memorable visuals. Sonic has his usual quick-talking, “too cool” personality, but now it’s underlined by a trauma brought on from years of isolation in a strange world.

It doesn’t feel true to the character, and Ben Schwartz’s performance aggravates the problem. Sonic feels more obnoxious than likable, and having him angst like this is a bizarre decision.

On the other hand we have Jim Carrey as Sonic’s nemesis, mad scientist Doctor Robotnik. Carrey channels the source material through the lens of his ’90s comedy stylings, which are so unchanging they might as well be stuck in amber. He brings an intensity that almost feels inappropriate at times.

Still, he might be more invested in “Sonic the Hedgehog” than anyone else in the world. The usual tired “Carreyisms” are all here, but he is still the only one to get real, consistent laughs with his antics. Of course, that might be the relief of seeing something so genuine in such a generic product.

Carrey makes the film, but even he can’t sidestep its strange interpretation of Sonic. Robotnik is still an egomaniacal, misanthropic robotics extraordinaire. But here he’s built up his reputation from operating in the Middle East with his high-tech drones, now leading an anti-terrorism unit seeking the “alien” Sonic.

The film offers overt criticism of post-9/11 America, as Sonic flees from a government trampling over liberties with the tenuous excuse of combating “terrorism.” It’s not developed, nuanced or even delivered in a way kids can understand.

The War on Terror commentary might be the most confusing part of “Sonic the Hedgehog” but it’s also the most unique aspect of the film. American blockbusters rarely strike out against the status quo, failing to properly identify corrupt systems of power, much less confront their abuses. “Sonic” mishandles the issue, but it at least tries to point out there’s something deeply wrong with our country without tripping over itself too much.

That’s more than you can say for the similarly ineffective efforts of “Captain Marvel,” which were totally countered by blatant calls for viewers to join the U.S. Air Force. That goes for any other blockbuster that contradicts its already meek calls to action.

Aside from that, there’s nothing to say about “Sonic.” It is a standard kids movie in every respect, with competent but forgettable execution on every level. Heavy-handed product placement and cringey pop culture references remind us that the film is itself a product.

Maybe Sonic was always just a way to sell game consoles with a marketable idol. But I still think he has more soul than this film gave him. Sonic warranted something more memorable, for better or for worse.